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Bad Stock Photos: Are They Ruining Your Marketing?

Hudoff Design Staff | Published August 30, 2022 | Tag(s): Photography & Design

Photo credit: iStock


Photo credit: Digital Agent


Bad stock photos are everywhere! We’ve all seen them…photos of models with exaggerated poses, uncomfortable levels of eye contact, and groups in outrageous situations that could only exist in a photo studio! These tacky stock photos are everywhere, littering flyers, posters, websites, and social media. The truth is, bad stock photos can ruin your marketing materials and severely cheapen your brand, giving your customers a bad first impression of your company. What’s worse is, the overuse of generic, bland stock photos can make your company seem cheap and inauthentic. The good news is, that high-quality stock photos are out there! Looking to step up your photo quality game? Follow the simple tips below to pick photos that will elevate your marketing materials and take your brand to the next level!

Use your own photography whenever you can

Stock photos are incredibly popular and for good reason! They’re cheap, easy to source, and allow companies of all shapes and sizes to build marketing materials that are polished and professional looking. After all, not all businesses can afford to shoot original photographs for their marketing efforts. While sparing use of stock photography is ok, it’s always better to use your own original photos whenever possible. If you can afford it, hire a professional to take key photos that will be used often (pictures such as headshots, photos of your locations, or pictures of products). If you have a team member that has photography skills, have them assist you with photo projects. Or, if you plan on sharing photos to your social media pages, use your cell phone to take the photos. With this mixture of techniques, you should be able to build up a sizable library of original photos, allowing your company to show off its true authentic self!

Pick photos that are candid and natural looking

If you do decide to use stock photos in your marketing materials, it's important to pick images that are candid and natural looking. Avoid photos where models are overly posed, grouped awkwardly, or in situations that are unrealistic or unbelievable. Try to avoid photos that were obviously shot in a studio or on a set, instead looking for photos staged in more natural environments. Also, be aware of the setting and the subjects’ wardrobe choices. If at all possible, try to match the setting, location, and season of your photos to the date and place where your campaign will run. For example, a company based in Wisconsin putting out a flier in the winter probably shouldn't choose a photo of a person on a beach in short sleeves to represent one of their customers. This mismatch in photo choice can confuse your customers and make them feel like the advertising was poorly planned.

Avoid photos where the subjects give direct eye contact

While eye contact with the camera is unavoidable for some stock photos, it’s generally best to look for pictures where subjects don’t break the “fourth wall” and stare directly into the camera. While these types of stock photos were once hugely popular in the early 2000s, they have largely fallen out of popularity in favor of more authentic, “real feeling” pictures. In the “bad” stock photo example above, group participants are staring stridently into the camera, are posed unnaturally, and are displaying forced artificial smiles. All of these traits are indicative of a bad stock photo, but none more than the uncomfortable eye contact. Good stock photos help sell the illusion of authenticity, plausibility, and realness. In the “good” stock photo example above, none of the subjects are looking at the camera, instead, immersing themselves in the setting, giving the viewer the feeling that they are in a real scenario and not a fake stock photo.

Skip photos with cheesy poses and stereotypical composition

It’s usually best to pass up pictures where subjects are placed in cheesy poses or stereotypical compositions. While it is tempting to pick photos that show over-the-top, exaggerated emotion or subjects in cliched settings (such as a person in a birthday hat behind a birthday cake), it’s usually best to pick photos that are a little less obviously staged. On the same note, try to avoid pictures that perpetuate cultural or regional stereotypes, or any pictures that may be in bad taste or portray outdated sensibilities. These types of photos, while innocuous to some, could be offensive to others and land your business in trouble if misconstrued. In general, customers can infer what is happening in a photo just fine without the exaggerated pantomime and cosplay that some particularly bad stock photos rely on. Accordingly, try to pick photos where participants look genuine and authentic, avoiding shots that employ obvious actors or models.

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