If you recognize the elderly gentleman in the picture above, chances are you’ve seen your share of stock photos. Some of you may also know the various memes starring the gray haired man with a somewhat... unnerving gaze. A hero of countless stock photos, he’s even earned himself an internet nickname – “Hide The Pain Harold”, also known as “Maurice”.
The mere thought of stock photos is enough to send shivers down some peoples spines. Almost everyone that has dabbled in web design has used stock photos. You can say that sometimes there is no other way. For better or worse, stock photos are everywhere, which is why they even have their own memes, a good example being Harold. That being said you can’t, from the outset, make a blanket statement that all stock photo use is bad. The simple truth is that...it’s complicated.
There are many factors that may or may not force you to use stock photos. If your budget doesn’t cover the services of a professional photographer, stock photos may be a good alternative. There is also the question whether provided images will aesthetically and technically work with the design. Imagine a situation where the only photos a client has, have a maximum resolution of 800px. If we are designing a modern website that has to look good on a Full HD screen or better, those images just won’t cut it. Very often stock photos will be the most cost effective and readily available option.
Good, free stocks
Amateurish, badly lit and cropped photos will always look worse than carefully selected stock photos. Alright, but what does “carefully selected” mean? Simply put, images that don’t look fake and fit the design. An example of good stock photos are the ones we chose to use on http://mprzedszkole.edu.pl/.
These days there are numerous sites like Pexels, Pixabay or Unsplash that have a wide selection of high quality stock photos, both premium and free. Correct use of a stock photo will add a lot to a websites visual aspect. Be careful though, just like with everything you can have too much of a good thing. During the design process you need to keep in mind the available content and the target demographic. On a kindergarten website too many images would stand out, but in the case of a car rental service the situation is completely different. Not only are we used to seeing an overabundance of beautiful car photos in ads, but on a service such as this a large gallery of high quality images works to draw in a potential customer.
So far I’ve been describing stock photos as if they were the solution to life’s problems. The truth is a bit more nuanced. Without question, if our job is to present our client or his team, I would advise against using stock photos. A page like that needs to look authentic. This was the case with our client, Doctor of Dentistry Irena Krzywicka – our goal was to create an authentic feeling, to show off the unique atmosphere in her office. Obviously, stock photos were out of the question. We needed professional photographs that would fit the quasi retro aesthetic of the website. An important factor was the simple fact that people want to know where they are going to get their teeth pulled. Even the most fearful patients found this offices decor rather inviting.
We took a similar approach when it came to designing our own site. On the homepage the first thing you see is a custom video and on the About page our lovely faces. The only stock photos we used are in the blog section, since they only serve a decorative purpose so are less important. Most blogs and larger blog portals use stock photos in their articles.
A solution for every budget
Although a bit redundant, it bears repeating that there isn’t a single definitive answer to the question whether you should use stock photos or not. The answer often changes on a case by case basis. It all depends on the factors mentioned above. At JCD we approach each site differently. The client’s needs and business goals are especially important as it’s this information that will be used to look for and ultimately implement the most suitable solutions.