Are You Guilty of Using These Stock Photo Cliches?

The search for authenticity in stock photography

We get it – good stock photos can be hard to find.

And when you need an image, fast, it’s easy to default to the obvious.

In online publishing, feature photos are sometimes the last thing to be added to an article, and it’s just more straightforward to search for the main keyword in the article for your search term.

But, that can lead to some less-than-stellar photo choices. And we’re here to help you put an end to it.

Here’s a few of the most played-out and overused stock photos to watch out for. As editor for the Envato Blog, I am guilty of using nearly all of these photo cliches. Here’s an article about creativity, one about teams, and one about virtual reality – all with fairly cliche feature photos.

With the launch of photos on Envato Elements, we’re focusing on authenticity and quality in stock photos. Here’s a few red flags to avoid in stock photo cliches (and because we want to make the internet a better place, we’ve also added some ideas for what to search for instead!)

You’re: updating your travel blog

You can do better than: a bunch of nighttime cityscapes

Google search: ‘city night’

Can you name the cities by the cityscapes above? Probably not, because most cityscapes end up looking the same.

Skip the city lights, and find some authenticity in your travel photos: images that look like something you’d take, if you’d actually taken a trip there (and you were a skilled photographer).

Image: Paris by Jacques_Palut.

Making your company’s career page?

Get rid of: the people high-fiving in an open-plan office

Google search: ‘high five stock photo’

Photos of high fives are weird. The point of high fives is that they’re in motion the whole time. Which means that a photo of a high fives just looks like people are raising their hands at each other, or comparing hand sizes, or doing some strange ritual.

Instead, look for people working together. Maybe in a conversation. Like normal.

Creative team brainstorming new solutions by bialasiewicz.

Writing about your favorite podcast?

Please don’t use: an up-close photo of a microphone

Google search: ‘podcast microphone’

As someone who writes about podcasts a lot, this one is a particularly frustrating stock photo trope. Luckily, I’m not the only one who’s noticed. The excellent Julia Barton wrote an article in Current railing against the use of ‘mic pics’, which she says are ‘missing the point’. Writes Barton, “isn’t it odd that we’ve chosen to represent a spoken-word medium, a really human medium, in the most sterile, reductive and mechanical way possible?

Instead, go for photos of people listening. Or headphones, at the very least.

Image: man with earphones and smartphone listening music by dolgachov

Looking for something about freelancing?

Don’t choose: that photo of a guy with a laptop on a beach

Google search: laptop beach

This is unrealistic. You will probably get sand in your keyboard if you do this. Don’t perpetuate this fantasy with a stock photo. Also, how can these people see their screen in the direct sunlight? And what if their computers run out of battery?

An alternate suggestion: someone working in a fun place that’s slightly more in the realm of possibility. Think ‘trendy coworking space’ or a ‘shady park bench’, not the edge of a mountain.

Image: Freelancer in cafe by bialasiewicz.

Publishing a news story about hacking?

Skip: the vague coding image

Search: ‘code’

Not only does this not say anything about what you do, but half the time, the code in these pictures isn’t even relevant to the actual work.

Instead, go for a nice mock-up of a web design in action, or maybe a fun illustration of a web developer.

Image: Macbook mockup

Something about “creativity”?

Don’t pick: watercolors, paint brushes, or crayons

Google search: creativity

This is another one that I’m guilty of in day-to-day work. We have a lot of articles about creativity on the Envato Blog. It’s easy to hit ‘creative’ into the image search box, grab a pretty photo of some paint-filled brushes or watercolor scribbles, and call it a day. Hey, it doesn’t look bad! But unless you’re literally a watercolor painter, it can feel a little arbitrary. And also, boring.

Image: Photography Camera Creative

Instead, look for a photo that’s more descriptive of what you really do. Or, flex your creativity skills and add an interesting Photoshop action to take a standard image to the next level.

Writing about virtual reality?

Skip: the guy in an empty room with a VR headset

Search: virtual reality

Sure, this is an accurate representation of virtual reality. But, it looks silly. If you’re trying to write about VR in order to move it forward and/or make it more popular, these images aren’t helping.

Choose instead: when you think of VR, you think of the imagery inside of the headset, not the empty room outside of it. Pick something that represents what the users are seeing. If you can’t do that, at least find a VR photo that seems more realistic than an empty room.

Image: Closeup of virtual reality goggles

Speed round! A rapid-fire image guide:

If you’re writing about / don’t use

  • Millennials/ a photo of a texting, plaid-wearing, coffee-drinking twenty-something
  • A conference / a panel of guys sitting on a stage
  • A business merger / the handshake stock photo
  • Successful / Guy in a suit
  • Money / a close-up of dollar bills
  • Healthy eating / a woman laughing alone with salad
  • Politics / the White House
  • Plants / a plant in someone’s hand
Discover more beautiful, authentic stock photography on Envato Elements.

Brittany Jezouit

About the Author Brittany Jezouit

Brittany is a Contributor to the Envato blog. She helped launch the publication and was its founding Editor. You can follow her on Twitter @brittanyjezouit.