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Ineffective Imagery: The Case for Dumping Stock Photography

Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks
Editor Staff
Apr 08, 2016

Are you making the mistake of using stock images in places where original, high quality visuals should be used?

You don’t have to sift through piles of market research to realize the Internet is becoming increasingly visual.

Just scroll through your Facebook timeline for a few minutes and you’ll notice that it’s largely dominated by pictures, videos, memes, and photo galleries.

In fact, it’s rare to see anyone post something on social media that doesn’t have an image attached.

The appeal of visual content has contributed to the popularity of YouTube, Vine, Instagram, Periscope, Meerkat, Snapchat, and other popular content sharing platforms.

Even corporate onsite blogs are transitioning from text-heavy entries to content that’s complimented by images and video.

Unfortunately, though, these corporate blogs often get things wrong.

Chief among these blunders is the decision to use cold stock photography and regurgitated images in place of unique visuals and customer photography.

Are you making the mistake of using stock images in places where original, high-quality visuals should be used?

If so, your conversion rates and brand image are likely suffering. 

The Problem with Stock Photography

“Stock photography is one of the strangest features of our highly visual, Tumblrized media landscape,” says Clive Thompson of

“More and more people throw photos onto sites, and more and more news agencies, strapped for cash, resort to using cheapo stock photos.” Sound familiar?

If you’re still using stock photos and expecting to see a high rate of return on your content, then you’re due for a wakeup call.

Unfortunately, stock photos don’t work. They damage the reputation of your brand and directly inhibit your content from successfully engaging users.

Need some evidence? Here are the three reasons why stock photography doesn’t work.

1. Cliché and Overused

“The problem is that most of this photography is desperately hackneyed,” Thompson says in regards to the cliché nature of stock imagery.

“Search for ‘work’ at a stock-photo site and you’ll get grinning corporate replicants shaking hands over some totally rad deal they’ve apparently just signed. Search for ‘family’ and see phalanxes of white middle-class Stepford moms, dads, and kids.”

If you want to understand just how overused and clichéd stock images are, meet Jennifer Anderson.

After posing for a photo shoot in the mid 1990s, she became known as “The Everywhere Girl.” Why, you may ask? Because she literally started showing up in advertisements everywhere.

She appeared in ads for Dell, Visa, HP, Microsoft, AAA, BBC, the U.S. Navy, a handful of colleges and universities, and more.

Do you really want to use the same photos your competitors are using? While this is certainly an extreme case, it just goes to show that you have no control over the stock imagery you use.

2. Out of Touch

The problem with stock photography is that the images aren’t designed for any purpose.

The smiling faces of two men shaking hands in a corporate boardroom may be general enough to represent the basic idea you’re trying to convey, but it doesn’t take into account all of the subtle nuances and additional factors that need to be present in order to do the image justice.

3. Looks Totally Fake

Quite frankly, stock photography just looks fake. Between the juxtaposed logos, forced cropping, and overdramatized facial expressions, stock photography doesn’t do much more than fill empty space.

It certainly doesn’t resonate with your audience. Your content deserves a much better fate, as do your readers and customers.  

The Alternatives to Stock Images

The good news is that there are alternatives to stock images (without exceeding your limited marketing budget).

Let’s take a look at some strategies and examples for a better idea of how you can compete in today’s visually-demanding content marketing landscape.

1. Hire a Professional Photographer

The best option is to hire a professional photographer to take all of the photos you need. This is also the most expensive approach, so it won’t work for every marketer.

For an example of how professional photography benefits marketing, take a look at this landing page from a real estate company.

Notice the high-resolution photo gallery at the top of the page. All of the images have been taken specifically for the page using professional techniques and equipment.

They scream “quality.” Now, run a search on a popular site like Zillow and look for condos in your area. Notice how most of the listings use extremely low-resolution images with poor lighting and angles.

If you’re going to use your own images, then you need to hire a professional to handle the details. Some of you are probably wondering how you can get professional photography for every blog entry or landing page.

Well, the easiest way is to develop a content plan at the beginning of the month.

This framework outlines the topics of every piece of content you’ll be producing over the next four weeks and provides you with an easy way to prepare images ahead of time. Schedule a photographer to come in and take a bunch of photos, and you’ll be good to go.

Here’s a brief article regarding how one company was able to move away from lifeless stock photos and create stunning alternatives by simply scheduling a professional photo shoot with its employees. 

2. Hire a Talented Graphic Designer

If you can’t afford custom photography all of the time, your next best solution is to hire a graphic designer who can either create images from scratch or blend various elements from high quality stock photos to create unique visuals that properly represent your brand.

To get an idea of how you can turn basic stock images into custom visuals, check out the examples in this guide.

This just goes to show that not all stock photos are bad, but that you must transform them to extract any value.

Focus on Quality Imagery

Quality imagery is extremely important. And while you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on images, you also don’t have to resort to useless stock images that are overused, out of touch, and inauthentic.

If you want to do your content justice and leverage the growing trend of visual content, then you need to begin developing a forward-thinking strategy that places a priority on the use of unique visuals and custom images.

Think about the alternative tips discussed in this article and do your best to overthrow the terrible trend of vague stock photography.

Image Credit:

RossHelen / Getty Images

Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks Staff
Chad Brooks is a writer and editor with more than 20 years of media of experience. He has been with Business News Daily and for the past decade, having written and edited content focused specifically on small businesses and entrepreneurship. Chad spearheads coverage of small business communication services, including business phone systems, video conferencing services and conference call solutions. His work has appeared on The Huffington Post,,, Live Science, IT Tech News Daily, Tech News Daily, Security News Daily and Laptop Mag. Chad's first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014.