Creative and Unique Ways to Use Stock Photos

Think beyond the feature photo.

Who uses stock photography? Most commonly, stock photos are thought of as being used for conventional purposes. They’re great for a feature image in an online article, or a placeholder on a marketing flyer – but what else can stock photos be used for?

Here’s some results from a poll we took on the most common uses of stock photos:

Today, we’re thinking beyond the feature photo, and looking at five unique ways to get more use out of your stock photo library.

1. For interior decorating and artwork

Images: Urban Outfitters

Want to skip the boring, abstract artwork look, but none of your own photos are quite frame-worthy? Using stock photos to decorate your home might seem a bit odd at first, but really, it’s no different from store-bought artwork – but at a much cheaper price. And since the stock photos on Elements are created by independent photographers and creatives, you’re likely to find something that no one else has.

Think outside the frame: what about a pillow or even a custom-printed blanket (inspired by this cactus tapestry or these photo-realistic forest pillows from Urban Outfitters?) If you’re not sure how it will look, try it out in a mockup first. The above image was made with this pillow mockup template and a forest photo, and it took about 30 seconds to make.

2. For website headers and hero images

Here’s an example: you’re launching your big breakout as a food blogger, and you want a fun hero image scene for your website. You could run around your house, gather all the fruits & vegetables you can find, arrange them on the counter, and try to snap a quality photo with your phone… or you could just customize this organic food scene generator.

‘Scene generators’ are one of the most popular categories in the Envato Elements library, and our web developers often cite it one of the most useful assets we offer. There’s a variety of different ‘scenes’ on offer, such as ones for arts, t-shirts, bars, donuts, summer, and more.

3. To build a social media brand

Image: WeWork

Using social media as a way to aggregate and curate your favorite inspirational content isn’t a new idea. It’s particularly popular on Instagram, where feeds are used to build brand awareness and promote things like #goodvibes.

If you’re trying to grow your brand on social media, but you’re looking to break out of the circles of overused hashtags and #regrams, try grabbing inspiration from a curated stock photo library instead. (You could even customize them with PhotoShop actions to take it to the next level, or add an artistic text overlay with a favorite quote and a pretty font).

4. To tell a story

Looking for something that’s better than a feature photo, but can’t afford to get custom illustrations for your story? Fill in the gaps with some well-chosen stock photos. Often, photographers will take many photos from the same photoshoot, leaving you with an opportunity to create continuity in your story by using the same characters and imagery.

The story of an outdoor adventure, as told through photos by blas.

An extreme example: Buzzfeed’s 27 of the worst things about going to stock photo university, a satirical tale of smiling stock-photo university students.

5. To kickstart a marketing campaign

One of my favorite things in the souvenir shops of Melbourne is merchandise from Zoo Portraits, an initiative focused on education and awareness about the animal kingdom and its protection. These formal ‘portraits’ portray Australian animals in offbeat outfits: a kangaroo in a bow tie, a koala in a Hawaiian shirt.

Image: Zoo Portraits

It’s surprising, charming, and a little absurd. And it works. So, should you head to your local zoo with some costumes? Probably not – I’m willing to bet that these photos didn’t come from wrestling a denim jacket onto a sloth. Instead, it’s a combination of photography and illustration. Stock photos can help you find a shortcut to take your idea from mundane to interesting and effective.

6. For product mockups

iPhone X mockup

Stock photography can be great for creating mockups to show how your website, app or creative project will be used in real life. For example, this iPhone X mockup lets you drop a screenshot of your site onto a photo of an iPhone X being held against an office backdrop. It’s a great way to display your work.

What other creative uses of stock photos can you think of? Share with us @envato.

We just launched our new library of stock photos on Envato Elements! Unlimited downloads for one low monthly price. Browse the photo library.

Brittany Jezouit

About the Author Brittany Jezouit

Brittany is a Contributor to the Envato blog. She helped launch the publication and was its founding Editor. You can follow her on Twitter @brittanyjezouit.