Stock Photography


Stock photography is everywhere. It certainly has its place in modern graphic design and marketing, but be cautious… it can be easily overused and make your marketing material look canned, unprofessional, and off-target.

I suggest designers find a balance by using some stock photography and mostly your own. You know what you want and what message you are trying to convey to your target audience. So, who better to take the photos for your next project?

Very good stock photo options

I suggest using the following free sites to begin your search for stock photos. Be sure to apply the licensing filters when searching on Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

Remember your professional ethics

Only use photos that are cleared to use for commercial purposes. Most free stock photographs are fine to use for your graduate portfolio. Be careful not to try to resell any of these photos—that is usually not permitted for any photo without written permission.

If a site or photo doesn't state it's okay to use—then assume that it is NOT okay to use. Always err on the side of caution.

Get in the practice of crediting the photographer below or vertically, next to each photo you use. Use this common format:
Name     —or—    Name / Company

Don't forget Illustration

Before we discuss stock photography, let's take a minute to remind everyone that illustration is a very good option as well. A well targeted and well executed illustration can trump any photo if used correctly.

Overused stock photos

Let's categorize these photos in the "don't be that guy" and use these overused stock photos in your work. We can do better!


1. Don't you wish you worked here, too?

So, how many beautiful, ecstatic, edgy, cool, business people can you make share a laptop and keep them happy? Throw in some "staged" diversity and you're all set. Right? Not really. This is a perfect example of a poor use of stock photography. It just looks like you're trying way too hard to make a squeaky-clean image that appeals to everyone. Plus, what is it actually communicating to your target audience? When was the last time you saw this type of situation at work? Not too often.

Showing a positive environment is fine. As is showing diversity in sex, race, age, etc. But don't try so hard. Because this type of image is overused, I'd suggest staying away from it and those that resemble it.

I've seen many advertisers using real customers and real employees in their marketing material with success. Customers can better relate to real people.


2. High-tech digital background

This one kind of works in some areas, but I've seen it so often, it's worn out, tired, and overused. There are other ways to show that you are tech-savvy and up-to-date. Get creative and find them.


3. T-E-A-M-W-O-R-K

…spell it with me! If you work here, you'll have fun, get paid, and get to huddle with fellow workers! Enough said : )

Again, trying way too hard.


4. I'm so frustrated!

(But I'll be okay because I'm still a well-paid, muscular, and attractive model)

Exaggerated frustration. Is it 1:30 a.m. and are we watching an infomercial? If not, stay away from this type of image. Cheesy and staged—double negative.