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Stock Photos: Your Guide to the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Remember Dave?

Best Practices in Stock Imagery

Maybe you’ve seen him around. He’s a doctor. Well, sometimes.

Dave is also a chef …

Best Practices in Stock Imagery

An engineer (with a magic pen!) …

Best Practices in Stock Imagery

A scientist (or something?) …

Best Practices in Stock Imagery

An architect …

Best Practices in Stock Imagery

And a ladies’ man.

Best Practices in Stock Imagery

Spoiler time: Dave is — you guessed it! — none of these things. (OK, except maybe a ladies’ man — who are we to say?) He is also not amid a serious identity crisis. His name probably isn’t even Dave.

What Dave is suffering from is a bad case of what we’ve dubbed stockitis: when stock photos take a turn for the cheesy, forced, and meaningless.

Related: Developing the right logo matters, too. Here’s a peek at my process.

You’ve seen plenty of other victims: a group of young adults walking and laughing. A hipster sipping coffee in front of an unbranded computer. Business people huddled around vague charts and graphs. The main thing they have in common is that they probably made you feel, well, nothing.

Don’t throw off your readers with bad stock images. Look, we have nothing against Dave: The problem is that these types of photos are intentionally vague, overused, and, as a result, far less impactful to your readers.

By heeding a few simple tips, you can protect your content from this internet epidemic.

Don’t Stereotype Your Audience

To choose the perfect image for your content, you must know your audience and respect their values. Keep your distance from vague, stereotypical images: At best, they won’t resonate, therefore weakening the story; at worst, they can be offensive.

For example, one of our clients, Texas Farm Bureau Insurance, builds relationships with its audience through a friendly, family-oriented approach. They’re Texas-proud, and many policyholders do work in agriculture.

Knowing that, here’s an image we’d never use with their content:

Best Practices in Stock Imagery

This, on the other hand, would be a good fit.

Best Practices in Stock Imagery

A few things that make it work:

  • It captivates several key aspects of TFBIC’s core messaging:
    • Family focus
    • Clean, wholesome approach
    • Their hardworking, good-natured audience
  • It’s authentic. They don’t look like they’re playing dress up, nor do they look overly staged.

A client style guide is an important tool for your search. Always ask yourself, “How does my client want to be portrayed?” and use your image to reflect that.

Mind the Metaphor

Don’t take things too literally — just because the article mentions leaving money on the table doesn’t mean you should show a heap of change on a countertop. Instead, think outside the box and come up with a concept that fits the goal of the piece, not just a catchy keyword or headline.

Do Some Digging

High-quality images are out there, but you have to look past the initial results page to find them. Displaying results by popularity doesn’t yield great finds, either: Not only do many people fall for stockitis-ridden images, but piggybacking their selections means your choice is less original.

Instead, try displaying results by date added — that way, your reader is less likely to have already seen the image floating around the web. This method also allows more artistic, unusual photos to rise to the top that otherwise get buried in a sea of stockitis.

Paint the Picture

Illustrations are often overlooked when picking stock imagery, but if your client’s brand allows for them, they can make for effective and compelling visuals. A quality illustration often conveys the content’s message better than a photo could, particularly when the topic is more abstract — like this one.

Another perk of illustrations: They can be downloaded as editable SVG files. This means you can change elements to match your client’s brand colors and even add in your own elements to make the imagery better fit the client and content.

D Custom’s Stock Imagery Razzies

In the vast landscape of stock imagery, you’ll find the good, the bad, and the ugly. Before you set off on your quest for the best stock images out there, we’ll leave you with a few gems we’ve come across in our many days of perusing iStock and friends. (Dare you to find a site that’s found a use for any of these.)

OK, but why?
I’m sorry.
Hard pass.
What even?
Best Practices in Stock Imagery
Intriguing, but still no.
Best Practices in Stock Imagery
Get it girl but also are you OK?

And, OK, fine — one more of Dave.

Best Practices in Stock Imagery

Want more tips for picking the perfect images? Contact us for questions, and be sure to follow us on our blog for weekly insights from our team (and plenty of great images as well).