Stock photography is a necessary evil. While designers would always prefer a photo shoot with custom images, it’s rarely cost-effective or timely. Though stock photography has come a long way, there are still many terrible images out there and this blog will hopefully help you avoid them.
How do I pick one?
When perusing a stock website, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. I just need one picture of a dude on a computer, and there are 2,560 of them to choose from! Most stock websites have fairly extensive filters — use them. Select the number of people, ages, gender, and composition. For example, if you’re looking for a ‘dude on a computer’ try the following search terms, ‘male, 20s, laptop, jeans.’ Utilizing keywords and filters will always help narrow down the selection.
What makes a stock photo ‘bad’?
While there may be different opinions on this, I tend to use the following guidelines to ensure a stock photo is suitable, but still unique.
Is the action realistic? (Could I see one of my friends or coworkers ‘actually’ doing this?)
The image on the left is your standard ‘business’ stock image. You’ve got three workers in suits all crowded around a computer. One man points at the screen with his pen — whatever he is pointing at must be hilarious, as they’re all smiling wide. They are also extremely close to one another (to ensure they fit in the frame) and there are very tiny teacups on the desk.
The image on the right has the exact same content, (desk, computer, three workers, etc) yet feels much more authentic and current. The framing of the shot isn’t as tight, but each worker has their own personal (and believable) space.
Is there outdated technology or attire?
The left image is an example of a typical ‘teamwork’ or ‘office’ stock photo. The overall positioning of the people is incredibly posed and unrealistic, but the biggest problem is the wardrobe. This is obviously a dated stock photo, based purely on the clothing.
The right image has a decent composition, and the expression isn’t too cheesy, but the man is holding a flip phone. Suits and ties are pretty timeless and you can often get away with older images, however technology is constantly changing and can easily date your stock image.
Is there a focal point? Unique composition?
Both images above convey the theme of ‘traffic jam.’ The image on the left has a wider focus and an expected composition. It doesn’t convey much excitement or energy. The image on the right has a shallow depth of field, with a strong focus on just a few foreground vehicles. The composition utilizes the rule of thirds and really draws your eye in.
Is there anything that could be misread or viewed as offensive?
Unless you’re intentionally trying to create buzz or bad press, it’s best to avoid images that could have any political ties. It’s also smart to really review all angles of your image and make sure there isn’t anything that could be misinterpreted. The right image above could be viewed as a wheelchair with flames (speed, flying) or it could also be seen as a wheelchair in flames (disregard for the handicapped). Be mindful of all the symbols within your stock images.
Is the diversity natural (not forced)?
Diversity is always highly sought after in stock photography. While it’s great to find an image that can speak to a multitude of people, you want to be careful to avoid forced ‘clown car’ images. A ‘clown car’ image will contain ‘everybody’ in a very small composition. The left image above is a classic ‘clown car’ image — unrealistic and forced. The right image still showcases a diverse group, but feels much more natural.
I hope these guidelines have will prove helpful in your future image needs. Happy stock searching!