Just say no to stock photography

Who knew that all customer service reps moonlighted as models?

Who knew that all customer service reps moonlighted as models?


Wired magazine just published an insightful piece on stock photography. The bottom line: Canned photos pretty much stink. Enter search query, prepare for a jackpot of stereotypes and saccharine.

You may or may not be in a position that requires you to purchase, curate or use stock art. But, if you are even mildly observant, you can spot it a mile away.

The problem? These pictures are invariably populated by perfect people with glistening teeth, sanitized kids and an ever-present positivity. That last phrase simply means they’re waaaaaay too happy, given the context of the photo.

Nothing wrong with happiness, mind you. But anyone who has spent much time at all in high-pressure conference room meetings knows that they don’t usually elicit ear-to-ear grins.

Customer service rep photos are a classic example. Who knew that these reps were all models, can wear their headsets all day without messing up their hair and smile 100% of the time. God bless the reps who help us all out, but they don’t look anything like that.

The same is true with family photos. The kids are delightful. Shirts are perfectly pressed and there’s nary a stain or wrinkle in sight.

Who can relate to any of this?

Inserting these kinds of images into content informs our readers that we don’t have any real people in our organization, customer base or membership. It shows that we take the easy way out.

And, most importantly, it demonstrates a lack of authenticity and creativity on our part. If we can’t be original with our own website/social media/print, then why should they trust us with their identity? Your readers already know that your customer service reps aren’t cast from modeling agencies. Instead, show the people a real and — gasp — flawed person.

So what to do instead? One, consider taking your own photo. It doesn’t have to be professional. Take several and one of them will likely work. If you have the budget, hire a pro to take them. Two, consider Creative Commons photos (these are free and are licensed for public use). On many occasions, I’ve found these photos to be superior (and certainly more authentic) than a stock alternative. Finally, is there another type of image (an info graphic, illustration, etc.) that could get the job done?

Don’t be afraid to let your customers and members see the real you. You’re someone they can relate to.

Special thanks to David Meerman Scott for inspiring this column.