What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Last year I wrote a post entitled, “There’s No Excuse for Using Bad Stock Photography,” in which I provided some tips on selecting quality stock images that avoid cliches and would enhance, rather than distract from, your written text. 

Recently, a perfect example of what I had warned against in my original post arrived in my email inbox. For the purposes of my review I’ve obscured the identity of the sender to avoid publicly shaming them. Actually, I find their content quite valuable (which is why it’s one of the few newsletters to which I maintain a subscription) but someone really phoned it in when they selected this particular stock photo.

Before you scroll down to see my list see if you can name the seven sins the following stock photo is committing; similar to one of those “find all the things wrong in this image” puzzles that used to appear in the comics section of the Sunday newspaper. If you disagree with any of my points or want to add your own observations let me know in the comments section below.

Seven Sins This Stock Photo is Committing

1. The hands are in an odd position over the keyboard; not even close to home position for touch typing. It looks like the user is trying to summon a spirit from within the laptop. Besides, it’s not like obscuring the keys would prevent you from knowing it’s a laptop. 

2. I’m not certain the hands and arms in this photo actually belong to the out-of-focus head in the foreground. If they do, there’s some serious camera lens distortion going on here.

3. There is nothing on screen of the laptop. If the person in this photo is interacting with the laptop there should be something on the screen; a browser window, a word-processing app, a cat video. Something.

4. That latte is perilously close to the right arm and likely to end up all over table. Which would be a shame because the barista clearly spent some quality time making the foam art.

5. There are at least five objects between the typist and any chance of successful, let alone comfortable, typing. And there’s no apparent reason why these very generic objects need to occupy the center of the image. 

6. Nobody sets up their work space like this. How long did the person in the photo spend lining up the sunglasses, the bud vase, and the flower vase? And why is the sunglasses case on the opposite side of the laptop? The whole set-up looks like drunken feng shui.

7. Most importantly, the stock photo doesn’t reinforce or enhance the topic of the article, which is about how freelancers can find new work and better clients. Omitting the photo altogether may have been just as effective for promoting the article, rather than having a bad stock photo acting as a distraction.

A few suggestions

In order to avoid this post becoming a rant about what's wrong, here are a few suggestions on how this email could have been improved by using a better stock photo.

1.  After a five-minute search on a free stock photo site, I came up with a similar image composition but with better lighting and absent all of the weirdness of the original photo. Same hipster vibe with improved feng shui and no potenial latte disasters.

2. When I began playing around with the email layout I realized the photo is probably more prominent than it needs to be so I replaced it with a different stock photo (one that involves some human interaction) and cropped it down to focus attention on the active part of the image. I also made the headline larger to better balance it against the image.


It doesn't require a great deal time or expense to avoid using bad stock photography in your marketing materials and you'll likely realize a more positive (and profitable) response when you do.


icon courtesy of Rudy Jaspers – Creative Commons license