Why stock photos are killing your brand

Why stock photos are killing your brand

Branded imagery can enhance your brand and connect with your customers. But it has to be chosen wisely. Photography done poorly is a distraction and can corrode your brand perception. I will never recommend stock photography, but I work with it a lot. If you decide to use stock images, here is a list of mistakes your brand must avoid.

Extreme emotions

Customers notice when emotions are not real in photographs. Bad acting doesn't engage your customers. It drives them away. You are establishing credibility with new customers, and extreme emotions make you seem inauthentic.


This is the opposite of extreme emotion. Stock photography is intentionally vague and created with the widest audience in mind. The goal of strong brand photography is to be intentional and complement your brand's mission, vision, and language. Your brand needs to show individuality. Using stock photos conveys no purpose and makes your brand seem bland.

Too poetic

Some brands can pull off visual poetry. A single cloud. A vibrant sunset. A reflection in water can add artistic depth to a brand or product. The visuals might be beautiful, but your customers want clarification. Choosing overly abstract images widens the gap between the answers they want and what you offer them.

Fake culture

Fake humans in fake buildings should never represent your brand. Stock photos are not you, your team, or your real space. Be honest or omit. Even if your picture is taken in your parents' bedroom, it is better to omit the details than to lie about it.

Fake customers

Social proof is a good way to build legitimacy with your potential customers. But, consumers are suspicious when getting to know a new brand. Don't give them a reason to question your authenticity. Fake testimonials immediately and permanently discredit you.

Useless office supplies

Closeups of pencils, paper clips, and printed pie charts are awful. Anything you don't use to do your job does not need to be on your website. An abacus? Scales of justice? An old alligator leather briefcase? (Actually we have used one of those.) But don't use that calculator for my taxes. I'd fire you.

My personal list of worst stock shots

+ Hands holding dirt with a plant
+ Minority report knockoff techno stuff
+ Smiley receptionist with headset
+ Forced and fake diversity
+ Fuck handshakes (Especially close up ones)

So, what should I do?

Photography is pay-to-play. There are dozens of stock photo websites, but none are equal to custom photography. Free photos aren't worth using, and paid-for stock photos are expensive and never as good as a personalized shoot. It is embarrassing to see a photo you use featured front and center on your competitor’s website. Hiring a skilled photographer will always be a better use of your time and money.

Adam Kuhn
Adam Kuhn
Designer, Partner

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