Stock photo crash: The dangers of overusing stock imagery
Stock images are widely used in marketing to support the story being told through design – whether that be on a billboard, a website, a brochure, etc. They are
If you’re writing a blog post on “How to Nail Your 2-Minute Pitch”, it’s probably not worth the time and money to hire a photographer to stage a meeting with models in a professional setting.
Unfortunately, overuse of stock images has its downsides – stock photos can be easily spotted. Take Ariane, the “Overexposed Stock Image Model” for example.
Ariane has been seen everywhere – backpacking in China, credit card ads, pore strip packaging, photosynthesizing… the list literally goes on and on. People have even created a Facebook page dedicated to sightings of Ariane. A stock image has no limits to its use.
To really demonstrate HOW much a stock photo can be used, I randomly picked a business-themed image from the homepage of istockphoto.com: A classic business handshake to seal the deal.
I threw it into a reverse Google Image search where Google generated a list of thousands (literally) of websites using this exact image. Needless to say, there is no shortage of companies all using the same image for the purpose of advertising. The downside here is that you are among the crowd, and one among a million is a very different sentiment than one in a million.
The Very Ugly
If you want to send the message that your company is at the top of its innovative game, the pictures you use need to be convincing. Cheesy stock photos are easily spotted and cheapen your brand.
But don’t get me wrong, we love stock photos! Sometimes we even manipulate stock photos to merge with a custom photo. For example, we have a client that needs an image of their outdoor structure in a luscious, green forest setting but we’re stuck in the dead of winter. We will hire a photographer to take shots of the structure and from there Photoshop it into the proper setting. It’s about how you are using them.
Choosing a stock image
- Don’t: Get too literal
As pictured above, if the message you’re trying to send is innovation, spelling it out above a lightbulb isn’t going to sell it. Instead, use pictures of the product you’re selling or basic mood photos that communicate a feeling.
- Do: Use people
Human connection draws the viewer in and has a positive impact on the trustworthiness of a website. Make sure it’s realistic – they don’t have to be grinning ear-to-ear at their desk. That can come across as
phoneyand insincere. We typically try to find “candids” of people in natural poses.
- Do: Choose with
Think about your audience. Are you selling t-shirts to a young male adult or houses to a middle-aged couple? Use photos that represent your target market. If you think your target market is “everybody”, you may need to take a step back and start asking the right questions about your consumers.
When to invest
Many projects require one or multiple professional, striking, high quality photos to be used in a wide-spread campaign (billboards, trade show materials, print or web advertising, etc.) This makes it worth the investment of a professional photoshoot or even a highly customized illustration. The consumer also gets to see the real product – or if service based, people – in action, building trust and credibility.