Oh my stock, photos that suck

Almost every website with any resemblance of professionalism uses stock photography. Although it is usually very high resolution, it is so often very low in realism.

Do people actually respond to fake, photographs? Only your own testing can tell for sure, but one thing’s for certain, if the images on your site are actually unique and speak to your customers, you have an advantage over everyone else.

Here’s my favorite examples of the too-stock photography that we see everywhere!

The collaboration

Great ideas come from conflict and discussion, not cooperation. If everybody’s happy, then chances are nothing is getting done.

The corporate team

When you take a picture of a bunch of models in business suites, you end up with… A bunch of models in business suites!

The business professional

Hmmm. Just out of college and standing around dreaming. My advice is to stop standing around and get to work.

The customer service rep

If it were this much fun to work in a call center, they wouldn’t have the highest turnover rate of any job.

The grunge factor

Nothing says professional like a scruffy face or a crumbling wall…

However, You shouldn’t take this as a recommendation to put a bunch of low quality pictures on your site. But, trying to find some realism isn’t a terrible thing.

Do this:

  • Show realism!
  • Connect with your visitor!
  • Don’t choose a photo just for a pretty face!
  • Choose photos that have some relation with your service!
  • Use only clear, sharp, and high quality photos!
  • Take time when choosing any stock photo for your website. Make sure you can easily explain why you chose that image!

Here’s an interesting article about how people in photo’s can affect your website’s conversions.

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  1. Robert Gorell 30 Jan, 2008

    This is pure genius. I’m just upset that I didn’t think of blogging it first.

    When I see stock photos on a corporate website, I cringe.

    (Disclosure: We’ve used some pretty bad stock photos before on our blog, but never on our company website — for all the reasons you mention here.)

  2. Michelle Greer 13 Feb, 2008

    My favorite is going to istock, typing in a keyword, and then getting 50 results that have nothing to do with that keyword.

    Photographers should be banned from tagging their own photos.

    Agreed that cheesy stock photos are no good, but finding non-cheesy ones in high res is quite a daunting task.

  3. jestep 14 Feb, 2008

    Finding good ones is extremely difficult. It seems like the two options are spending hours on istock or other cheap stock sites, or spending hundreds of dollars per photo on the really high-end stock sites.

    I can always find what I’m looking for on Getti Images, but I usually am not willing to pay their ridiculous prices for them.

  4. Rodica 16 Feb, 2008

    I am kind of new at stock photography. I am also selling photos on 5 Royalty Free Stock sites.
    About 5 weeks ago, I opened a new website and I would be very grateful if you would give me a bit of constructive criticism to help me improve and offer what is needed NOT what I want. If you would be so kind to take a look at my website and point me in the right direction, I truly appreciate it.
    I really don’t want to copy the big Royalty Free sites, who are extremely picky and expect the best from photographers and pay them $ 0.21 per sold image. It takes a lot of work and time to get a photo ready and honestly, you CANNOT MAKE A LIVING on what they pay us !
    So, please help, but don’t hit me to hard, I am a person with feelings ……
    Thank you so much for reading my message and for visiting my website.

  5. troels 3 Mar, 2008

    So true.

    Whenever I see a site with photos like this, I know it’s a dodgy one-man company, trying to appear professional.

  6. Nick - e marketing 6 Mar, 2008

    Hi, I am a web developer / designer and often use stock photo sites, and even though i agree that stock photos are cheesy and often don’t reference well to a business. (especially one aiming at a local market) .

    One thing i will say is, having pictures with plain backgrounds is extremely helpful when incorporating them into a design. Stock photos with people in are the worst of the kind, vehicle’s etc are not so bad.

    A lot of my customers would prefer me to get a stock image of there commercial vehicle and replace their sign writing in photoshop, rather than a low quality image provided by themselves.

    Even when customers insist that they use their own images, when they come into the studio they often effect th corporate look of their site, making it look like a smaller / less professional business.

  7. jestep 13 Mar, 2008

    Here’s a good one. How may people look like this when studying for a DBA exam?

  8. James Leicester 14 Mar, 2008

    Jestep, great blog! I’ve never actually stopped and looked at stock photography in the way you have mentioned. With your annotations for each photograph, it is easy to see how potential customers could make assumptions about a web-site.

    I’ve just made a recruitment agency web-site, that is riddled with Stock Photography, now I feel ashamed!


  9. devx 10 Apr, 2008

    hahahahaha. I too am guilty of using stock images! But sometimes as a web designer, we don’t have much choice, since some of our smaller clients provide us with really low quality images. And clients seem to love this type of images, as (in their opinion) it makes them look profesional!

  10. Mr Speaker 22 Apr, 2008

    Freakin’ excellent – and i agree with your suggestions 100%… I started looking up stock photo stuff after reading this excellent (and relevant, promise!) argument against them: http://rawstylus.wordpress.com/2007/05/01/9things/ (the long comment by “bruno”). And after this awesome stock photo photo site: http://stutterstock.wordpress.com/

  11. Jeff Lewis 6 May, 2008

    I have entire sub-classes of “lifestyle stock photography. There’s the Baby Toss, Jumping Idiots, Odd Looking Eastern Europeans etc.

  12. jestep 10 Jun, 2008

    I have entire sub-classes of “lifestyle stock photography. There’s the Baby Toss, Jumping Idiots, Odd Looking Eastern Europeans etc.

    I’ll shoot for round 2 of bad stock photos, and these are some great ones.

  13. Whenever I see a site with photos like this, I know it’s a dodgy one-man company, trying to appear professional.

  14. Free Online Store 29 Nov, 2008


    Thanks for this article, I don’t personly like photos like this if i am honest. Quite simply because they all the same, asin you know what they are trying to achieve from it and there is no originality in it.

    Anyway thanks again.

  15. Mike 2 Apr, 2009

    The Collaboration and The Corporate Team are definitely the worst. They make me cringe more often than anything else when browsing stock photo sites. It’s unfortunate this style is so prolific!

  16. Loloy Daemonic 17 Apr, 2009

    Those web-hosting vendors who use irresponsible stock photographs easily irritate me and do not gain me as a customer.

    You will note that the most sensible and most successful web-hosters out there apply only a very prudent amount of stock photography on their selling points.

    Professional or not, I’d always prefer real photographs when marketing your own team.

  17. James Bond 29 May, 2009

    LOL. I found your this website because I myself was thinking about making a blog like this. I have scouring the web for cheesy corporate photos just like the ones you posted.

    It’s always hilarious when I find two different companies with the same “collaboration photo” – that’s happened to me twice so far.

    What’s really annoying is using the word “Solutions” on their website headers. Why can’t they just call it ‘products’ or ‘services’? LAME!!!!

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