How to Find & Use Great Photography to Build Your Brand


I have a confession to make.

I'm a little bit of a digital photography hoarder.  I have terabytes of photos.  Some are my own.  Some are from stock subscriptions.  Many are from the growing number of sites where photographers give their photos away. 

Gorgeous amazing photos that are offered free of charge and free of restriction.  If you can't take your own relevant image, unrestricted photos are the way to go.

But there is a method to using these images well.  Every image is not equal.  Every image is not relevant.  Some are beautiful photography, but simply do not fit your brand vibe. 

1. Find Your Brand Aesthetic

Before you can find or create images that will fit your brand aesthetic, you have to know what that aesthetic is.  What is you signature "look"?  Are you moody or airy, minimal or feminine, dark or bright?

Clean + Bright

Vintage + Moody

A screen grab of  @TwinSparrowCo , who makes the most gorgeous leather key chains + illustrated notebooks

A screen grab of @TwinSparrowCo, who makes the most gorgeous leather key chains + illustrated notebooks

Light + Airy

A screen grab of  @LisaSilvaPhotography , an incredible fine art wedding photographer + sweet friend

A screen grab of @LisaSilvaPhotography, an incredible fine art wedding photographer + sweet friend

There is a reason why we can recognize Anthropologie or Calvin Klein or Target.  They have a look.  And it is consistent.  What is your look?  What sets you apart?  If you aren't sure or haven't nailed that bit down, pause and go surf Instagram.  Take note of the accounts with looks that light you up inside.  What about the look stands out to you?  Analyze it.  Why does it speak to you?  Find at least 3 accounts with looks you love, that feel like you'd fit into.  Make notes.  Then create some aesthetic guidelines for your own imagery.  Use these guidelines to determine whether an image is a good brand fit or not for your visuals.

I love Twin Sparrow Co's look.  I love it all the way to my toes and back.  But it is not my aesthetic.  Where as Lisa's look is much closer to my own.  (Go follow them on Instagram.  They are amazing.)

2. Understand What Types of Images There Are & How You Can Use Them

Gone is the time you can hop on Google Image search and just pull an image out of the internet stratosphere.  If you are going to be using images in your social media and in your blogging for your business, it is really important to know how you can use them legally.  This is not an exhaustive list, in no way meant to be legal advice or meant to cover every circumstance. That said here are a few of the most common photo usage scenarios.

  • PHOTOS YOU HAVE TAKEN:  They are yours!  You can use them however you like.
  • PHOTOS PHOTOGRAPHERS HAVE TAKEN: If paid, make sure you have permission to use them online and specify what they will be used for.  Get permission in writing. If done in collaboration, again specify what is and is not acceptable, preferably in writing.  In both cases, clearly credit the photographer and get permission to edit if you are going to need to do so.  Seriously.  Ask first. 
  • STOCK PHOTOS PURCHASED ONLINE: Make sure you read the license agreement and honor it.  Most stock photo sites require crediting, though some do not.
  • PHOTOS YOU FIND ON PINTEREST:  Just nabbing a photo from Pinterest without researching it first is bad form.  Find out where it came from and get permission before using it.  Make sure you credit it clearly as well.
  • PHOTOS YOU FIND THROUGH GOOGLE, FLICKR OR SEARCHES: Unless clearly marked otherwise, assume the image is copyright protected.  Some photos will have permissions to share with credit or other qualifications for usage.
  • PHOTOS THAT ARE CC0 OR COPYRIGHT FREE: Crediting is appreciate but not required.  You can edit these photos and use them however you like! This is where we are going to focus from here on out.

3. Where to Find Amazing CC0 Images for FREE

There is a whole counter stock photography movement where incredible photographers offer gorgeous images free of restriction.  They give them away.  Below are a few of my favorite CC0 image sites.  There is some overlap of certain content but all 3 are worth perusing.

  • UNSPLASH.COM: This is arguable my favorite.  The images are consistently high quality.  Sign up for an account to like photos and organize them into your own collections (like folders).  You can also surf other folks collections.  It is very easy to get lost in all the beauty.
  • PIXABAY.COM: This is largest collection of CC0 images that I am aware of online.  There are a greater selection to chose from but the quality varies a bit more.  But you can search and narrow results by color, file type and orientation which can be really helpful.
  • PEXELS.COM: A smaller collection but absolutely beautiful.

OTHER PLACES TO FIND CC0 IMAGES:  These sites have a wide range of quality and subject matter.  Always double check the image license if there is any doubt.

4. How to Make CC0 Images Work for Your Brand

Here are some tips to make the most out of the CC0 images you find.  Some of these also can be applied to purchased royalty-free stock photography, just always double check the usage agreement for any restrictions.

