Top Five Kinds of Bad Stock Photos

February 22, 2017

By Lila Wallrich

“People don’t read. Words don’t matter.”

When I hear people say things like that, I swallow my tears, slap my face and say to myself “Shut up! Stop it! You weak— You baby! Shut up!” Then I collect myself and move on.

But it’s partly true. Imagery always gets the spotlight. That’s why, when using stock photography, it’s important to make the right choice. But there are so many bad ones. And we sift through them daily.

Please, feel our pain. Here is a brief catalog of the types of painfully bad, egregiously overused stock photography that blemish our browsers and shatter on our psyches.

#5 | The Handshake
Nothing says “win” like this legally nonbinding gesture. Do an image search on “deal,” “partnership” or “agreement” and you’ll be treated with every permutation of hot palm-on-palm action, from intimate couples to celebratory group gropes.


“Ow, you’re burning my hand.”


“Your diversity initiative isn’t quite there yet, but it’s coming along.”


“Let us enjoy this human touch—and never speak of it again.”


#4 | The Game Piece
Judging by the stock photo canon, business people love jigsaw puzzles. Sometimes it’s just two huge backlit pieces, which doesn’t seem like much of a challenge. Often it’s all one color, which seems challenging but unsatisfying. Also, watch out for exciting mixed metaphors!


“Love the new office, but where TF am I supposed to sit?”


“Once it’s established, I’ll repot it in on a Monopoly board.”


“You’ll need this key for the executive bathroom, which is down the hall and through the wardrobe.”


#3 | The Fisheye
The wide-angle lens is useful for capturing panoramas, but that’s not how it’s used. Instead, stock photographers use it create caricatures so silly that, like a black hole, no good ideas can escape. It’s a way to say, “My brand has the same sense of humor as a Nickelodeon audience yearning for a bucket of slime to be dumped on its head.”


“I used to be an idiot. Now I’m an idiot with money and opposable thumbs.”


“Dr. Goofus will not be making rounds today, as her walk has gotten much too silly.”


Mr. Benjamin Button has the body of an infant but the mind of an infant.”


#2 | The Writing on the Invisible Wall
A whiteboard can be a useful ideation tool. But denizens of Stockphotoland prefer writing backwards on windows. It’s a good skill if you’re ever trapped on a train with only a Sharpie.


“Now maybe the homeless people outside my office will appreciate how smart I am. Hey you hoboes, do you even know what a molecule is?”


“I’m a thought leader. And I suspend ink in midair.”


“That’s right, I can draw detailed maps backwards. Suck on that, Garibaldi.”


#1 | The WTF
Some photos just have no explanation and no reason to exist, yet they persist. We can only imagine how these go in the client pitch…


“It’s like Freaky Friday, except with a dog who learns the value of vehicle maintenance, and an owner who discovers the joy of sniffing.”


“Get in shape for this year’s sexy gourd costume.”


“I, too, could have annexed the Sudetenland. But nobody takes me seriously. Not like him. It’s always ‘Adolph, Adolph, Adolph.’”


“Look, Calamity Jane, we need to soften your image a bit. Put on these plastic lips while I adjust the lighting.”

Top Five Kinds of Bad Stock Photos

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