Bruce Lawson’s personal site

I HATE stupid stock photography

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Most of the examples of dreadful stock photography linked to from this post have now changed – doubtless as a direct result of the excoriation they receive here. But the post attracted some great comments, so I’m leaving it up.

Photos are good. A picture is worth a thousand words.Web sites need photos. Photos of people are reassuring and help site visitors feel a lovely sense of society, community, and quiverings of loveliness in their astral karma. Or something. But I fucking hate stupid stock photography.

It’s tricky to define, but you know it when you see it.

It generally manifests itself as a slightly out-of-focus, jaunty-angled picture of a group of twentysomethings, all glam and multi-ethnic doing something high-powered and corporate in Armani suits. See Price Waterhouse Cooper for nice out-of-focus photo of some twelve-year olds in a boardroom; management consultancy sites are always rich pickings.

Nominet is a splendid example of stock photo wankery. It’s a domain name registrar, so should presumably have a picture of a server cluster to indicate its business. Instead, though, they’ve a lovely picture of a back of a bloke’s head (which seems to be 9 feet wide) and a twenty year old looking flirtatiously at him. Wow! I think. I’ll definitely register all my .uk domains with Nominet as it has hot girls and wide-headed men working there. Nothing to do with the fact that it’s a monopoly, of course.

Some photos of shiny happy multi-ethnic 20 year olds are legitimate. British universities have a sudden outbreak of sexy Asian teens – but that’s fine, because foreign students pay 45423 times the money that a British student pays to go to University, and they actually do some work when they’re there. Plus, when China and India take over the world, it’s better if their captains of Industry have been educated at Neasden University (formerly Neasden College of Hairdressing and Textile Design) rather than than Harvard or Yale. Then they might not drop their nuclear bombs on us when Armageddon comes, out of loyalty to their alma maters.

Another genre is the stupidly surreal picture. For example, the organisation GfK (Growth from Knowledge – wankers!!) has a picture of a someone cupping some leaves in their hands on their homepage. It’s missing alt text, so it’s difficult to determine what it’s supposed to mean.

If it were on the Monsanto site, I’d assume it meant “oooh, good! There’s been a global ecological catastrophe and we’ve got the last four leaves in the world and we’ve patented the DNA”. But as it’s illustrating “Growth through Knowledge” (wankers), I guess it shows that they’re hoping to rub some ganja leaves together to extract the resin before their next drug-crazed spending-spree at Corbis, but are too stupid to recognise Marijuana so are trying it with stinging nettles.

Equally bafflingly, one of the photos illustrating GfK’s “vision” seems to be of a pre-teen in the bath (safe for work). Personally, if that were my ultimate objective for the future, I’d keep pretty fucking quiet about it; it can’t be much of a laugh being Gary Glitter right now. (For extra fun, refresh the “Vision” page a few times for a hilarious gallery of bollocks stock images).

For fucks’ sake, corporate marketing managers! OK, so you can’t depict your corporate vision completely honestly, with an image of your laughing CEO gargling gallons of caviare, and being fellated by high class call-girls while watching his competitor’s houses being repossessed. But at least don’t try to pretend that your corporate song is Lennon’s “Imagine”.

Anyone else got any examples of shite stock photography?

19 Responses to “ I HATE stupid stock photography ”

Comment by Daniel Walker

Surely, Bruce, you have heard of the Everywhere Girl?

(“She’s young, she’s sexy, she wears a grey pullover, and she wants to sell you a computer/some life insurance/a place at a University/some caffein pills/whatever.”)

We’ve just had some taken at work that manage to make it look like our entire IT infrastructure consists of one 12″ iBook, which we all take turns at using.

Comment by Matt Machell

Actually, "asian teens" is a fair example of that university’s student population. Don’t blame the web developers, though – there’s a terrible lack of decent stock photography…

Comment by Bruce

Ah, I’m citing your uni as an example of legit shiny happy multi-ethnic 20 year olds, Matt. And slating marketing managers, not the web designers. And backing away slowly until you put the sharpened Corbis disc down….

