Is it ever OK to use stock photography for content?

Author avatar

Jo Throup

    If there’s one rule of thumb for creating awesome content for the web (beyond writing stellar copy, of course) it’s to keep the user engaged from the off, so it goes without saying that a wall of text is more than likely to have users returning to search.

    Aside from breaking up articles into short, punchy paragraphs, many copywriters use stunning imagery to compel the user to read on. However, this isn’t necessarily as simple as it sounds.

    One of the biggest problems is finding good quality, relevant images that complement the copy. Purchasing stock images seems like the ideal solution, but just as the tone of voice is crucial to your copy, images shouldn’t be used for the sake of it either.

    A picture that doesn’t say 1000 wordsThinkstockPhotos-471871130

    The shot of an attractive customer service representative wearing a headset in a bright and airy call centre, or the action shot of model business-types chortling their way through a company meeting each bear the hallmarks of bad stock photography.

    While these may be professional and ostensibly good quality images they have no meaning to users. Who are these people? Do they work for your company? Are your employees all smiley models, grinning in the boardroom, gesturing at an open laptop as their soulless eyes gaze into the middle distance?

    These people aren’t relatable; they say nothing about you or your company. While they might be “good quality” in that they are professionally-taken photographs, these images are nothing but cliché and can, ironically, go some way to harm the image of your brand.

    Anywhere and everywhere

    ThinkstockPhotos-126501644Because these images are so generic and widely available there’s nothing special or unique about them. That’s why you’ll see them splashed across the websites of a variety of different companies from varying industries.

    Not only does this mean that they have absolutely no impact on your users, it means that your users have already seen them countless times before.

    From the sublime to the ridiculous

    Aside from the unnatural looking models, the over-used handshake close-up, and general business people in business-like scenario shots, there’s an array of stock photography that is just plain ridiculous. This tumblr account was started after The Hairpin.com picked up on the influx of images featuring women guffawing over salad.

    ThinkstockPhotos-170181620

    Women LOLing into their light lunches isn’t the only thing that has become overused to the point of parody; there’s an influx of absurd stock images floating in the digital ether. In 2013, Wired magazine created this feature about Gettycritics, who set up a website dedicated to naming and shaming the most ridiculous examples of stock photography.

    There’s no denying that some of these images are so meaningless and unnatural, they’re flat out bizarre. Suffice to say, this is exactly the kind of stuff that doesn’t need to feature on a good website.

    Licence to be generic

    ThinkstockPhotos-178570372It isn’t just about the dangers of filling the company website with pictures of perfectly coiffured models, smiling at a PowerPoint presentation. All stock photography comes at a cost and with licencing restrictions.

    Both of these things can throw a spanner into the proverbial works, particularly where time and budget are concerned. Rights-managed and royalty-free images cost money, and may have restrictions. Rights-managed images, in particular, often have licences which stipulate various conditions, such as only being used in certain contexts or geographical locations.

    What’s the alternative?

    It’s not that stock photography doesn’t have its place, and we’re not condemning all stock photography. If you’ve got a strict deadline and a tight budget, stock imagery can be your perfect solution. However, it’s well worth avoiding the cheery images of business droids, as these generic and bland images send the wrong message to your customers and clients.

    ThinkstockPhotos-482857389If you want to give the right impression, invest in getting some professional shots of your team to use across the site. Put a face to the name; give your customers something they can work with by showing them the real faces behind your brand.

    Don’t underestimate your users; content creation has advanced so rapidly, users have developed high standards. In a digital world where everyone is competing with everyone else, brands have to do what they can to avoid being just another face in the crowd.

    A generic image might not seem like a big deal, but it’s a big turn off to users. Avoid the visual clichés; if you’ve seen it before, then the chances are your users have, too.

    Remember, great content is about your brand creating a lasting impression, and that just can’t be done with over-used, generic images that appear on hundreds of sites across the web.

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