Design AGO


Don’t Be Cheezy. How to Avoid Bad Stock Images:


Ahhh, the fall is here. If you’re like me, you love this time of year. It conjures up endless images of cool weather, warm clothes, hot coffee, changing leaves, halloween, pumpkins, scary movies, monster cereals and so much more. With that in mind, I spent a few minutes and was able to pull a dozen free images for this article that put me into that fall frame of mind, ready to run outside and explore. The point is, no matter what you are trying to say or sell, there is no excuse for using bad stock images anymore.


Images are everything

Today, using shitty stock photos swiped from google isn’t gonna make the cut. And content without images will drive people away in seconds. Tastes are far too sophisticated and consumers can spot a phony image a mile away. 

Learn who your audience is, what makes them tick, what they want, and use this knowledge to speak to them visually. Either through user generated content or a better understanding of what they respond to. Think authenticity.

Let go of trying to stage a perfect photo. (The fake smiles, awkward posed body language, imaginary situations, etc.) We see right through it. If you want to engage the consumer, then depict your consumer, not your idea of what the consumer is. Show the world as it is, a beautiful melting pot of real sizes, shapes, skin tones, beliefs, preferences and styles.


You’ve got the look

Now that we know we need good images there needs to be some cohesion. Even great images selected without a plan will fail. Take into account where each image will be placed. Is it a cover image? Will it be featured with other images? Careful curation by an expert can give you and your business a “look” that matches your brand. 

Today you can say more about your business with carefully selected photos than you can with 1,000 words. Most people aren’t going to bother reading your story anyway, especially without images to attract and engage.

Photo by Adil Alimbetov from Pexels.jpg

Pardon me, do you have any grey poupon?

As I said before, peoples tastes have become sophisticated and they spot a poor stock photo a mile away. Luckily there are many great sites with amazing stock images, many for free, that can be used if you don’t have budget for hiring a professional photographer. If you don’t know what good stock images are, just ask. Another reason to hire a professional, ahem!


You’re no Annie Leibovitz

Unless you are a skilled photographer, don’t shoot your own images. Trust me, they will not look professional. And remember, even after you have new photos taken, you need to do it regularly. Not only is it important for regular social media posts, your photos will date themselves quicker than you think. Again, if you’re not sure, ask an expert.


I got the juice

And if you already have photos, evaluate carefully if they will help or harm your brand. Are they professional? Do they show their age? Like websites, if they are more than a few years old you may need to update. At the same time start to build your archive of on brand images.


Size matters

If an image is blurry, pixelated, or too small, it isn’t worth using. Let it go. Pictures should also be optimized for both print and web. This is reason alone to hire an expert. How many times have you seen horribly pixelated and blurry images in print. Or a web image so big it takes a day to load. Don’t go there.


Check your head

Check the competition. If you see competitors using the same image find something else. And please stay away from the stock photo cliches. The white background. The posed everything. The pretend were looking at a document, pretend were thinking, pointing, laughing, looking at a computer, holding a coffee cup, etc, you get the idea.


More is more

When it comes to images more is good. Pictures, icons and videos all keep readers interested. Something every 75-100 words is ideal. You’ll get twice the shares compared to articles without.



Don’t limit your choices by thinking your images have to be a literal interpretation of your message. Keep it interesting. Try thinking of customer experience and results in a less obvious way. For example, If you are a college don’t use a generic smiling graduate in a cap and gown holding a diploma. Don’t patronize your audience. Sell the adventure, sell the journey, sell imagination.


People are people

Remember above all to have an open mind. Learn who your audience is and what makes them tick. And if you can, use them in your visuals. But whatever source you use, get away from the pictures of a smiling blonde model on a white background. Your audience deserves better and they come in every shape, size, race and preference. Show them how they really are and give them the respect they expect and deserve.


GOOD Design Matters,
Aron Gagliardo
Design AGO