Worse than Basic: Avoiding Generic Stock Photos in Your Content

Content marketing tips
Worse than Basic: Avoiding Generic Stock Photos in Your Content

In the middle of last year, a running gag blew up on Twitter where professionals post awful stock photos of their job they found online. The gag started when a biochemistry professor by the name of Nicole Paulk wanted to find stock images that aren’t just photos of a scientist in a lab coat but apparently, she found more than she bargained for when she stumbled upon a picture of a scientist inspecting a nugget of dry ice. Hence, the trend of #BadStockPhotosOfMyJob was born on Twitter.

If you haven’t bothered to check it out already, please do so now. Other than being great for a laugh or a dozen, this trend also serves as a good learning experience on why stock images are generally bad unless you’re actually using them for comedic purposes. It’s not that every stock photo are bad but because they’re by default generic, they’re not going to be able to accurate represent what your business or industry is really like. In the field of content marketing, making that extra effort to come up with an original photo or illustration can go a long way in establishing your brand identity.

The lack of authenticity in stock photos

It’s not just me that likes to mine comedy out of horrible stock photos; Hollywood did it once as well. As part of the marketing efforts for the 2015 film Unfinished Business, 20th Century Fox teamed up with stock images supplier Getty Images for a series of generic stock photos but with faces of the actors, Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco and Tom Wilkinson, photoshopped into the photos. The stock photos were already hilarious but seeing widely recognizable actors in each of the photo actually makes them even more so.

The problem with stock photos is that they lack authenticity. They’re like generic cover songs that are played in the elevator or the plethora of cheap, mindless literature that sit in the bargain bins of bookstores everywhere. They don’t really have anything to say and they add nothing of value to the discussion. They’re just simply there. They’re something that brands and marketers simply add to their content just to show that their content has images.

Even when we all know that generic photos are bad, it’s still pretty common to see them being used on websites, mostly from small businesses that understandably might be a bit lacking in resources. Expanding our scope a little bit, there’s also the case of generic, yet original, illustrations that is a step above generic stock photos in terms of the effort being made but just as bad when it comes to quality. If you’re really serious about your content marketing efforts, avoiding these two pitfalls should always be a priority.

Take some great photos of your own

It’s a bit dumb to put this as a solution given how blatantly obvious it is but if you want to stop relying on generic stock photos, the easiest solution is to take some photos of your own. For images of a relatively smaller size, smartphone cameras are more than usable and if you’re looking to step up your game, there are plenty of cheap cameras, ranging from mirrorless, bridge to DSLR, which you could buy (or rent) for this purpose. In fact, it’s actually more than likely that you or your employees has one sitting at their home given how much everyone seems to be into photography these days.

If you don’t think you have the necessary capability to take great photos, you can take comfort in the fact that the auto mode in most contemporary cameras are good enough to take some great-looking photos. It’s not going to hold up when compared with professionals who know what they’re doing but as long as your field of business doesn’t focus on top-quality images, you’re going to be fine. There are also simple editing and filter tools you could use to give your photos that extra oomph if you think that’s necessary.

Come up with original, unique illustrations

Honestly, I consider generic, low-quality illustrations to be a worse offender compared to generic stock photos. At least with stock photos you have the excuse of not being the one who took the pictures in the first place, you just have the abysmal luck of having poor taste. With generic illustrations, your sin is doubled. If you’ve already made the extra effort to create something original that is truly your own, surely you could come up with something that isn’t generic, vague and completely unimaginative.

People, including me, are guilty of being superficial creatures and this is the reason why I tend to stay away from most fantasy and science-fiction books. Fantasy and science-fiction literature are a hotbed for bad covers, generic fonts and hackneyed titles and those are the kind that usually have me gunning for the exit. Illustrations are as capable as the designer’s imagination and instead of falling back on generic and stereotypical illustrations, come up with something that you know only you are capable of.

Look for high-quality stock images

If coming up with something original is beyond your capabilities, you can still use stock images but you’re going to have considerably more discerning. The examples provided in the #BadStockPhotosOfMyJob thread are deliberately awful and chosen solely for their comedic value but look hard enough and away from Getty Images and there are stock images that stray far away from the stereotypical cheesiness and of a considerably high quality.

For my personal blog, I tend to browse through photos available on Pexels or Unsplash. These two options have dozens of high-quality, mood-setting images that are perfect to accompany more introspective and abstract contents. Both Pexels and Unsplash are more suitable for the more creative types but if you’re looking for something that is more specific and grounded, you should be able to find what you’re looking for but you might want to adjust your expectations accordingly.