Is It OK To Use Stock Photos On My Website?

Janine Dueck


Janine Dueck


August 20, 2021

Is It OK To Use Stock Photos On My Website?

One of the most important features of any great website is a beautiful cover photo. This image is the very first thing you see the moment you open up an organization’s webpage. The cover photo can be treated much like the cover of a book. And yes, many people do judge a book by its cover.

This image is important because it gives your visitors the first impression of your organization. In addition, it reveals the personality, values, and overall vibe.

Often, some websites will even feature a series of different photos or a running video of different elements of their church, non-profit, or other operation. Whatever this image may be, it is indicative you choose media that represents your organization well.

With the emphasis on images and video for websites and social media comes the wonderful world of stock photos! Stock photos are the supply of photographs licensed for use through digital media, print, and more. These photos are already shot, edited, and ready to be used by the masses.

Stock photos are such a helpful resource if you want a photo of a specific landscape, person, object, or more, but you don’t have the means to capture it yourself. Stock photos can be absolutely free (but often require attribution to the photographer), or they can be paid (which can get super expensive!). Regardless, these collections of photos can be super helpful if you don’t have the ability to supply your own photos.

However, there is a downside to utilizing stock photos and videos. The keywords here are “available to the masses.” This means that anyone with a computer can access the same photos or videos you are accessing and can use them any way they want (depending on the licensing allowances of the photo).

We saw an epic stock media fail in 2021 during the Super Bowl when two separate companies used the exact same piece of stock footage in their ads. This issue is also found in a ton of churches who seem to really be keen to use the photos below quite often across the board:

P.S. We’re not hating on you if you’ve used these photos – we totally have, too!

The point becomes clear here: stock photos can be overused and become generic overtime. Luckily, stock photos websites are constantly expanding their libraries and bringing in new and fresh media.

What is the alternative to using stock photos? 
The answer is simple: supply your own photos! 

While this seems like an easy answer, the execution can be a bit challenging (more on this later). Let’s go through a few of the pros and cons of utilizing your own photos and talk through some next steps!

Pros of using real photos

  1. It shows authenticity. Using your own photos can be very tricky if you get caught up in the expectation of having perfectly edited masterpieces captured on $3,000 cameras. What we need to remember is that people don’t want perfection. They want authenticity! Photos don’t have to be perfect. They just have to represent your community accurately and well.
  2. It sets realistic expectations. If your cover photo is a bunch of twenty-somethings drinking coffee together, but there isn’t a non-Baby Boomer to be actually be found in your community, this sets an unrealistic expectation. Using photos of your actual people gives your website viewer a true look into what your community is like. Not the “curated for the Internet” you, but the real you!
  3. It gives a preview of your church service. Attending a church for the first time can be pretty scary for many people. Using photos of your actual service gives them a sneak peek of what to expect. Hot tip: using footage of your greeting team, lobby activity, and worship/sermon time is super helpful in giving the website visitor a pre-church immersive experience.
  4. It’s uniquely yours. Your congregation, sanctuary, and Sunday gatherings are unique to your church. Your photos are the same! When you capture those authentic moments, you don’t have to worry about the pictures on your website being the same as other churches around you and fading into the crowd.

Cons of using real photos

  1. Lack of photographic experience. While we are a big proponent of authentic photos that aren’t necessarily taken by professionals, there is definitely value in utilizing experienced photographers. However, we know that not every church has a trained photographer. This may mean either hiring someone to do the training or even hiring a photographer altogether. 
  2. Time-consuming. It’s true. It is definitely easier to just use a random stock photo instead of taking the time to capture, edit, and disseminate your content. However, this con has a con: it may be the easy route, but it is definitely not the most effective. While they are easier, stock photos will never be able to fully represent your community, period.

The Verdict on Using Stock Photos

The main issue that usually makes churches and other organizations err on the side of stock photos is getting hung up on the quality of the photos. This can be a difficult thing to tackle and becomes a question of value.

What is more valuable to you: professional images of people you don’t know or average images of people who are actually a part of the community?

There is much to consider when choosing the content you use on your website, but we highly recommend using photos of real people from your community. Even if they aren’t as “picture perfect” as what you can get on stock image websites, it helps maintain your church or organization's authenticity. Don’t use stock photos just because they are there.

So, what’s next?

This Sunday, whip out a nice camera, or even just your iPhone, and snap a few pictures of your community! They don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be real.

Not sure where to start? We’ve got The Ultimate Guide to Church Photography for you, so you can capture authentic and inspiring photos to use!

Are you stuck on how to bring authenticity to your church website? Our team at PMF is fully equipped to help you improve (or build!) your website and ignite growth for your church or non-profit! Contact our team to get started.

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