How much time do you spend searching through stock images? 

Sometimes, it takes as little as two minutes. You search your concept keywords and immediately find what you envisioned. Other times, you search for an hour or more without any luck. In marketing land (or the world of a busy small business owner), that time is valuable – especially if you do it frequently. Every image search has a point of diminishing returns – when that one photo three searches ago probably would have gotten the job done. And every minute spent agonizing over the right image is a minute not spent delivering value to your prospects and customers. 

We’re not here to knock the importance of imagery (we’re an image solutions company, after all). Imagery is a critical factor in the success of a digital ad. But stock images are meant to make your creative ventures easier, not more difficult. There’s no reason you should have to spend hours finding the perfect image. 

So, why is it so difficult?

Why Finding Stock Photos Takes Forever

There are a few reasons why it can take a long time to find a stock photo. 

You’re rushing the process

Sometimes, you’re just moving too fast. You scour a library of photos waiting for one to jump out. But nothing seems right. Ten minutes pass so you start to rush. You try different keywords, but nothing sticks. At a certain point, you’re thinking so much about wasting time that you’re wasting time. When this happens, it’s easy to breeze past the image that actually works.

You’re too picky

You should always care about how the images you select will represent your business, but sometimes it can go too far. Are you rejecting an image because it doesn’t fit your brand, or because you personally don’t like the angle of the shot? We’re not saying you should settle. But think about why you’re saying “no” to certain images. 

Stock images are over-used 

The three biggest stock photo providers in the world share 70% of their image content. That’s why you see roughly the same images and photoshoot collections on different stock platforms. And while there are more than one billion stock images in the entire stock photo industry, there’s a lot of overlap. This means you and your competitors are fishing in the same pond.

The images look too much like “stock”

You can tell the difference between a generic stock photo that everyone uses versus an authentic piece of creative pretty quickly. The situations are generic, the places vague, the lighting stale and the smiles creepy. It’s difficult to connect with your audience with these types of images. 

If you’ve run into any of the above problems, it’s time to reevaluate your approach to finding images. 

Example of a “stock-looking” stock photo vs. a “non-stock looking” stock photo

How to Save Time Searching for Stock

Tip #1: Brainstorm multiple concepts

Don’t let the photography library dictate your creative direction. As the marketer, you should be the one in control. Before you start your search, come up with three or four general concepts that represent your content.  You’re more likely to find something that works if you have multiple options than if you stick to one theme. 

Then, when you search, think critically about the options you find instead of making gut decisions. Check to see if the image works with your brand, audience and content. A little flexibility goes a long way, especially in the saturated world of stock photography.

Tip #2: Explore photo collections

If you’re having trouble coming up with concept ideas, try exploring photography collections that are curated by topic and location. This will give you a clear idea of what images show up for certain keywords. You also might discover different or more abstract ways to represent your concept that you didn’t think of before.

Photography collections curated by topic & location

Tip #3: Maximize search tools 

Don’t just type in the first keyword that pops into your head. By defining a few different concepts and understanding what keywords generate what kinds of images, you can maximize your search tools. Here are three tips for searching: 

  1. Use long-tail keywords for more specific concepts.
  2. Exclude keywords that bring up photos you already know you don’t like.
  3. Search by location. Localized, personalized imagery drives 20% better engagement. When you search by location, you’re more likely to find images that are authentic and relevant to your content, audience and brand.  

Tip #4: Request the image you need

Let’s be real – sometimes a traditional stock photo library just isn’t going to cut it. But what do you do when it feels like you’ve run out of options? Simple, request it. Some stock photo sites allow you to connect with their contributors if you can’t find what you’re looking for in their library. Shotzr, for example, gives you access to our network of 1,244 photographers for free so you can get the photo you need.


Stock images are a crucial part of any digital marketing campaign. You shouldn’t have to rush the creative process, but you also shouldn’t spend hours debating image selection. If you take the calculated approach outlined above, you’ll be better positioned to find the right image in the right amount of time.

Need a fast way to find content that matches your brand and campaign? Try Shotzr free right now or check out Shotzr Plus which uses AI to recommend content based on your targeting parameters. 

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