Marketing / Digital Marketing

Tips for Choosing Photos: 5 Ways to Avoid the Stocky Feel

Liz Alton

Updated: Jul 15, 2024 · 5 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

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Adding images to your landing pages is a great way to visually communicate your message, add a splash of color, and engage viewers in a completely new way. However, if you choose the wrong images, you can end up turning off your audience and driving prospective customers away.

Does the stock image you chose portray a happy family or look like a posed outtake from the "Stepford Wives"?

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Or maybe the landing page for your startup product features stock business images of waxen-faced corporate workers who look like they’re trapped in "The Wolf of Wall Street"?


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Whether you need to develop your eye for what makes a great photo or learn how to align your images and messaging, here’s a quick guide on how to choose great photos for your next project.

Develop an eye for what looks “stock”

Avoiding a stock image feel in your visuals can take some work. Developing your pattern recognition for some of the shared patterns of stock photos can help you more quickly and easily identify them. Here are some general guidelines that can help you determine whether an image has qualities you’re trying to avoid:

  • Does the image have a white background—or a more natural background?
  • If the image features people, does their body language look natural or are they posed?
  • Do people in the image look happy or exhibit emotion, or are their facial expressions more frozen?
  • Are images that center on an object—like a mobile phone or stationary bike, for example—putting that object in a context that makes sense? A mobile phone unattended in a field looks stocky; a mobile phone being used by a person to scan prices in a grocery store makes sense.
  • Is the lighting harsh or over exposed?
  • If the photo is conceptual in nature, such as drawings on a whiteboard, are they well done or do they look generic or of poor quality?

Know your industry’s clichés

Beyond the signs of generic stock images, every industry has stock photos that embody their industry’s clichés. Avoiding those images can help distinguish your brand’s look and feel from the competition, while also setting the bar on what images you will feature in your content. Spend time looking at memes like “Feminism, According to Stock Photography.” This will quickly give you a humorous look at the types of images you want to avoid.

For example, if you’re looking for an image of a customer service rep, you’ve no doubt seen the images of smiling individuals wearing Bluetooth headsets while they sit in neat cubicle rows.

Customer Service Reps in Call Center

Instead, a picture of someone laughing and smiling while they take a phone call—and look like they’re interacting with a customer on the other end—would be a better choice.

Focus on how people are portrayed

One of the most common mistakes people make when choosing images is selecting photographs that feature subjects who don’t resonate with your audience. A financial advisor selling retirement services to the 50-plus bracket shouldn’t be using photos of a smiling 20-something couple. If your audience is conservative bankers who wear suits to work every day, casual images of a creative agency work environment aren’t going to feel authentic. Some factors to keep in mind when choosing images with people:

  • Does the dress and environment mirror who you’re trying to speak to? For example, collateral aimed at an enterprise audience should feature people wearing business attire.
  • Are the people featured from the right general demographic? For example, a dating site geared at millennials shouldn’t feature a picture of someone over 60.
  • Do the individuals featured in the image look happy and natural—or convey the right emotion in a believable way?
  • Do the photos reflect and embrace diversity?

Consider lighting and editing

When possible, choose photos that have a natural feel. Look for images that were taken in natural lighting or have been appropriately lighted. Nothing says stock photo more than an image that’s heavily lighted, uncomfortably staged, or very obviously edited.

Colleagues giving high five

Exceptions to this are conceptual photos that can require more polishing. However, editing should be invisible to the average viewer and enhance the overall image.

Aligning images and messaging

By this stage, you know how to determine that an image doesn’t have a generic stock feel and isn’t playing into your industry’s worst clichés. There are no stiff board meeting photos or frantic IT guys huddled over servers on your landing pages.


The people you’re featuring connect with the audience you’re speaking to, and the lighting and editing creates a natural, pleasing image. From there, it’s important to find images that help reinforce your overall messaging and positioning. Here are a few elements to consider:

  • What context or environment should the image portray? For example, should the picture take place in a grocery store or in a home environment?
  • Who should be in the picture, if anyone?
  • Should the viewer immediately get the sense of an industry or business? For example, the image of a welder wearing a shield, with sparks flying, immediately conveys an industrial message.
  • Should motion be portrayed? For example, should the subject of the photo be shopping to portray e-commerce, or running to signal a health challenge?
  • Is there a more abstract concept at play, and if so, how can you convey it besides choosing a stylized version of the word? SEO, for example, might be better portrayed by a whiteboard map of concepts related to SEO or a person surfing the web, than by the images of Scrabble tiles spelling out SEO against a white background.

Images play an important part of your communications strategy—and they can help increase conversions on your landing pages. Take the time to choose compelling images that speak to your target audience, and stay away from the awkward, posed images that scream “stock.”

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