Finding good quality stock images for your online shop

By Jessie Caldwell Finding good quality stock images for your online shop

Aesthetics are important, especially when setting up an online shop. When someone visits your shop, they will make a series of unconscious judgments that will ultimately determine whether or not they want to buy from your store. Look and feel is one of the first things that these consumers are going to assess, making it extremely important that your website is using high-quality images in your banners images and ads. One way to do this is by using stock images.

What types of stock photos are available?

You've likely heard of stock photography or stock images before. These are images that are provided for use under specific licenses. Generally speaking, there are 3 types of licenses.

  • Public domain (PD) - Images in the public domain are free to use without purchasing a license and can be used for both personal and commercial purposes.
  • Royalty-free (RF) - RF images are generally purchased with a one-time license fee and can then be used several times without having to purchase a license for each use or project. These are typically not exclusive rights, meaning that more than one person or business can purchase and use the image.
  • Rights-managed (RM) - When you purchased an RM image, you are typically granted only one use of the image within specific guidelines. If you wanted to use the image again, you would need to purchase another license. RM licenses can sometimes be issued on an exclusive basis, meaning that only you or your company will have access to the license for that image.

It is important to pay attention to these licenses. If you are caught using images that you don't have correct licensing for, you could face legal implications. Don't assume that an image that appears on Google image search is available in the public domain. Instead, use one of the searching methods I will detail below to ensure you are using images with the correct permissions.


Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

Where can I find good quality stock images?

From your supplier (usually free)

If you source products from a branded supplier, oftentimes that supplier will have a library of high quality images of your products taken from different angles. They may also have a selection of styled 'lifestyle' images that you can use to give your products and your shop more authenticity. Be sure to ask your supplier (if applicable) for these images.

Unsplash - PD (free)

Unsplash homepage

Unsplash operates under the motto 'photos for everyone'. They are one of the most popular sources of free images. The images submitted to Unsplash come from high-quality photographers and can be used for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You don't have to credit the website or the photographer, although it is always appreciated and helps the photographers to gain exposure.

Adobe Stock - RF, RM (paid)

Adobe Stock homepage

Adobe is one of the most well-known companies in the design industry, with Photoshop being their most popular product. What you may not know is that they also have a stock photo database full of high quality stock images. You can expect a high calibre of content from the Adobe Stock library and a lot more selection that you will find on most free websites. Content on Adobe Stock is sold by credits. Credits can be purchased in packs (starting at £29.95 for 5 credits) or on a subscription basis (starting at £19.99 for 10 credits a month).

Pexels - PD (free)

Pexels homepage

Pexels is a great resource for those looking to find free images. Like Unsplash, these images can be used for commercial and personal use and you are not required to credit the website or photographer.

Canva PD, RF (free and paid)

Canva homepage

Canva is an all-in-one design tool that is primarily used for creating content like banners, social media posts and ads. Along with their design tools they also have a large image library of both free and paid images. The combination makes Canva a great option for basic content creation. A standard Canva account is free and gives access to a library of Canva-exclusive free images and other premium royalty-free images that can be purchased on a one-off basis. You can also subscribe to Canva Pro (starting at £8.99 per month) which gives you access to the premium library at no additional cost.

"Dos" and "Don'ts" of using stock images in your online shop

DO: Use stock photography to help create visually appealing banner images, cover photos, and ads

DON'T: Use stock photography to represent items that are bespoke or unique

Usually when a customer is researching and about to purchase a product, they want to see a photo of exactly what they will receive when they buy the product from you. For this reason, it could be a bad idea to use stock photos as the main photo for your product, depending on what you sell.

For example, if you are selling cakes or other baked goods or another handmade product, it is likely difficult to find stock images that closely resemble the exact way you make your products.

On the other hand, if you sell something generic like apples or mince meat it is probably ok to use a stock image, as long as it closely resembles the type of product that you sell.

DO: Ask your suppliers for branded stock images and lifestyle shots

If you are selling a product that you have sourced from another supplier or manufacturer, you can usually ask them to supply you with some basic product images. Many branded suppliers can also provide 'lifestyle' images, which can be more appealing to customers, and help to set your product apart from your competitors. These lifestyle images are often a better fit for using in social media posts and creating aesthetically pleasing banners.

DON'T: Fall victim to using low quality or boring images from your supplier

Just because your supplier has photos of your product doesn't always mean you should use them. Check out the example below from our friends over at EKM. Shops 1, 2, and 3 all use the same supplier images. Shop 4 has taken their own product images, which really makes them stand out from the rest.

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A post shared by #1 Ecommerce Platform (@ekm_uk) on

DO: Use relevant and specific search terms

DON'T: Go with the first image you see

Take your time and seek out images that are unique and fit the look and feel of your brand.

DON'T: Use stock images for things that are meant to be personal

Beware of typical overused images, especially on pages that you are trying to make a personal connection with your customers, like your About Us page. You wouldn't want to use an image of an obviously fake shop front. Even if you don't have high quality camera equipment, it is always better to take your own photo to showcase your company and show your customers that there are real people behind the screen.

For the reasons above, I recommend using stock photographs mainly for banner images, headers, category images and ads, and sticking to your own photos for your products.

Jessie Caldwell

Digital Marketing and Events Specialist A Florida native enjoying life in the rainiest city in the UK. Lover of bouldering, drinker of pink gin, and watcher of Friends.