The Perils of Overused Stock Photography

June 23, 2015 | by Chuck Sanchez

Stock photography refers to staged photographs sold for commercial use. These images are often used for things like advertisements and promotional materials. Stock photography is a necessary and useful part of marketing in that it provides the opportunity for visuals to accompany content when the content itself has no images of its own.

While the advantages of stock photography usage are fairly apparent, (low cost, instantaneous access, typically generous usage rights) there are clear downsides as well. One of the most significant disadvantages to stock photo usage is that the photos are far from exclusive to your brand.

As a branding and design agency, BatesMeron comes into contact with stock photography often and we’ve observed the rather humorous oversaturation of some very specific images, including:

The Smiling Headset Women:

(used almost exclusively for customer service-related imagery)

headset1 headset2

The Strangely Common Fishbowl:

(an image of success, progress, change and/or overcoming obstacles)fish

The Overused “Organic” Growth Image:


The Ever-Present Hero Kid:


Even when companies manage to avoid the use of these popular photos, We’ve also found plenty of stock photo clichés that seem to pop up in ads all the time, such as:

The Handshake:

shake1 shake2

Charting the Course:


Clearly Unfocused:

clearly1 clearly2

The Generic Word Cloud:

wordcloud 2 wordcloud1

Word Puzzlers:

puzzler1 puzzler2

Street Signs:

sign1 sign2

Smart Guy Glasses on Smart Guy Paper:


Stick People:


The Jigsaw Effect:


Cliché Combos:

(including combinations of the categories above)

combo1 combo2

Overused stock photos and clichés have become so common that some models have even begun to achieve their own levels of pseudo-fame. A stock photo model named Ariane’s Facebook fan page is filled with stock images of her representing nearly every kind of product or service worldwide, with her 11,000+ fans adding new “sightings” of her every day.



While this is great for the model’s career, think about whether you would want such oversaturated and generic images to represent your product or service when your ad, brochure or other marketing piece is likely to end up right next to another company using the same!

The lesson here is that, when choosing stock photography to represent your brand in any way, consider avoiding clichés and, when the process becomes too long and involved, consult a design and branding professional to set you on the right course.

In short: don’t be that guy.

There are nearly endless possibilities when it comes to stock photography, so don’t be afraid to explore images that you’ve never seen before, get a little goofy or just mix it up. Who knows, you might just end up pioneering the newest stock image trend!

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