How to Customize Stock Photography to Match Your Website Aesthetic

by Alabaweh Baweh -
woman sitting at desk with large monitor working on web design

Images are powerful in marketing, and it doesn't matter where those images come from. For obvious reasons, the market for stock photos has shot through the roof with the sophistication of inbound marketing. You can decorate your entire website and every blog with beautiful stock photos. Anyone with an eye and access to image services can build a portfolio of vividly shot gems. There's just one problem: stock photos come from thousands of different artists and photo-shoots. The colors and compositions may not match the aesthetic of your website, and might look too similar when found on other websites.

Fortunately, there's plenty that can be done. Customizing stock photography is a separate art, something you can learn with experience and a sense of your website's design. Photo-editing is a serious practice, and starting with stock photos is perfect when getting started. Whether you're looking for a 2-minute-each edit for a ream of blog photos or are hand-crafting the images for your website, there are methods you can learn.

Let's dive into the many ways to customize stock photography for your website aesthetic.

person using stylus to draw on tablet with cup of colored pencils and various color schemes on desk

Check License for Altering Rights

The first step to any stock-photo-editing session is the license. The vast majority of common-license photos you find on the internet are free and legally alterable. But some collections, especially paid collections, may have an upgraded license to edit the photos. Check the license on each stock photo and ensure that they are legal to edit and use commercially.

If the photo or license is referred to as 'editorial,' then it is not editable. Most common-license photos cannot legally be used to represent a disease, to promote t-shirts, or be used in the topics listed below. Outside of that, you're ready to edit.


  • portray a disease
  • political ads
  • pornographic or defamatory
  • image to sell t-shirts
    • extended license may be needed

Remove the Background

Cutting out the background setting is the most popular way to customize stock photography. Often, the central subject of a photo is perfect for a website, but the total context may not be. Backgrounds are often whatever backdrop was used by the photographer, or the incidental environment behind the subject. Removing it zooms in focus on the central focus of each photo. This might be people, buildings, objects, or animals.

Many of the most attractive website design elements involve cut-outs and layers with transparent backgrounds. There are many photo-editing programs that can help you easily cut out a background. You can also choose to select the background and blur or fade it, as well.

Color Tint Images or Elements

Color tinting is an incredibly powerful photo-editing technique. Many company blogs unify the images by tinting the entire photo a chosen color. Sometimes, all photos are a specific color in the design, while some websites color-code their tinted stock photos based on their purpose or topic. Color-tinting slightly obscures the image and pulls focus to whatever overlay text and details you choose.

Selective color-tinting is even more visually impactful, creating more vivid, less uniform images. An example of selective coloring would be tinting the image gray-scale and intensely coloring one person or item in the scene. Another use of color tint is to change the color of specific elements, like a coat or a row of easter eggs.

Fades and Cutouts

You can also significantly change the image by affecting the borders. You can use a wide variety of fades and cut-out styles to obscure part of the image. Fades add softness, where the scene fades outward from the center (or one side, or the corner), bringing more focus toward the non-faded image. This gives you power over the size, opacity, and focus of a stock image.

Use a cut-out to shrink an image or change the shape of the outer edge around your central focus. Fades make an image feel more like it's in-motion and can be used to enhance the sense of activity in your image. Cutouts and fades are also effective when combined with background removing or background blurring.

Enhance Contrast

Contrast is another great way to customize stock photos. Intensify the lights and deepen the darks, or even invert the colors. You can go for different colors and contrast intensities based on the effect you're looking for. Combine color filters with contrast changes and the original photo will become nearly unrecognizable. Or increase the contrast by a small amount to add visual impact.

Clip Noise

'Noise' in an image is details that aren't necessary. They might clutter the background or crowd the foreground. It might just be too many colors or details. With photo-editing, you can clip out anything the image doesn't need and smooth over the rest. This gives you the ability to customize stock photos and refine them above and beyond what they originally were. Expert photo-editors can use clipping and reduction of image noise.

Branded and Decorative Overlays

An overlay is a graphic placed on top of your stock photo. Words, underlines, borders, and logos are all examples of an overlay. Some brands customize stock photography by placing a uniform branded overlay on top of each photo. This is often in the form of bold lines and article title text, for example. You might also make decorative overlays, ranging from lace watermarking to stickers and emojis. There are many ways you can change a stock photo by layering other images and text on top. You can even split the subject from the background and place it in-between layers.

Stylized Frame

Framing the stock photo is a lovely way to integrate it with your website aesthetic. Create a stylized frame for your website images and use it for every single stock image. Or use specific frames based on the type of image or page the image is used for. This uniformity will make your images look like a set and create an ambiance for the images you choose.

Zoom In

Finally, you can take a close-up. Zooming in on the best focus elements of the image can give stock photos a whole new perspective. Even those who are familiar with the stock photo might not recognize a single zoomed-in element. With today's high-quality stock photos available, this is an even more appealing option than previous eras of photo editing.


Stock photos are an amazing resource for modern website developers and content creators. What makes them versatile for many businesses is that they can be edited to best suit your purposes. If your website aesthetic needs blue-tinted images to look right, then tint the images blue, or just the background. If you need impactful images, increase the contrast. With editing license rights, you can and should customize stock photography to uniquely serve your website aesthetic.