In Search of Authentic Imagery: What Are Stock Photo Clichés and How to Avoid Them?

Eugine Dychko 9 March, 2017
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Too often we stumble upon poor looking and dull imagery on websites, promo materials and social media. It seems absurd as there is an abundance of high-quality stock images, both on paid and free platforms, but still many companies use visuals that just look sad. In the best-case scenario, such images make no impact; they do not help attract attention, engage users and set up a certain mood. At worst, they create a negative impact on brand identity and make marketing efforts less efficient.

One of the main problems of a poorly executed visual strategy is the use of stereotypical stock photography. Let’s look at the most common types of stock photo cliches, ways to avoid them and tips for using the most authentic and original images.

Identifying Stock Cliches

You’ve seen it a lot – the laughing woman with a salad, a happy white family on the beach, a group of businessmen shaking hands. Stereotypical stock photography has been around for quite a long time, and it hasn’t changed much. Stock cliches usually have:

  • artificial, bright lighting
  • unnatural posing with no movement
  • people smiling and looking directly into the camera
  • lack of context and relevance

Avoiding such photos will help you concentrate on more authentic and original visuals. The main reason people end up using outdated stock images is a lack of effort. Finding relevant, creative photos requires some time and skills. But don’t be discouraged! The rules are simple and the results are totally worth it!

How to Choose the Right Image?

We are highly visual creatures, and we want to see genuine emotions, real people and situations we can relate to. Using high-quality, original stock imagery is essential for connecting with the target audience and establishing trust for a brand. Adding an image to a Facebook post, for example, increases engagement by 2-3 times. Here are simple rules for successful visual strategy.

Rule #1. Emotions and context

Illustrations you use should not be a direct reference to the text. It should set a certain mood and attract attention. For example, a header of a Coffee-themed blog could be featuring a portrait of a girl with a cup of coffee (quite an obvious choice), or a clean-looking photo of a cup with an artistic touch. The second option is way more intelligent and creative way for setting up the tone of a blog and connecting with the audience.

One more important characteristic of a good photo is authenticity. Always opt for photos of people in movement, with genuine emotions, and interesting angles.

Rule #2. Quality is paramount

The worst thing you can do to your visual strategy is to use images of poor quality. This is why it is important to get your visuals from stock platforms and in high resolution, so they can be cropped and customized later. Also, pay attention to the lighting: natural, soft lighting is a key feature of candid visuals.

Rule #3. Less is more

Minimalism is always in trend. Minimalistic flat-lay photos or deserted landscapes could be a great option when one feels lost with their image choices. This trend was influenced by mobile photography with its own aesthetics of uncluttered and clean shots.

Rule #4. Follow visual trends

Trends in visual culture appear and die quickly. Only stock cliches are eternal (just kidding). Each year, technological, economical and social changes influence visual trends. For brands and companies, it is crucial to embrace these changes and adjust their visual strategies accordingly. 

This year, we saw how more and more companies addressed stereotypes in their ads, creating inclusive imagery. Also, there is a huge trend for drone photography and aerial view videos that allow us to see ordinary objects from a new, never before seen angle.

Rule #5. Be consistent

When choosing images for a site, ad or blog, remember to follow the brand’s guidelines. The consistency in color, style and main theme of images will help to make a product or a company recognizable and notable. Notice how big companies are performing on Instagram and what type of imagery they choose to complement their brand identity.

Author: Eugine Dychko
Eugine is a Storyteller at Depositphotos. She has 5 years of experience in marketing and content writing and a strong understanding of social media techniques. Eugine is passionate about providing insight into the latest trends in visual industry and online advertising.
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