Skip to content
Piles of one hundred dollar bills

The Cost of Free Stock Photography

The Cost of Free Stock Images


The best things in life are not always free — especially when it comes to stock images. When designing an ad, a website or another creative project, many brands make the mistake of assuming they can simply find a free stock image online and avoid having to budget for stock photos. While technically that is true, free stock photography often comes with other costs. We understand most organizations can’t afford to hold their own photoshoot for every project — nor does it make sense to — but the decision to nix the photo budget entirely can be the difference between an ad’s success or failure. 


Why does it matter if you use free images? 


There are a few reasons we as an agency strongly recommend our clients budget for stock imagery whenever possible:


1. Free Stock images become overused. 

The same image of a man being used by two different companies

If you’re using widely-available free images, you aren’t the only one.


While some images are available for free online, the selection is limited. Understandably, many brands are therefore going to end up using the same photos for their projects. This is especially true when it comes to churches and nonprofits. Because budgets can be tight and the subject matter often overlaps, the photos appearing in marketing across these industries are often repeated. It’s not only awkward; it’s ineffective. Seeing the same person reading a Bible at a church in Austin, Texas and in Portland, Oregon (and a nonprofit in Atlanta …) takes the audience out of the story. Suddenly, they’re wondering where they might have seen this man before instead of the story right in front of them. Your organization should stand out from others in your space.


2. Our clients are not generic; their photos shouldn’t be, either. 

Two people looking down at the camera

Unless these two people are the face of your company, this image doesn’t tell your audience anything about what you do.


The adage “you get what you pay for” applies to almost everything, including creative services. Free photos are often generic in nature and lack the specificity you need to make your project seamless. Our clients do unique, world-changing work that should be highlighted with honor. They deserve more than just a photo to fill space; they deserve powerful images that reinforce their message and identity.


3. Creativity is constrained. 

Poorly cropped photo of team at table

Free images give your designers nothing to work with.


A photo budget of zero dollars limits a designer’s creativity. Free stock photos often lack the resolution and framing needed to give them adequate options to create something unique and compelling. Perhaps there is a photo with a relevant scene but the wrong orientation. Or perhaps it is the right orientation but doesn’t have enough white space in which to place the text. Additionally, designers may have to spend more time editing and touching up a free image, which can cost you more in the long run than a clean, paid image. 


What should your photo budget be?


As the internet gives us on-demand content with streaming services and ad-based models, creative work like photography, articles and music can become significantly undervalued by consumers. They seem free, even though they’re not. So it’s understandable that clients don’t always budget for photography. 


But just because effective stock photography isn’t free doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. Even a $25-$50 photo budget can dramatically expand your options by empowering a creative team with the imagery needed to design the best solution for accomplishing your goals. Investing a little at the beginning of a project will go a long way in increasing your impact. Even a modest photo budget will be well worth it in the end.


Quote: Investing a little at the beginning of a project will go a long way in increasing your impact

Want to see how 5by5 handles imagery (or anything else?)


We understand the challenges of getting the perfect images for your site. Your brand is valuable and the photos you choose are an important part of that. We’ve worked on large and small websites for clients in Nashville, TN, Dallas, Texas and across the country and have had a lot of success making sure our client’s websites effectively communicate their brand and message. We’d love to hear about the challenges you’re facing and see what we can do to help.


More Insights

Ideas, concepts, and thought leadership from the services we provide and the industries we serve.

Ready to clarify your message, maximize your reach and get results? ?

We work hard to understand your needs, challenges and the goals tied to your mission, allowing us to come alongside your team as committed partners. We'd love to talk about how we could partner with you!

Contact 5by5

Discuss Options to Meet Your Objectives

Get Ready for Results
Let's Talk

Whether your goal is to expand your impact, alter brand behavior or reach around the globe, we can help.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.