There are a couple of different issues in that one question.
The first question is simple: are there rules about using images from the web, or can you just grab some from another website to save time?
There are rules. You can’t take images from the web and use them as though they were your own. You can get permission to use them, or buy them, or make your own.
If you’re putting together a website on a strict budget and you want to save on images, there are places where you can get royalty-free images cheaply or for free:
All these place have rules, but they explain them clearly, so just follow them and you’re set.
There are also any number of freelance photographers and graphic artists around, and they need your support or there won’t be any more free and cheap images for websites. Someone has to do that work, and if it doesn’t pay the bills, no one will. So consider doing a search for artists in your locale.
Stock images pros and cons
Having established that images are easy to come by, the next questions is a little more complex: should you use stock images (those store-bought pictures like the one in this post) or should you use photos from your own business?
Here are some advantages to using your own images:
- They give a sense of authenticity. You don’t really believe that the woman up there at the top of the post is one of my clients, in my office, debating what images to use in her website, do you? A lot of the pictures I use here are in fact photos taken by me or members of the team. Using pictures of your staff, your buildings, your customers, and your products helps your visitors learn more about you and envision themselves working with you or your products.
- They provide information. An image of your brick and mortar building helps your web visitors find you when they seek you out in the physical world. A photo of the particular tennis racket that you make gives people more information about your product than a stock photo of people playing tennis can. I have a client who has pictures of her dog in costumes on her website: this tells you things about her funloving nature that you couldn’t get from the average stock image.
- They’re under your control. If you want to show your product on a rustic bench with a waterfall in the background, you can do it. Whether stock images of your product show it that way or not.
There are also advantages to stock photos:
- Some businesses don’t lend themselves to photographs. I’ve worked with people who sell software, freeze-dried animal body parts (for research), and IT support. There’s not much you can do with pictures of those items. Your building may not be photogenic. You may work out of your home. You may simply not have the skills to take the pictures, or your products may be hard to shoot well, though a professional photographer can be your solution there.
- There are reasons to use models. Those cozy shots of all the staff together are great, but you may not want to update your website every time your staff changes. You may not be able to get permission from everyone who ends up in your photo. Your staff might hate having their pictures taken. Plus, the picture of you with your client may actually not show the feeling of being your client as well as the stock photos people are more accustomed to seeing.
- You may want to portray an underlying truth. You shouldn’t use stock images to deceive people. However, your up and coming new business may not yet have the highly professional look you plan on having eventually. If you’d like the kinds of clients who would choose that glass building with the revolving doors, and you can provide the services they need, but you operate out of your parents’ garage — well, no one needs to know that.
There’s one more extremely sound reason to use stock images: to get the job done. If getting those pictures taken has been on your to-do list for three weeks and your web designer is waiting, then you should go ahead and get stock images. Realism is valuable, and sometimes being realistic about what you can and cannot do is the kind of realism you need.