How to Create Amazing Photos for Your Emails on Zero Budget

When it comes to running a business, effective branding is a “must.” It seeps into everything you do — from your marketing strategy to your customer interactions.

Consistent and cohesive branding across all platforms — websites, emails, landing pages, social posts, advertisements, products, etc. — builds trust. It shows professionalism. It represents your passion for your product and your attention to the little details.

And it makes you instantly recognizable.

Branding helps you define:

  1. Who your business is
  2. What your business does
  3. How you visually communicate #1 and #2 to your potential and current customers

Larger businesses put tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands!) of dollars into branding. They can hire agencies (or pay for internal marketing teams), who brand everything from their stationary to their websites to their products.

So what should a small business or solopreneur do? How can you compete? Where do you even begin? Below, I’ll show you how to create amazing brand images on zero budget.

Start with stock photos

You’re probably using stock photos. Stock images are a fantastic option for those who are short on time and resources. Nowadays, you can find great free images to use at your disposal.

Some of my favorite sources include:

While stock imagery is a quick and easy solution that anyone can use, there’s also one big problem with it: The selections are often boring and generic.

Plus, everyone uses stock photography. (At least everyone who can’t hire professional photographers on a daily basis!)

Here at AWeber, we had a similar problem. We noticed many other businesses were choosing the same stock images as we were — which decreased our brand’s impact in the inbox and on social.

How to brand stock photos

As a Brand Designer for the AWeber team, I wanted to change this. I wanted to create unity across all our assets — our blog, social feeds, ads, and emails — and put our own twist on the stock images we used. I wanted them to be modern. I wanted them to pack a punch, and for readers to instantly know they were AWeber’s images. I wanted to brand stock photos.

In order to change the way we handled our stock photography, I looked at what was currently missing from our blog images: consistency, color, and fun.

Here’s what our blog looked like before:

brand stock photography

To enhance consistency, I started using a subtle, warm-color overlay to create similar feelings across all images.

brand stock photography

But I didn’t want all the overlays to be the same. And I didn’t want them to be totally different, either. So I started to systematize the color themes to correspond with our different article categories. For instance, an article about “writing better emails” would have a blue to green color shift, and an article about “designing better emails” would use an orange to yellow color shift.

brand stock photos

I also wanted to make our images more FUN! In an attempt to do something a little different and unexpected, we incorporated the color additions within varying geometric shapes — like circles, rectangles, and pentagons. The shapes are placed in a way that benefits the composition of the image — not necessarily beholden to a content category. Plus, I added bold, capped font for all social images so they’d catch a person’s attention as they scrolled through their feed.

brand stock photos

We applied this new branding style to all our content — blog articles, social posts, ads, and landing pages. We even incorporated elements into our new blog newsletter sign up page.

Here’s a before and after of our blog with the branded stock images.

brand stock photos

(Unlike other email service providers, AWeber offers unlimited image hosting — so you can upload as many images as you want with no quotas to worry about.)

More ways to brand stock photos

You can easily make similar changes to your stock images today by pulling elements from your logo, website, or blog to personalize the look. (I recommend using free editing software like Appy Pie Design, Canva or Pixlr.)  Some ways you can make quick branding updates include:

  • Use brand colors: You can overlay them on top of the image or use them behind text so that it becomes easier to read. Make sure your font colors are the same on your blog, website, and emails.
  • Pull shapes that reoccur on your site or are used within your logo: This is specifically great for those who use any icons within their logo (the simpler the shape the better). It can also help as a divider between your image and text.
  • Use fonts that are used in your logo or as plain type on your website: It’s important to pick a font that is easy to read and, ironically, not too original. Typically fonts that are not commonly used as standard type like “Lobster” or “Brush Script” can be hard to read at a quick glance. In order for your images to stand out, you want people to know exactly what you are saying right away.

I encourage you to use any elements you can to make your photos stand out from the masses. Create a brand you’re proud of — and one that people are excited to be a part of.

Get started today! Send professionally-designed emails without an ounce of design experience. Try AWeber’s easy-to-use Drag and Drop Email Builder. Sign up for AWeber Free!


  1. Johnathan Weberg

    8/24/2018 6:36 pm

    Love the post, because so many people are looking to find creative ways to make all kinds of content and images that get attention, and they usually don’t know how!

    Pexels is my favorite to use for sure, they have some GREAT stock photos.

    For editing, some companies I’ve worked with like using Canva as well.

    Great content my friend! Love it!
    Way to help people, for real.

  2. Nicole Mascola

    8/28/2018 2:07 pm

    Thank you for the kind words, Johnathan! I’m so happy that this was helpful.


    8/25/2018 8:06 am

    important blog for every one. Thanks for posting.

  4. indiakaaoffer

    8/25/2018 3:28 pm

    Nice article thank you for posting…

  5. Daniel Morris

    8/28/2018 4:58 am

    Photos definitely help with branding. For engagement, from my experience, smileys work great too. Having a few smileys in the subject line alone can improve open rates and boost engagement as a result.

  6. Nicole Mascola

    8/28/2018 1:56 pm

    Thank you Daniel for the additional advice! I’m sure you can use a number of things within your subject line to increase engagement, but smileys are always a friendly and fun addition!

  7. Nicole Mascola

    8/28/2018 2:00 pm

    Thank you so much for reading, Raj! I’m so happy you enjoyed and were able to take some useful information from it!

  8. Mike Davison

    8/29/2018 12:30 am

    Picking the right photo can make a huge difference when it comes to conversion. One thing that I have also read is that people are more likely to believe a statement if that statement is written on top of an image.

  9. Bernz JP

    8/30/2018 3:08 pm

    Great tips Nicole! And as an Aweber subscriber, how do I access the stock photos? Thanks

  10. Nicole Mascola

    8/30/2018 4:47 pm

    Thank you so much for your great question, Bernz.

    When you are building your email within the drag and drop editor you can add an image section. You will then be prompted on your right to add an image from the Image Gallery. Click that button and you should see a tab in the pop up window that says Stock Images. From there, you can use any of those images for your email. If you wish to edit them on your own, you will need to save them and edit them with your choice of external image editing program.

    I hope that is helpful!

  11. Alyce-Kay Ruckelshaus

    8/30/2018 8:18 pm

    Nicole, what a brilliant idea! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  12. Dilip Kumar

    8/31/2018 2:41 am

    Hey Nicole,
    That was a nice article on a topic that is not discussed about a lot.
    Interesting, since it’s the same stock photo websites that almost all blogs are sourcing from, almost all post images more or, less looks the same if it is discussing about a specific topic.
    The most that bloggers do to make it look a little different is to put some text on the image.
    But these ideas discussed here are slightly different approach to making these same images look different.
    Thanks for the informative post.


  13. Sage Kimble

    8/31/2018 4:01 pm

    I want to access your free stock photos for customers. When I click on the link provided, I get an offer for free trial for 30 days. If I’m signed in, the link takes me to my User Control Panel. I had no idea you have a stock photo gallery. Please let me know how to access it. (email answer preferred)

  14. Nicole Mascola

    8/31/2018 4:40 pm

    Hi Sage!

    You can access our stock images through the email drag and drop builder! Here is a Knowledge Base Article that references steps on how to do that.

    Thank you for your question,