Stock Photography Is Awful, Here’s Why

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You may want to consider creating your own image library

Take a good long look at some big companies’ annual reports. These documents are important; they are read – indeed scrutinized – by investors, staff, suppliers and all the many other stakeholders wanting to get a full picture as possible of the company and its progress.

Therefore, you may well be surprised by how many of these annual reports are peppered with photo library stock shots of ‘business executives’ – (actually, attractive actors) – sitting at a table in some glass-walled meeting room in the middle of anywhere, or clustered around a PC screen looking ‘interested.’

The problem is many of the photo library photographs used to illustrate annual reports are hoary old visual clichés.

But worse, these images literally appear in similar documents produced by different companies. Therefore, does this tell an authentic story about the company? Hardly.

It begs the question why? Why do so many big companies that rightly spend so much time and effort spelling out the differences in their products and services and their overall branding, settle so easily for ‘will this do?’ imagery when it comes to illustrating their essential corporate reports.

These days, on social media, the press, and other communication channels, companies strive for authenticity. It’s fair to admit most corporate ‘authenticity’ is actually carefully crafted, it’s being stripped of the flaws and blemishes and unevenness that constitute genuine authenticity. Yet a company’s expensive effort to appear authentic is so easily and effortlessly undermined by it using stock photography in images that really matter.

Why use library images of company directors and managers, or members of staff, where for want of an inexpensive photoshoot, a company can have its own real directors, managers and members of staff photographed in their own buildings, genuinely going about their business?  It’s baffling. And worse, it comes across as dated as tucking into yesterday’s breakfast croissants.

While this is perhaps the biggest reason not to use stock photography, there are other practical considerations worth bearing in mind too.

Tracking the use of licensed images can be a costly headache. If you’ve used the services of image libraries or some photographers, you will be strictly limited to their licensing terms.

If you break the terms and use their images, even by accident, in annual reports or any other marketing materials that are not covered by your original agreement, you’ll be facing retrospective fees. And they will find out!

Large companies have the biggest challenge tracking licensed images. With marketing teams spread out over different parts of the country, or perhaps in different countries, they often discover no-one considered seeking permission before they used a licensed image.

Then there’s another major consideration. Stock photographs are hardly ethnically diverse. Yes, there’s usually a smattering of BAME people in the pictures but having so few smacks of tokenism.

That said, while a company may be very ethnically diverse at the workforce level, even in socially progressive companies there is still a massive underrepresentation of BAME people in board positions. Research we conducted in 2018 found over half of the mainboards (56 boards) of the UK’s leading 100 quoted companies have no directors that appear to be from Black or Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

The lack of representative imagery of a workforce in an annual report matters a lot and goes against the grain if a company’s other communication stresses how much it values diversity and inclusion.

You may want to consider creating your own image library and work in collaboration with external photographers if you use them so you are not falling foul of copyright.

This way you will have completely original images that tell a unique story about your business whenever you need them.

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