Don’t put that stock photo on your website. Oh. Oh no, you did? Ok. Now, your team of smart and talented pros is represented online by a team of plastic, fake-smiling strangers.

You didn’t have to do it.

You could have taken that picture yourself. You could have shared your unique people and culture with a picture taken by your unique self, with simple tools you have in your pocket and a couple extras that are easy to find.

Why You Keep Buying Stock Photos

Small business owners lean on stock photos because they’re cheap and easier to get than getting the staff in one place for half a second. And hiring a professional photographer for a session is seen as expensive or out of reach (it’s not). So, a stock photo will suffice. It probably won’t hurt too bad and it’s better than nothing. All of that’s probably true.

But you can do much better.

Find a Photographer

As a website maker, I’m always asking small business owners to look through the photographs of their business. Find the pictures of your building and the pictures of your staff you already have. These are more than pictures. These are full-width backgrounds, page illustrations, featured images, and more.

It’s important to use your own images for these. Using all stock photos results in shallow-feeling content that rings false with customers. But companies start web designs every month without any original pictures to represent them. It’s hard to start with less than scratch.

Let’s start by asking somebody to help. Do you know a professional photographer? By which, I mean someone who regularly makes money taking pictures. Ask a photographer to document your building, your factory and your products. You’ll get incredible utility from these images. They’ll accelerate the design process for new websites, social media assets, brochures, trade show stuff and other fun marketing tools.

Here’s the rub and why I’m writing this post: sometimes you can’t hire someone. Money’s tight. So is time. There’s a big gap between between the fall-back of stock photos and the ideal situation of getting your own pictures done.

Shoot for the ideal. Professional help is best. But you can bridge the gap yourself. When you go looking for a photographer, include yourself on that list.

Collect Your Equipment

The pros have hundreds of dollars of equipment and years of experience. No question their results look different and better. But with your smartphone camera, a good photo editing app and a few extras, your results can look good enough to share. Here’s what you need to start.


Have a recent iPhone or Android device? You’re probably good. I won’t get into the all the megapixels here. There are so many factors that affect image quality besides that number and everyone has their own opinion. And since we’re not professionals anyway, equipment will only get us so far.

Light Source

This is really the most important tool. We’ll talk more about it below. Your best, cheapest option for light is the sun, whether that means going outside or using natural light indoors.

Camera Stand or Tripod

Another key to better phone pictures? Stability. Set your phone on something sturdy and use a timer. Blurry photos are unusable. You can get a durable Gorillapod stand for cheap on Amazon. Use the timer built in to your phone’s camera or get a remote control app to snap the picture without tapping your screen.

Camera Lens Add-ons

Want to get fancy? Olloclip sells lenses that clip to your iPhone (and recent Samsung Galaxy phones). The wide angle lens is especially useful for improving pictures of your building and other large areas like warehouses, factories and landscaping.


Bring a cheerful, encouraging attitude as you’re taking pictures. Some people find it stressful to have their picture taken. Make them feel comfortable. It’s easy to be discouraged about the pictures you take. Take a lot of shots and don’t examine them too close while you’re working.

Set Up Your Shot

Here’s where things get awkward. Nobody around here’s a fashion model. And you don’t have to be. Most people know how to handle themselves for individual and big group pictures. Just ask them to smile and take the picture.

The trick is finding the right background and getting good light. Light is your best frenemy. Avoid harsh fluorescent lights and dimly lit rooms. Go to a room with plenty of natural light. If you’re taking staff pictures, feel free to move your operation outside. Try for an overcast day so nobody has to squint. Forget about a blue sky, bright sunshine causes more problems than you can fix.

We’ve talked about individual staff picture, group pictures and building pictures, but there’s one more category of photo you should collect: candids. I love these natural, spontaneous images. And they’ll be the most useful as design elements later on.

A good candid shot catches someone acting naturally. They might not be smiling. Ask if you can take a picture of someone while answering the phone or working at a desk. Try for pictures that don’t involve your staff staring at a computer screen like a robot. If you need one like that, take it from the side and make a face the subject. You’ll still be able to tell a computer is involved.

Candid pictures of your team in a meeting are great. Get them together for a brainstorming session and let ’em go. Here’s a picture I took of Sara and Leisha working.

Sara and Leisha's unedited snapshot

While I instructed them where to sit, I just let them talk and actually do their meeting. Imagine you’re a wedding photographer and prowl around the edges. Tell them to ignore you. It’s awkward. Whatever.

Take the Picture

Use a tripod and wide-angle lens to capture big views. Try a timer or remote when you’re after super-crisp still shots. Feel free to go mobile for candids. Take a lot of pictures. A lot. You can never have too many options. You’ll notice that pros are always clicking away, taking test shots and getting extras in between the “real” ones. Just do it!

Edit Your Pictures

Here’s a topic for another post. Sorry, I know editing is the fun part. Filters! Don’t actually. No Instagram filters on your business pictures. But you can edit your photos to enhance and subtly improve their quality. Look for a post on this soon.

Use an app like Dropbox or other storage apps to easily transfer your photos to online storage where you can retrieve them from your desktop. You can always email them from your phone as well.

Until the next post, keep taking pictures around your business. You’ll be glad you have them.

What’s your visual content strategy? Don’t have one? Find out more about what makes a good strategy in our webinar.