Is it Ethical for Photographers to use Stock Images?

I remember when I was in High School, I started going to a tiny nail salon to get a manicure every few months. I would sit in the lobby on the ripped sofa, looking at all the bottles of nail polish with paint scuffs around the bottle cap. I’d also notice the large, foam board prints on the walls. The photos were all so gorgeous, it made me wonder how a tiny nail salon went through the effort to create these incredibly produced, high budget images for their marketing. ¬†Later, I would realize, “Maybe they didn’t produce the photos… maybe they just bought the artwork.” and then I’d think, “No, there’s no way. It HAS to be their work or else that would be dishonest.”

In the end, it wasn’t their work… but it also wasn’t dishonest. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been to any sort of salon where the photos of perfect hair and nails on the walls were created by the actual people in the salon.

Years later, I would learn about stock photography and how almost every business out there uses them. When I was working at a website hosting company, I’d browse small business websites all day long and try to decide my feelings on stock photos. “Isn’t that weird?” I’d think, “to have photos of employees on your website that don’t actually work at your company?” Alas, it wasn’t weird… it was just me. Stock photos are commonplace in nearly every business….but what about with photographers?

Several months ago, I found myself needing a photo of a microphone for a post I did on being a podcast guest and I started thinking about my regular process. “Okay. Looks like I have to find a microphone…. and then I have to style it… then I have to shoot it and edit it and then I can post.” To be honest, I didn’t want to do any of that. I needed to put my time into something else. I couldn’t jump through so many hoops to produce a single image for a blog preview that had nothing to do with my photography work. So I went online and I got a stock photo of a microphone and I posted it. The whole thing took about 40 seconds. It was amazing… I also felt really guilty and completely shady … for about two seconds.

Because I don’t actually think anyone would have looked at that microphone photo and hired me to shoot photos like that. And if they did, I could have shot a photo like that. It wasn’t in my actual gallery or online portfolio…and I even gave snap credit at the bottom of the post.

So here are my personal rules…and you can set your own rules for yourself, you don’t have to use mine! If I need a photo that I don’t have in my own personal cache, and the photo is going to take too much time and money than I’m willing to spend on it to produce, AND the photo isn’t of a genre people hire me for (IE, not a branding, wedding or portrait photo), then I’ll use a stock photo and if it’s in a blog post, I’ll include a little note at the bottom.

I will not use stock photos in my portfolio or gallery online or claim that those photos are my own work. But I will use them in other areas because let’s be honest, our time as solopreneurs is limited. An hour and a half to produce one image for a Pinterest graphic isn’t a wise use of our time and money, so we need to decide when it’s appropriate to pull from a different source.

And homegirl, this brings me to… MY NEW FREEBIE!!!!

Ten high resolution stock images for you to use for your Instagram, Blog, Marketing, Facebook, Pinterest, etc!

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Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris