Designing websites with stock photos: Avoiding cookie cutter

Stockphotos can illustrate your point, or make you look exactly like your lazy competitor

Does this guy look familiar?

I love these meetings!

I believe I’ve seen this guy’s smug smile on at least half a dozen different web sites. Not only that, but judging from the lighting and his two compatriots, I’ve seen other photos from the same photo shoot. On multiple websites.

The thing about stock photos is that you’re putting a copy on your website. Usually something a little generic. That’s great - if you want your audience to think of you as generic.

Earlier today I came across the website of a DC-area business, an online marketing firm On one page is a picture of the team hanging out in their really swank office. There’s another picture of the team all at work. The lighting, the staging, everything screams stock photo - but who knows, right? Except the contact page features an office building, the cookie cutter type of office building that dots office parks throughout suburbia. The office address? A residence.

They’re trying to look bigger. They’re trying to look more authoritative. They’re trying too hard to look like something they’re not.

Stock photos aren’t bad. They’re a low cost way of getting the concept you want on your website. But stock photos should be used for context and theme, not for subject. Consider these guidelines:

Good ideas with stock photos

  • In-site iconography
  • Natural and abstract images used for theme
  • Innately and uniquely related to your site, non-client example: Man on the Moon Consulting (defunct)

Bad ideas with stock photos

*Using people shots to represent your organization *Using shots of specific locations that aren’t relevant to your organization * Using shots of events that aren’t related to your organization’s events

The key in deciding when to use a stock photo, or more aptly, when not to use a stock photo is this: anytime a photo will likely be interpreted as directly representing you, your organization, or anything your organization does.

Instead of faking out your audience, try using your own photos. Hire or borrow a photographer to take photos in your office. If your site is built around a community, use community supplied photos. Our client Adam does this on his site, Join the Journey. He has great photos and they’re all directly tied to a story on the site.

If your business is successful, if your business is authoritative, you don’t need a gaggle of stock photo models.

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