  • Edit the tonality, brightness and crop of the image.  My aesthetic is very bright and clean, with some pops of color.  I use SnapSeed on my phone to do the first round of edits and usually bump up the brightness and highlights of the image at a minimum.  The second round of phone edits usually happens in Instagram's native editor before posting.
  • Add words using or an app on your phone like WordSwag.
  • Use the images to tell the visual part of a story and your caption written in your brand voice to tell the rest.
  • Create a consistent narrative both with your visuals and your voicing.  When in doubt, leave it out.
  • Intersperse CC0 or Royalty-Free stock photos with your original content to keep your feed fresh, unique and relevant.

5. Beautiful, Affordable Royalty-Free Stock Photography

These images are gorgeous and won't break the budget.  And there are no affilite links here, I'm just sharing what I love.

Why Openness is My Word for 2018


It is hard to believe my calendar is now reading 2018.  2017 was a white-knuckled roller coaster ride of year.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've started and stopped this blog and restarted and stopped it again.  I think it took me a year of finding my footing in this new season to really even know what I had to write about.  I'm a big believer in not throwing words on a screen just because it is good for my SEO or bottom line.

Words to me are sacred things.  Time is the most valuable treasure we have and I am not willing to waste either-- words or time.  If it doesn't add genuine value and bring encouragement, I'm just not going to do it.

There are HEAPS of amazing blogs out there on entrepreneurship, on creativity, on creative entrepreneurship, on branding and marketing and there is so much information swirl it is easy to feel like you are caught in a conceptual rip tide of advice and insight.

And I did not, I do not want to add to the current.  After a year of trial and error and a lot of soul-searching, this space is now dedicated to serving you with Encouragement + Insight for Creatives + Entrepreneurs. 

A place to share this journey into wholehearted entrepreneurship with you in hope that it will inspire your own.  A place to be real and raw and lay it all out on the proverbial table.   A place to share what I am learning and insights that I pray will pour courage into your creative soul and put actionable tools in your hand to build your business.  A place to forge community rooted in authenticity.  A place to know you are not alone.  Not ever.

On Jan 3, 2017 I first published this website and went all in on launching this dream full time.  Now a year later it is becoming what it is meant to be, and myself with it.  The journey to embrace our story and become who we really are might be the bravest journey of all.

↑ Share this with friends on Pinterest and invite others to join the conversation

↑ Share this with friends on Pinterest and invite others to join the conversation

You do know it is more than OK to try things and then change them and try again until you find what fits, right?  No one expects you to nail it the first time out of the gate.  You might.  But it is really OK if you don't.  Just keep trying.

I chose COURAGEOUS as my word for 2017.  Every little step in the right direction, was a victory of courage and grace.  It has been a year that left stretch marks on my soul.  New things have a way of doing that. 

In 2013, health issues and organizational changes forced me to walk away from 130 children I thought I would raise for the rest of my life.  It forced me to move out of the home I had built in the heart of a conflict zone in South Sudan.  I wound up back in the USA with every single dream I had poured my life into for 7+ years stripped away.  And let me tell you, when that happens friend, the hardest journey I have ever taken has been the one back to choosing to dream again.

Maybe you've had a dream taken away, something you've built pulled out from under you, a life direction change, a lost job or career, a betrayal of trust... something you can't change and feel you could never return from.  But you can keep going.  We need you to keep going.

For 2018, my word is OPENNESS.  What a word it is turning out to be.  I want this to be a year where I live with my heart wide open to dream, to step out into the possibilities opening around, to live authentic with my soul on fire, to not be penned up by past loss or grief or pain.  It is a risky word to embrace.  But it is even more risky to live with a heart that is shut up in the name of safety.


I took a little New Year social media hiatus to take that time to put as much TLC into stewarding my own story, my own brand, my own growth as I do for my clients. And something magical has happened. All the dislocated pieces of my journey these last 5 years, the crushing pain of loss and threads of purpose, passion and platform came together... woven in front of my eyes into what can only be termed redemption.

What if your deepest setback was simply the setup for your greatest comeback?

Our setbacks can truly become the stage for our greatest comebacks. Our deepest sorrows the seeds of our most profound joy. How could that perspective reframe and transform the struggles you have walked or are walking through?  That's what I hope and pray for each of you friends this year. A joy that is rooted deep in your creative purpose. And now I'm going to tuck back away and finish this website (and client deadlines) because I cannot wait to open this space and invite you in, that we all may flourish together.  You are wildly loved.

How about you friend: what is your word for 2018?  Do you have an action plan for walking it out? Are you excited?  Scared?  Hopeful?

{Pop down to the comments and let me know!  I want to hear about YOUR word for 2018.}