Why I Broke My Own Rule (and You Should Too!)

When I was in my early 20s, I worked for an organization that published medical textbooks and newsletters.

As an editor, I was given a lot of freedom with the design of my publications, and one of the responsibilities was to choose the stock photos that were printed alongside articles or on book covers.

I’d scroll through thousands of images to find the one that perfectly illustrated “risk of falling” or “patient safety.” Most of the photos were handsome models in lab coats mugging at the camera, but some of the photos were just plain weird.

One day (when we obviously had too much time on our hands), the other editors and I decided to try to find the absolute worst stock photo of the bunch. After much debate and laughing, we finally found the winner (or loser): an elderly lady sitting in a rocking chair holding a pistol in her lap next to a table with an opened medication bottle spilling pills over the table surface…and the pills spelled out the word “DIE.”

It was really disturbing!

What was the photographer thinking when he or she set up that photo? In what publication would that image be appropriate?

That job shaped my opinion of stock photography. Those posed, unnatural photos were weird, lazy, and not what any respectable company would use for their marketing. Here are some examples of what I mean:

When I started my own business, I decided that I would never, ever stoop to the level of using stock photography. I know a lot of other life coaches, and I was disappointed whenever I saw the same sterile stock photos on their sites. In one week, I saw the same photo of a group of people (young and old, many races, and all wearing shades of gray) smiling and jumping into the air on 3 different websites.

“Wow!” I thought. “There’s nothing unique about them. Thank goodness I take my business seriously.”

So I made it a point to take all of my own photos, which resulted in this display of seriousness:


Well, at least I was having fun, and I certainly set myself apart from other coaches. I like showing my goofy side, and my clients want to show their sweet sides too.

But to be perfectly honest, it’s been exhausting sticking to my guns about stock photography. It takes extra time to plan the photo shoots, make sure Chris has time in his schedule to be my photographer, plan my outfits, and edit the photos. Did I mention that every photo on my site is taken with my iPhone? Yep, I run a sophisticated operation around here.

I was easily losing hours every week handling the photos for my website…time I could have been devoting to my clients, my family, or myself.

A few months ago, I started my online magazine, Sweet and Sage, and I decided that I would use stock photography on that website. A magazine needs high-quality images, and it was the only way I could keep up with the daily posting schedule.

And guess what?

The world didn’t stop turning. I didn’t get any hate mail. And my laptop didn’t self-destruct out of shame. Turns out, no one really cared whether I used stock photos or my own.

I’m so thankful for how my life coaching business has grown this year. And it seems like I’ve outgrown my old paradigm. I can either (1) stay small, post once or twice a week, and use my own photos or (2) post most days of the week using some stock photos.

In the end, it was a no-brainer decision. My job as your coach is to get helpful, positive, “sage” advice out there so you can make your life as sweet as possible. If stock photography on Sage Grayson Coaching is OK with you, then it’s OK with me. In fact, the photo for this post is a stock photo (not so bad, right?).

So that’s why I’m breaking my own rule—and you should too!

Is there some old way of thinking you’re holding on to out of obligation or principle? Does that way of thinking still serve you?

Stock photos have changed in the past 10 years. There are more choices out there and more people are sharing their beautiful photos simply because they love photography and not to make a profit. It’s not just cheesy models in lab coats anymore.

How have you changed from the person you were 10 years ago? Have your ideas grown and matured too?

The Editor’s Toolkit

  • Free Workshop: 3 Simple Steps to Become a Productivity Superstar
  • 25+ Printable Worksheets
  • 6 Life Editing Ebooks
  • My Favorite Books and Resources


  1. Vivienne on August 5, 2013 at 6:54 am

    A few weeks ago I told myself that I had to wake up at 6:30 every morning to walk the dog and be dressed by 8… but I’ve decided that if I’ve been up 5 times in the night to feed the baby, it’s ok to sleep in and I’m not being slothful if I’m still in bed at 9!

  2. Summer on August 4, 2013 at 8:25 am

    This is a great reminder for me! Letting go of standards that don’t fit my lifestyle is something I’m really working on. For example, I claimed I was not a morning person. I couldn’t possibly get up early, much less be productive, first thing in the day. I’m starting to realize that’s not even true. It’s just been an old way of thinking that’s held me back from actually trying to do more in the morning.

    Now, I make an effort to wake up an hour earlier and get some exercise in before work. It changes my mood for the entire day, and I wish I’d let go of that limiting non-morning-person belief earlier! I’m learning just how important flexibility and openness are.

    And no shame for stock photos. I work for a magazine that uses stock photos often because of budget, and it’s hilarious to see some of the stuff that’s available. But there are definitely great options now that are completely unexpected and don’t scream “I’m stock!” I’m a big fan of the conceptual and illustration options, but I do have a few favorite stock models!

    • Sage Grayson on August 4, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Thanks, Summer! You’re right, stock photos have gotten really nice in the past few years. I’m finally letting go of my old belief that stock photos are bad.

      I had to train myself to get up earlier too, but I’m so glad I did. I get my best work done first thing in the morning, and now I have time to meditate and set my intention for the day.

  3. Sarah @ This Is What I Eat on August 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    I think that stock photography has its place but I love the personal touch your photos have 🙂 You always do such a great job and your personality shines through so much. That said, I really don’t mind stock photography either! I think contrived stock photos are silly but there are a lot of talented photographers making money selling high quality stock photography. You’ve done a great job selecting yours 🙂

    It’s funny because I’ve actually come full circle in 10 years. I went into college in 2001 with a passion for science and left in 2005 with a degree in communication. 12 years after I started college I’ve rediscovered my passion for science and plan to pursue it. One rule I’ve decided to let go is my need to plan my entire life out to the last detail. I’ve learned that life hands you too many curve balls and it is unrealistic to micromanage every detail. Now I just take things as they come 🙂

    • Sage Grayson on August 4, 2013 at 8:39 am

      Thanks, Sarah! I’ll still have photos of me on my website, but there will be some stock ones thrown into the mix too.

      I love it that you’re reconnecting with the sciences again. 🙂 Have you been happier now that you have a “go with the flow” attitude?

      • Sarah @ This Is What I Eat on August 6, 2013 at 3:20 pm

        I do feel happier but I think that a lot of that comes from not letting little things bother me anymore. I used to get very upset and take things very personally. I always *said* I didn’t care but I clearly did. Eventually, I did stop caring (about stupid things that shouldn’t affect my happiness) and I truly do feel better now.

  4. Molly on August 3, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    I don’t mind stock photography at all, although I do love the pictures you take! I know how long it can take to take photos (especially if you have specific ones in mind), pick through them and edit them. I’ve always been impressed at how many you do for your website!

    One thing I’ve learned to let go of is having a certain cleaning schedule every week. I’m much more relaxed about it now and no longer get anxious if something sits for an extra day or two. The best part is that my house is still just as clean, so win-win!

    • Sage on August 3, 2013 at 5:16 pm

      Yes! Cleaning is something I’ve had to lighten up on too. You’re right, a day or two doesn’t matter and the house is still clean. Good one.

      I’ll still have a lot of pictures of me (obviously because my name’s in the header!), but it’s nice to know that stock photos are OK with you. 🙂