Marketing February 24, 2011 14 Reads share

The Use And Misuse Of Stock Photography In Websites

A few years ago I was designing a website for an Italian Restaurant. The budget for the website was pretty tight and there didn’t seem to be any funds to hire a photographer to take photos of their dishes so I went about choosing some stock photographs from istockphoto.com. The photos I choose were good quality and they were the same style and type of food that I knew the restaurant served. I was pretty happy with my selection and put them into the draft of the website to show the client. Was I in for a shock at the response I got from the restaurant owner? To put it mildly, she was appalled at my choice of photos.

Firstly, the photos I had choose showed processed pasta. This restaurant hand-made their pasta from scratch every day and apparently people who know their pasta can tell the difference from fresh and processed pasta in a photo. There were similar problems with other photos I had chosen of pizzas and even the salads. To cut a long story short, she knew her restaurant’s food and I didn’t and these stock photos were not a good representation of the food that they served. The stock photos were not genuine and since the restaurant was genuine about the food that they served, these stock photos could not be used on the site.

From then on I was much more careful when working with stock images for websites and now use them very sparingly and cautiously. One of the biggest problems I find with using them is that they often fail to make a connection with the target customer of the website. Many stock photos are very obviously that and for this reason the customer finds it hard to identify with them and therefore is less likely to trust the company of the website they are looking at and take that next step to becoming a customer. Someone visits your website wanting to know about you, your company and what you can do for them and instead they see is a lot of bought images of people that obviously don’t work there.

If you are going to put a photo of two business people shaking hands up on your website then why not take a photo of YOU shaking the hand of one of your current customers and put this up on your website. This would send a really positive message to your potential customers. People identify with real people not with clichéd stock photos. Don’t be afraid to use your own photos on your website. Go one step further and instead of using photos of yourself posing in front of the camera, use photos that show you doing what you do as part of your business. Then people can see you in action and actually imagine you doing that work for them.

overstockTake this as an example of an over used stock photo. This girl on the left is so popular that I once had a customer specifically request her for his website. He had seen her on another website and wanted her for his. What does this photo say about your company if you were to use it on your website? I think it says you are generic and not very special and that if I call your company I won’t get you on the phone, I will just get some girl in a call centre. Or it could be interpreted as saying that you are not happy with your own company image, as if you were why would you need to put this girl forward as representing your company?

Having said all of that, there will be times when you need to use stock photos. I use them a lot for my own blog but I try to choose wisely. If you must use them, here are some tips:

  1. Choose photos that are not clichéd and could look as if they could have been taken for your company specifically.
  2. The background and setting of a photo and the style of clothes people in the photo are wearing often give hints to the country it was taken in so try to choose one that looks most like it was taken in the country you operate in and mirrors your target customer as much as possible. Mirroring will allow your target customer to identify with your company and will make them more likely to contact you or purchase your product or service.
  3. Keep them consistent with each other and with the brand of your company and overall style of your website.
  4. If you have the budget, hire a photographer and have your own collection of stock photos that relate specifically to your business and have subject matter that your audience can identify with.

Most people don’t read very much text on websites so the photos you choose really matter. What’s your experience?

Beatrice Whelan

Beatrice Whelan

Social Media and Content Specialist at Sage Ireland.

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