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Please Don’t Use These 7 Stock Photos

by Gina Armstrong, Lead Designer

Stock photos are frequently used in design work to help convey a brand’s message or increase the visual appeal of content.

For most companies, it’s much easier (and more affordable) to find a photo on a stock photo site rather than hire a photographer to get the desired shots. Stock photos can be an incredibly useful tool, however an overly ‘stock-y’ stock photo will detract from your intended message. In order to to be able to discern what makes a quality stock photo, here are a few tips on what not to choose:

1. Person Miming Emotions


In general, I find this style too cheesy.

The above image is meant to indicate fear, but is so over-produced that it ends up looking silly. Instead, try finding an image that reminds the viewer of fear or anxiety without being so obvious.

2. The “Abstract”

Hopefully the reasons not to choose this one are evident. Although it’s clear that pain is being portrayed, it’s just too much.

3. The Grilling Man

There are so many versions of this photo hanging around on stock photo sites.

It’s akin to the cliched ‘woman-smiling at-her-salad’ photo. There aren’t many real-life scenarios where people give their grill this type of attention. Chances are your viewer is going to pick up on how unnatural it is. When looking to illustrate summertime fun, look for more understated photos.

4. Business Man Eating A Pancake

The fact that this one exists is a little perplexing. Who requested this, and why? Even if the concept wasn’t so strangely specific, the intense eye contact still makes this unusable.

5. The Dramatized Health Scare

News flash: You don’t need a photo of somebody acting out a medical emergency. Everyone has either had their own health concerns, or knows somebody that has — so look for something more subtle, where your audience can connect emotionally.

6. The Happy Workout

Have you ever looked this happy doing a plank? Most people can’t relate to this scene. Using a photo of people smiling after a workout, satisfied from their labors, would be a more effective tool.

7. Teamwork Photos

The “hands-in” pose is another very overdone image. It doesn’t express any kind of genuine experience or emotion, so it’s not going to be successful.

Come up with a more conceptual way to communicate teamwork instead.

Why These Stock Photos Don’t Work

The common flaw among these photos is their excessively fake quality. Pro photography tip: viewers prefer content that feels authentic. If you want to create captivating content, you have to seek out photos that people can identify with.

Part of creating good design is understanding your audience, and what will appeal to them. To ensure that you’re using a stock photo that doesn’t suck, look for something that is as natural as possible — you’ll know you have the right image when it subtly enhances your message, and doesn’t look out-of-place.

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About Gina Armstrong

Gina is the Lead Designer at Digital Ink. Gina has explored design while serving various roles in the non-profit sector, developing a passion for branding and digital design. Digital Ink tells stories for forward-thinking businesses, mission-driven organizations, and marketing and technology agencies in need of a creative and digital partner.

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