Comment by Daniel Walker

Flip-side is the non-stock photography that is even cornier than stock photography. Specialists in this genre are surely ‘images-as-text’ specialists at over at Apple, whose mailouts routinely feature a
multi-ethnic range of healthy, happy, well adjusted people, merrily strutting through life with the aid of their Apple products, in a remorseless procession of health and well being, creative-looking goaties and funny hair.

I mean, we all know that owning an Apple gives you good teeth (look at me – I’ve got teeth like a horse!), but if I see one more attractive hispanic woman using an iPod, I think I’ll scream!

Please, use some stock photography, Apple! I can’t take any more!

Comment by Glenn

Can I put in a word for the news photos on the websites (and other publications) of the average public authority? You know the ones. Five nervous looking people, plus one borderline maniac, standing in front of a nondescript building site in yellow hard hats.

Almost as good are those posed-relaxed snaps of chief executive types working at their desks and then accidentally noticing the camera pointed at them. They’re always in the front of annual reports, or profile articles. I even have one or two of myself “caught unawares”, but that’s another story…

Comment by Daniel Walker

BBC News (excellent though it is) also does an excellent line in pictures of marginal relevance – many of which are just crying out for Viz-style captions, such as:
Some pants, last Thursday
Some Space, on Wednesday
A Woman, “worrying” in Basingstoke
A tie, last month
Some tits, last week
A Goldfish, Yesterday except that you’d wonder what caption to use the next time they used the same picture
After all, did the bunny get it or didn’t he? (Maybe he hid under a pancake, but that’s another story.)
But they are a bit inconsistent, aren’t they? After all, did she get booted out at last orders or was she still there while three o’clock? I think we ought to be told!
When one minute, they portray their subjects as misunderstood and misrepresented and, the next, as maladjusted threats to the (gossamer thin) fabric of society, you do have to wonder, don’t you?
Mind you, sometimes you wish they’d use a stock poto of an angle grinder, don’t you?
Sadly, after relentless exposure through the likes of Danny O’Brien’s (for example, the gruesome ‘a torso, yesterday’), have started smartening up their act, and applying more relevant pictures to its news.
However, they can still pull off the occasional, sublime moment, such as Oxford during a power cut.

Comment by Clifford

Ok clever dicks, 🙂

What ARE we supposed to do when we present our “transformed spastic jellyfish emitting specular light visions” creative concepts, that basically are so creatively whack that they are bound to clean up at the D&AD’s… only to have the client say “You know, I saw this girl in the Dell campaign…”

Oh yes, and apparently smilies are wank too. sorry.

Comment by mr nameless for now

very wierd. Though i’d have to do a tedious History list trawl to turn up any decent examples, the same internet search that’s dropped me off at your site today also produces some forehead-slappers. Dunno if there’s a relation…

Basically go hunting for educational technology news in a rather poorly informed fashion, a la a guy trying to break into the industry trying to figure out what’s currently new and happening in the field when all the data sources are utterly vague. That and “Moodle Birmingham Grid”. I’m guessing it’s the Birmingham part that did it for yourself. But an awful lot of companies making e.g. interactive whiteboards (Promethean?) had stock pictures of such cheesy horror that I was sadly shaking my head at them today, even long before reading this blog 🙂

And now I need to get back to the coalface as I have an potentially tricky interview tomorrow, given that the search still isn’t telling me much that I didn’t already know – which seemed to be grossly inadequate the last time I was interrogated on it 🙁

Comment by Bobbo

I have been searching for stock photos for my businesses website for hours. Typed in “I hate stock photography” and found this breath of fresh air. made me half laugh. and start writing with strange punctuation apparently.

Oddly the next thing that comes up while googling the aforementioned phrase- shitty stock photography on the word hate.

Comment by Chris

I love the well-written humor. Keep it up. And sorry to resurrect this decade-old post, but it’s a high search result for “I hate stock photos.” Haha

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