You know it when you see it.

A photo of two well-dressed people shaking hands. An object in focus, with a blurred background. An image of an ethnically diverse group of people gathered around a table. A woman standing, holding a phone, in an airport.

Right-click on a web image in Chrome or Firefox, then “Search Google for this image.” If the search result shows sites with the same photo, you’ve found it: a stock photograph.

Stock photo problems

Stock images solved a real problem when photographs were expensive to create and reproduce. However, the camera on our phone today takes high resolution photos that we can share at almost no cost.

When you use a stock photo, you may convey messages you don’t intend to send. Does a smiling, generic model’s face on a website build as much trust as an image of the actual CEO? A stock photo suggests that you may not care enough to capture and share your own image.

On some level, all photos deceive. Every photo presents an edited version of reality; a single, selected snapshot in time. A stock photograph deceives on an additional level, since it portrays a borrowed reality; you use someone else’s image to represent your product, your people, or your place. When you use a stock photograph, you show your willingness to present fiction as fact.

The Google Photos solution

Most organizations need a variety of photos. Exterior location shots help people recognize your site when they visit. Photos of employees–informal “in action” shots and formal, posed “inaction” shots–portray real people at work. Product shots, customer photos, and images from events all help tell your organization’s story.

If you have the budget, hire a professional photographer to create a core library of images for your organization. A pro will know how to capture interesting images. Few organizations will retain a photographer full time; most will need to create their own photos.

With the June 2015 launch of Photos, Google made it easier than ever to get photos off your phone and use them in Google Docs and Slides (and Sheets and Forms, too). Here’s how:

  1. First, install the Google Photos app on an Android or iOS device.
  2. Set the app to automatically backup photos. (In the Photos app, choose the three-line menu bar, Settings, Back up & sync, and select On.)
  3. View saved photos on the web at Stored photos are private by default.
  4. Next, connect Google Photos from Google Drive on the web. Open your browser to, and choose Google Photos (Figure A).
    Figure A
  5. Finally, select one or more images, and use Google’s share settings to allow colleagues access to your images.

Remember, you can edit images, too. On mobile devices, Google Docs and Slides both support basic image crop and mask functions. For more powerful mobile edits, try Google’s Snapseed app for Android or iOS. On the web, Slides and Drawings, in particular, allow you to control image transparency and order. (Look for the Image options… button on the web.) For example, you might place a highly transparent image in the background, with another image in front.

So, the next time you need a photo, skip the stock photography. Instead, go to Google Photos and find an authentic image of real people, with real products, in a real place. People notice.