Want To Play This Or That? Better Options For Bad Stock Photos


If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say 90% of content marketing marketing hubs are filled with bad stock photos. This is not necessarily the fault of content marketers, however, because finding authentic photography is actually really difficult. Why?

  1. The web is filled with terrible stock photos: Any Google Image search will return pages of results of cheesy businessmen or a silhouette of a person cheering on top of a mountain. Because of this, we assume that’s all that’s available and we choose one by default.
  2.  Finding authentic photography is time consuming: If you’re on the persistent side, sifting through countless options that don’t compliment your headline is tiresome. It takes dedication and patience to wait and find the right one.
  3. It’s tough to think outside the box: While we know what makes a photo authentic, it’s still difficult to come up with ideas to find them on our own. Because we’re conditioned to seeing bad stock photos, our mind automatically goes to those obvious choices to represent our content. It’s not second nature to think of options that could symbolically represent what we’re trying to communicate.

While finding authentic photos for your content marketing is difficult, it’s not impossible. Let’s take a look at some examples:


TYPICAL BAD STOCK PHOTO CHOICE: Futuristic hands, apps emerging from devices and glowing planets are all usual suspects for representing technology. While these Minority Report-esque photos are trying to achieve a futuristic feel, they come off as silly and un-relatable.

AUTHENTIC OPTIONS: On the other hand, vintage technology, abstract shapes and technology close-ups are much better fits to represent technology. Vintage technology plays up an irony and reminds us how far we’ve come. Abstract shapes are great, because often times technology itself feels very abstract. For example, what does “big data” look like?  No one really knows, so it is a great time to use something abstract to represent that idea. Finally, close-ups of technology are often times very intricate and detailed. Technology is complicated and showcasing the guts that power innovative products is a perfect way to portray them.


TYPICAL BAD STOCK PHOTO CHOICE: Someone holding a trophy with their hands in the air, someone rejoicing on a mountain, puzzles and keys are all typical images we see being used to represent success. While we can see how these are trying to tap into the emotions you feel when you achieve something, most adults don’t receive trophies, climb mountains in suits or feel tremendous accomplishment when completing a puzzle.

AUTHENTIC OPTIONS: More authentic options include images from a top-down/birds-eye view, ones that incorporate satire or humor and anything that displays wonder and awe. Top-down images tap into the emotion you feel when you’re successful. You feel high and on top of the world. Images like this give you that emotional appeal of success. Using humor appropriately is another great way to lighten up your marketing and remind your reader not to take things too seriously. Finally, images that show wonder and awe are great to symbolize success. In this example, the little boy is pointing up at how high water from a fountain is reaching.


TYPICAL BAD STOCK PHOTO CHOICE: “Challenge” is another difficult term to represent, but is also often used by marketers. A man standing in front of a computer-generated maze, people climbing mountains and construction signs are typically used for this. In theory, these aren’t terrible symbols. Mazes require keen navigation, mountains are not easy to climb, and construction signs represent trouble ahead. The execution, however, is another story…

AUTHENTIC OPTIONS: Thinking of objects that are difficult to get around are good routes to go when thinking of representing a challenge. A wall of bricks or another hard surface is a visible obstruction. Since challenges are often daunting experiences, dark and narrow pathways tap into that fear and angst we feel when faced with one. Finally, stark landscapes that are difficult and uncomfortable to be in are also a good option. For landscapes, think deserts and rocky terrains.


TYPICAL BAD STOCK PHOTO CHOICE: Showing a workplace environment is another category many B2B marketers often need to represent. These options are usually the worst offenders of bad stock photography. First you have the girl dressed in work attire with a thumbs up, which shows just how much she loves her job. Next you have the businesspeople standing with crossed arms in power suits. Finally, the group of people huddling around a computer attempts to showcase collaboration. Not so much…

AUTHENTIC OPTIONS: Workplace environments actually offer a wide variety of options if you think a bit outside the box. A flat lay image (a photography style that’s very in vogue right now) of office supplies puts a modern twist on a traditional subject. Another option is to think of the perspective you have from inside the office: looking out. Often times we are too focused on what’s happening inside the office, but think of how often you look outside the windows from your desk. People are always bragging about their office views, why now showcase them in your content marketing? Lastly, if you can authentically show real-life collaboration, you’ve struck gold. In this example, these three women actually look like they’re working on a brainstorm exercise together.  

These are just a few examples of complicated terms many marketers struggle to represent every day. By taking some extra time and thinking of what will authentically represent your headline and article, your content marketing efforts will be far more successful and viewed with much higher regard.

This article originally appeared on LizBedor.com

Liz Bedor

Liz Bedor is a content marketing strategist at NewsCred, based in New York City. With NewsCred, she’s helped enterprise brands including AXA, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Estée Lauder, IBM, Verizon, ADP and Office Depot conceptualize, implement and optimize their content marketing strategies. Prior to joining NewsCred, she worked in brand marketing and sales enablement for Salesforce.