Customized Stock Photo Art

When you think of stock photos, you probably think of something like this:

She looks awfully happy about that salad, doesn’t she?

You will definitely find all kinds of weirdness on stock photo sites, but they really have come a long way – and if you’re looking for some customizable artwork, you might find exactly what you’re looking for.

When the DRG moved in (bringing his huge dressers with him), I had to rearrange my bedroom and put the bed in front of the windows. It’s the only way to place the furniture so that both sides of the bed are open and one of us isn’t jammed into a corner – a much nicer set up for both inhabitants of the room. Once I did that, it left me with the opposite wall empty and in need of something substantial to balance out all the weight on the other side of the room – but without taking up any of the non-existent floor space.

I thought about doing a mixed gallery wall – which I normally love – but for the bedroom I wanted a simple, symmetrical arrangement. I was thinking about sepia tone photographs of flowers or leaves, but I couldn’t find anything like what I had in mind at ANY price.

I own a marketing business, and part of my job is making up flyers and images to use for promotional purposes. Because I am not a graphic artist, I usually buy an image from one of the stock photo sites and add logos and text to customize. You have to be VERY careful using images for commercial purposes so that you don’t infringe on anyone’s work and buying the images ensures that you can legally use the image.

I was looking for something to use for a client project and I noticed the site I use ( has lots of nature themed photos. I put a few search terms in and came up with thousands of options for “flowers”. Jackpot!

I downloaded these photos:

Then I added the “sepia” filter on PicMonkey (my favorite photo editing tool) and resized them so they would print on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper:

Perfect! Exactly what I was looking for. I sent them off to my local printer and they came out great for just a couple bucks.

If you haven’t tried PicMonkey, do yourself a huge favor and check it out – it’s totally user friendly and fun to use.  I’ve been using it for a couple of years now, and I like it so much I became an affiliate. 

I had four matching 20 x 20″ picture frames that I picked up at a great price and they even included nice linen-y mats.

The frames were whitewashed, so I spray painted them a soft brown and popped in the flowers.

The end result is matches my original concept almost exactly….and you know it doesn’t always work out that way. 😉 Yes, I know there is crazy glare on this photo – the pictures are across the room from 3 big windows.

If you decide to go this route, there are several sites you can look at – ThinkStock and Shutterstock are two I like that you have to pay for. Shutterstock is my current favorite, they have a “5 downloads for $49” pricing package that works perfectly for me. Pixabay and Unsplash are terrific free sites – it just depends what you’re looking for. The paid sites have better search capabilities, more photos and you can organize photos you like into light boxes before you buy them. On the other hand, you can’t beat free.

A few bits of advice:

  1. Pay attention to the shape and orientation of the photo. I was planning to use mats with an 8×10 opening oriented horizontally, so I only considered rectangular photos oriented the same way. A square or vertical image would have been harder to work with.
  2. There are literally hundreds of thousands of images to choose from. I loved having so many choices, but it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole and all of the sudden it’s 3 hours later and your eyes are glazing over. With almost unlimited choices, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You will get to a point where you just need to make a decision.
  3. If you’re planning to filter a photo and go from color to black & white or sepia, you’ll need to consider how dark and saturated the color is. For example, this was one of the photos I originally downloaded:

There is nothing wrong with it, but once I added the sepia filter I felt that it was too dark compared to the other three flowers I was using, and I really wanted the overall effect to be kind of muted, soft and calm.

If you’re looking for art, there are endless possibilities in stock photos – nature, flowers, leaves, seasonal and holiday photos, even food photos for the kitchen. You could pick something with open copy space and add a quote or song lyric, or blow up the image and have them made into engineer prints.  One of these flowers would look fabulous supersized and hung on the wall. PicMonkey has tons of filters and effects, so it’s really easy to take these images and make them your own.

You’re probably wondering why you should pay for images when you can easily just grab them online, right?

Well, you could….but you shouldn’t.

For one thing, images you find online are almost never big enough to print correctly – they will distort when you enlarge them.

The other issue is that a photographer owns those images. As someone who deeply appreciates the creative work of others, I think it’s only fair that whoever spent the time to create these images be compensated for their time and talent. I have hired local photographers for other projects, I’ll be writing about that in a future post.

You will face a hefty fine for using an image for commercial purposes (not paying the 10 bucks can result in a $1000 fine and it’s no joke), but I don’t know about blowing it up and hanging it on your wall in the privacy of your own home.  What if you snap picture for your blog? Once it’s out there on the internet, you’re opening yourself up for trouble, so I think it’s easier to just play by the rules and pay up – or take advantage of one of these lovely free sites.

Cheers Julie Signature


About Julie

Julie is a serial entrepreneur, marketer, former newspaper columnist, black belt bargain hunter, voracious reader, gardener, music lover, foodie, wino, avid party thrower, hopeless romantic, closet Parrot Head and DIY machine.