Why it’s Time to Stop Hating on Stock Images

by @michaeltkeys

Stock images get a bad rap but this notoriety is in large part thanks to us, the reactionary millennial generation. Our animosity for stock images is akin to the brat who acts out on Christmas morning because he doesn’t know how to build the Lego Death Star. It’s time to get it together and start using stock images the way they should be. 


There’s no doubt that using stock images can be a mine field. The recent take on stock images by Vince Vaughn perfectly summed up just how soulless some of these shots can be. They can also be a disaster for political campaigns, at best leaving causes open to criticisms of using “fake” supporters and at the other extreme, accusations of racist slurs or misogyny.

With so much scope for fail you might wonder why Getty are worth an estimated 3.3 Billion dollars. And there’s the catch. Stock images make a lot of people a lot of money and in doing so function as a business. Getty et al. are perfectly aware of the bad rap they get and are constantly improving their business model by buying out the entire stock of images on the Internet.



The truth is stock images are only as good (or bad) as your site editor or designer. Beauty is in the eye of the editor, people! Yes, bad images do exist but with Getty’s stock of over 80 million images it really comes down to how you use the service and leverage such an abundant visual mine. You need to get creative and work with what you have. So stop the lazy hating and follow these guidelines to learn to love stock images. 

1. Get Creative with your Keywords

If you search for “happy people” you’ll get 626, 317 results. Most of which are bland, hollow faces that look like their “happiness” is valium induced. You need to be smarter with your key word searches when choosing images. It’s a lot like when choosing keywords for SEO.

You need to hit that gray area between being too specific and being too generic. Actual human beings tagged these images when uploading them so think like a human (we know it can be hard sometimes) when choosing your keywords. If you were uploading an image how would you describe it? Like most things, a little empathy goes a long way.

2. Judge your Content by its Cover

This one comes down to the bread and butter of sound editorial decision making. In a world of social media sharing you need to think what your image is saying (if anything) and what would inspire people to not only share your content but the cover image.

3. Draw your Audience to the Content

Another social media inspired tip. While at all costs you need to avoid baiting your readers into clicking on your content, an image will stand out before the text does on social media sites. Choose an image that stands out from the crowd. It should grab the attention to stop the scroll on the never ending newsfeed.

4. Be Subtle

Only an idiot would treat his audience like idiots. Use images that sum up what the article is all about or a specific point you are trying to make. Reflect your tone, if you’re content uses sarcasm then use an image that reflects this.

5. Be Real

Invest time in finding the image that looks more like an everyday situation or the guy who sits beside you at work. People identify with images and content that feels like it could be another chapter in their story. Your job is to make them feel this by imitating real life in your make pretend world.

6. Know your Public

When it comes to choosing the right stock image you have to ask yourself who you’re choosing the image for. Again, this is when empathy comes into play. Put yourself into their shoes while at the same time make good decisions for the client. This usually means striking a balance between what your client thinks they want and what they actually need. 

Choosing images can be tough gig but don’t fall in the trap of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Stock images can work if you invest the time and follow our tips. At Tectonica we have a dedicated team that works tirelessly to update all of our sites and ensure that our client’s hard earned street cred remains intact.