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Seeing a stock photo is like an awkwardly insincere smile: it does not, in fact, convey the intended sentiment, probably makes you a little uncomfortable and you wish the person hadn’t attempted the gesture in the first place.

If you’ve been reading our blog or browsed around the internet, you know many professionals would love to make stock photography taboo.

And yet. SOMEONE must be using stock imagery given there are many sites with deep libraries full of mannequin-esque business people, well-lit offices and adorable pets.

We get it. Orignal photography is expensive and frankly not always feasible. So if you must dive into the depths of universally applicable images, here’s a few stock photography tips to keep in mind:

Your image says something.

Not literally, I would hope, this is 2016. If there is any noise coming from my computer I did not expressly sanction I shut it down immediately.

Images are used for visual interest, but they also are a way to communicate incredibly directly. Words have to be read and processed whereas images (especially stock images) the message is readily apparent.

So what is your stock image saying? More importantly, what do you want it to say?

Your foremost goal is choosing an image that doesn’t shout “I’m a stock image!” Rather, select an image that illustrates specifically what you’re trying to say as close as possible. Ideally an image speaks for itself, but at least try to make it relevant to your specific content rather than an image that could apply to anything or any business.

Try to make them match.

Chances are you need more than one photo for your website, email, or other project. It can be subtle, but it’s easy to sniff out stock photography across a project when they’re completely different styles. If you choose an image that’s shiny and light, try to find images that have the same amount brightness. Images also tend to have an overall tone to them, either cool blues, greens, purples or warm yellows, oranges and reds. Sticking with either cool images or warm images definitely helps with the overall cohesiveness of your project.

Stock photography sites often allow you to search for similar images, or images that are produced by the same person. Using images from the same series goes a long way to avoid the tacky stock photography look.

Consider illustration and icons.

I’ve found when I’m trying to get things to match, it’s often easier to select from illustrations. The question of whether the picture is an accurate representation of your business or product is taken off the table and will seem more honest. Again, it’s super important to choose images that look a lot like each other and done in the same style.

Roundpeg chooses to use illustrations and icons for this reason: we’re trying to show off our web skills. Other than our cute cats, we don’t think images of our office or the hardware we use necessarily sets us apart. We’d much rather show you our capabilities, most of which live online and in the computer. You can’t take a picture of that, so it makes more sense for us to use illustration.

If you think it looks cheesy, it is. Refrain.

I’ve spent a lot of time on iStock for our clients, and I tend to use a guiding principle when searching for stock photography. I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want before logging in, and I have to keep in mind that I’m probably not going to find the image I have in my head, but if I stick with it I can usually find something pretty close. And I always find humorous images along the way, some of which inspired the gallery I refer to as The Worldweary Babies of iStock. These infants have seen some things.


If you have to use stock photography, the image you need is probably out there, but please, for the sake of the Internet, practice extreme caution.

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Roundpeg is an Indianapolis graphic design firm.