Thank You For Not Using Stock Photography

Cute business customer service woman smilingWe’ve all been to those websites: the smiling girl with the headset glad to take your call. The ethnically diverse businessmen shaking hands in a conference room. “Wow, this company looks great,” you think. But reality sets in when you visit their office (or what passes for an office) and realize they don’t even have a conference room. Who do you usually blame in this situation? The company that’s trying to make themselves look bigger or yourself for being so gullible?

Stock Photography is roughly a $1.5 billion business. And for good reason; the choices are endless. If you want two women and one man looking at a Dell computer, you can have it. Three suits pointing at a graph, no problem. Chances are, if you can think it up, there’s a stock photo ready for you to use. So why would you bother staging and taking your own photos? Everyone else is using stock photography; and you don’t want to look like the only schlub in the market. But you value your business more than that, right? (Hint: the correct answer is “yes.”)

Stock Photo Websites

I admit it: for more than 12 years, this is how I selected images for my own web designing. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, and even thought that having a “professional” photo made me look more like a high-quality web designer. Until I found myself on the other side of the screen.

I needed a general contractor to get some work done on my house, and started hitting the Information Highway. I found about six websites for what seemed like good contractors, and noticed that three of them used the same image. Yep. Half of these websites had the same smiling worker ready to do some general contracting on the same house. The mountains in the background tipped me off that this was not a picture of the actual contractor doing business in Central Florida. Did all of these contractors use the same lazy web designer and ended up with the same photo? Sadly, no. They were just lucky enough to find three separate designers who each really liked that photo.

I then realized that my stock images had the same effect on my future clients (and their customers). They didn’t accurately represent the company who hired my services; and they cost me anywhere from $1 – $25. Each. I built a lot of websites and used a lot of photos. Do you know how much Starbucks that would buy? The cheaper, more honest way is to park your contractor truck filled with circular saws outside of a house and ask your assistant to snap a photo with your smart phone. Your customers will know what to expect when they hire you, and you don’t look like you’re trying to hide anything.

Unfortunately, the worst culprits for using stock photos are web hosting websites. In the course of an average working day, web designers come across hundreds of smiling faces, blinking servers, and graph-bedecked computer monitors…as if the company doesn’t have any pictures of their actual facilities to show. Since this is where web sites are purchased, designers begin to think that this is what a professional company uses.

We Know Who You Are

Your customers don’t need a staged photo of random models to tell them what kind of company you own, so let your work speak for itself. Of course it’s easier to click the mouse a few times and end up with a high-quality stock image. That’s why people are using them. You know what else is easy? Sticking a Stouffer’s in the microwave. But you don’t want it for your birthday dinner, because it’s nothing special.

One of the first steps in marketing your business is making yourself stand out from the competition. If you’re using the same smiling photo as every other web site, how will customers take you seriously when you start talking about what sets you apart? If you own your own business–and especially if you have any creative-type business–start considering stock photos as a step backwards.

In fact, start educating yourself on how to take awesome photos that will rival anything you’ll see on a stock photo site. Below, I’ve listed a few resources on photo taking and photo staging so you can represent yourself professionally and honestly:

Is Stock Photography Ever OK?

For all of our talk about stock photography setting you back in your business, there actually is a time and a place for it. Articles like this, for example, when we need to use stock photography as an example. Okay, cop-out answer. But blogs are a great example in general, because images on a blog are typically used to illustrate rather than educate.

When those three general contractors used a stock photo on their websites, it comes across as deceptive, since that rugged guy in the hard hat isn’t actually the guy who’ll be showing up at your house to replace the roof. But when a blog includes an image of a photo album in an article about Facebook’s new photo feature, it’s only there as eye candy in an otherwise text-filled desert.

When and where do you think stock photos are okay? Have you ever seen them used correctly? Leave us a comment below and tell us what you think!


Clarity Creative Group is a web design & internet marketing company located in beautiful Orlando, Florida. We stopped using stock photography on our websites about a year and a half ago and we love the results! (We do still use them occasionally on our blog!)

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