Dec 13 2018

From cheesy to stylish, the evolution of stock photography

One of the biggest challenges businesses face when getting their website redesigned or creating branded materials is choosing the right imagery. Some may opt for a full photoshoot, others may choose more abstract imagery, but more often than not, they will turn to stock photography.


If we’re honest, one of the biggest misconceptions that we’ve come across is the fact that people still imagine stock photography as staged meetings, models smiling with their brilliant white teeth, pointing at a graph or a computer screen.


Can we just say, you might still find those images out there (we’ve seen them, they’re awful), but the world of stock photography is changing.


But what is stock photography?


The short version, stock photography is a collection of images that have been uploaded to a central location (Shutterstock, Pixabay, Getty), which are then licensed for specific uses.


The longer explanation, stock photography is an image uploaded by a photographer, who can select what that image is used for, and whether they want to retain some copyright over their intellectual property.


Stock photography restrictions explained


Some website have their own restrictions on how these images can be used, but for the purpose of this blog we’ll focus on Shutterstock.


Shutterstock lets you filter by Only Editorial or Non Editorial, which helps us when we’re planning new website projects or launching a marketing campaign.


Only Editorial Images can only be used for non-commercial purposes, such as illustrating a news story for commentary in a newspaper or magazine feature. You cannot use these images for commercial purposes.


Non-Editorial Images can be used on websites, blog articles, printed marketing collateral and so much more. We mainly filter by Non-Editorial since it gives us the flexibility and options we need for each of our projects.


How has stock photography changed?


With social trends and new technologies always emerging, photographers have found that the stock photography sector has changed dramatically over the last few years.


Speaking in an interview for Shutterstock, Joshua Resnick explained that: “I think people are bored of sterile studio shots, no matter how technically perfect they might be. Smartphone cameras have been the main driving force in changing this mindset.”


In the same article, Antonio Diaz said that he thinks: “customers nowadays are looking for more authentic-looking photos where the subject doesn’t look like they are posing too much and where the place looks as natural as possible. To adapt to this trend, I’ve been trying to use more natural light sources whenever possible.”


We completely agree with both of these photographers. We come into contact with so many different sectors, and over the last decade we’ve seen photo preferences evolve with the times.


Whether this is from the daily use of social media or the shift towards natural, “real life” imagery, all we can say is that we’re pleased we don’t have to look at cheesy images anymore.


Finally, Suzanna Tucker said that: “With the advent of cell phone photography, Instagram, and social media, the typical rules of stock have changed.


Unique perspectives and real-life images are in demand. There is more focus on mood and feeling and less on formal, traditional composition. This allows for more creative images. In the past, a lens flare was frowned upon, but lens flares from sunlight can add a natural, warm look to an image.”


Bad vs good stock photography examples

Anger and Conflict


bad anger - From cheesy to stylish, the evolution of stock photography


Conflict and Fighting


bad conflict - From cheesy to stylish, the evolution of stock photography


Inspirational and Leadership


bad inspiring - From cheesy to stylish, the evolution of stock photography


Communication and technology


bad talking on phone - From cheesy to stylish, the evolution of stock photography


Our top tips for choosing stock photos


Think about abstract concepts


When choosing your stock photography, sometimes the image should focus on the concept, rather than having the subject in the photo. For example, the hiking image we’ve uploaded above could symbolise exploration, leadership or freedom. Let you audience interpret the image themselves, and focus on providing the information they need in the text.


Remember where you are


All too often we see images of cars that aren’t suitable for the country that a website is in. For example, a UK-based fleet rental company should focus on which side of the car the steering wheel is one, and a logistics company should remember to choose HGVs that match the ones in their country (unless they’re international).


Not everyone might notice these little details, but if you carefully select your images to start with, then it’s less embarrassing if anyone pulls you up on it in the future.


Consider the emotional response


When choosing your images, you need to consider what emotional response you want to elicit from your customers. For example, if you’re selling sensitive skin products, then choose images that show a happy family, or someone smiling. The audience should be able to see themselves in that situation, rather than just being told “this is how the product works.”


Likewise if you’re promoting a charitable cause or raising awareness of specific illness, then consider using an image that pulls on the heartstrings, something that subconsciously makes the audience take action.


Don’t go overboard


We all love images, and the age-old saying about a picture telling a thousand words still rings true, but it’s important to rein in your image use. Too many and it can overpower your core marketing messages, too few and it makes it look sparse.


If you have a large selection of marketing materials or you have a large website, make sure that the theme of the images is consistent without. You might not realise it, but if an image is confusing or a reader feels overwhelmed, they’re more likely to click away or ignore what you’re trying to promote.



To summarise, stock photography is a great option if you’re unable or unwilling to invest in a full photo shoot. The variety of images available is only set to grow, and the shift towards natural, non-staged pictures is going to continue shaping the way designers and agencies operate.


What advice would you give for someone choosing stock photography? Do you think that it still has a place or would you rather invest in a photo shoot? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so make sure you let us know in the comments below.


Alternatively, if you have your own project you’re struggling with and would like us to giving you a helping hand, then get in touch with us today. Simply call our studio on 01489 232312 or email us on

Share Post
roseh1 150x150 - From cheesy to stylish, the evolution of stock photography

As our Commercial Director, Rosie keeps you in the One2create loop. Dishing out advice like there’s no tomorrow, you’ll be the first to know when it comes to getting better business opportunities with her insightful nuggets of info.

No Comments

Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.