Why You Must Break Up With Your Lame Stock Photos Immediately

Or: Flirting With CC0 Images

March 13, 2016

I have a conundrum for you, dear reader.

Almost 5 years ago, marketing leader Jeff Bullas determined that an article containing relevant images sees about 94% more views than an article without.

Content marketers are still quoting that statistic, because the numbers are still backing it up. Less than a year ago, Buzzsumo published data showing that a blog post with images every 75-100 words receives, on average, 2.3x as many Facebook Shares as a post with fewer than that (not even none, just fewer).

So publishers need to be using images in their content, especially if they expect to attract more new readers through social media.

Today, more and more publishers are creating their own custom photos and illustrations for their content. New and powerful tools (including the impressive camera built into the phone in your pocket) have made image creation much easier. As such, some design experts will tell you that the stock photo is entirely obsolete. To stand out in 2016, you need something truly unique and deeply connected to your writing (i.e. not just a bunny).

The advantage images used to bring you has turned into a standard expectation. Because images are so unquestionably powerful online, everyone is using them.

So not only do you need pictures, you need relevant, quality pictures that your audience hasn’t seen reposted 80 times.

Image Is Everything** It’s always been a monumental task to find good images, and it will only get harder from here.

When I say “good,” I mean a lot of things: relevant, high-quality, colorful, fresh, and dynamic, just to start.

You may not have the budget to hire a photographer or the skills, tools, and team to develop work in-house. Traditional stock from Getty Images or Shutterstock is expensive and of questionable effectiveness. It’s frustrating.

But as we’ve determined, “good” images are incredibly important to your success as a digital publisher. You do need a solution.

Fortunately, the internet is awesome.

All the forces that are making it difficult to find fresh images are also encouraging more people to create fantastic new images on their own.

These photographers and artists aren’t taking traditional stock photos. They’re capturing their lives and everything surrounding them. They’re sharing it all online, hoping someone would like to use it. Best of all, many are sharing that great content freely, with no use limitations or stipulations at all.

The “Do Whatever You Want” Dedication In 2009, Creative Commons launched CC0 1.0, a “dedication” with which photographers and artists could waive all rights to a given image. With one neat dodge, this universal waiver let creators set most U.S. copyright restrictions aside.

That means that you, dear reader, get to use them for free. No strings attached. You can:

  • Change anything you like.
  • Add to them, subtract from them, or combine them into a larger whole.
  • Use them for commercial projects.
  • Use them for literally any project.
  • And, most significantly, skip the rights and attributions entirely.

In the 7 years that have followed CC0’s debut, a number of extraordinary resources have sprung up. Through CC0 or similar personal waivers, professional-grade photographers have started “do whatever you want” sites of their own, and larger sites have sprung up to pool those resources into more searchable formats.

The New Stock-Makers

“Stock photos” have a terrible reputation, mostly deserved. As a genre of photography, it has created a recognizably dead-eyed version of real life. (Just look at “Women Laughing Alone With Salad”.) People know a stock photo when they see one.

They’re cheap, they’re sterile, they’re impersonal, and they’re everything a modern brand shouldn’t be.

You don’t need this stuff. You never did, but there’s no excuse when you have CC0 replacements like these at your fingertips:

In our upcoming posts, we’ll walk through the best of the “do whatever you want” sources and figure out how to use them efficiently. There are massive sites like Pixabay (where, by the way, you can find every image used in this article), independent creator’s collections, like Gratisography, and niche sites for specific needs, like Magdeleine.

So, reader, let us know when you’ve dumped iStock. We’ll be here.

Or you could stick with the irrelevant rabbit pics, I guess.