Your Guide to Horrible Stock Photography

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September 28, 2012 by jooshanoosh

Today it is my duty to help you become aware of a plague that has worsened through the years and stabs the eyes of all who behold it. I’m speaking, of course, about the blight of ill-used or over-used stock photography.

Now, we get it. We know you’re company is broke and you need some images for your billboard, direct mailer or website. We know it’s time consuming to actually plan and execute a photo shoot that captures your real employees or customers doing things they actually do. It’s difficult to take a risk and figure out what landscape, lifestyle, or action images will truly resonate with your audience. We get it. You’re broke and busy. (I’m not referring to bloggers, by the way. Although some bloggers use real photography better than most companies.)

We get it but it has to stop. For those unfamiliar with the sins of stock photography or how to identify it, we’re here to help. Here is your guide to recognizing and avoiding awful stock images.

First, what is it? According to Wikipedia, “stock photography is the supply of photographs licensed for specific uses. It is used to fulfill the needs of creative assignments instead of hiring a photographer. … Often, they are produced in studios using a wide variety of models posing as professionals, stereotypes, expressing stereotypical emotions and gesticulations or involving pets.”

Here are some of the worst offenders.

1. The Air-arms Freedom Lady

Who uses it: Bankruptcy lawyers, Spa owners, MLMs, travel agents, etc.

What they think it says: “You’re free to do what you want!” or “Don’t stress.”

What it really says: “Ocean breezes are nice!” or “I love photo shoots on the beach.”

How to find it: Go to any stock photography site and type “freedom” into the search field.

2. The Handshake

Who uses it: MLMs, investment firms, banks, car dealerships, etc.

What they think it says: “Trust us.” or “We’re all about people!” Bonus if the hands are interracial.

What it really says: “We’re shaking hands!”

How to find it: Go to any stock photography site and type “handshake” into the search field.

3. The Call Center Lady

Who uses it: 98% of all companies.

What they think it says: “We’re here to help!” or “I’m listening.” Bonus if she has mixed ethnicity.

What it really says: “We think our support staff is too ugly to actually photograph.”

How to find it: Go to any stock photography site and type “customer service” into the search field.

4. The Diverse Business Meeting

Who uses it: software companies, law firms, MLMs, and any businesses who want to look multi-cultural.

What they think it says: “Teamwork … *cough* … diversity.” or “Working together, we can be happy.”  Minus points if everyone in the photograph is white even if your whole company actually is white. Double minus points if your whole company actually is all white.

What it really says: “We paid some handsome people to sit in a room for a few hours.”

How to find it: Go to any stock photography site and type “meeting” into the search field.

So there you have it. Your guide to recognizing design and marketing travesties. To the offenders I say, “Figure it out. It doesn’t have to be this way.” And now, as we close, some really great unusable stock photographs.
Happy Friday!
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