Stock Photography and Bad Form

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Bad form is simply defined as behavior that people do not like because it breaks a social rule. How does this apply to stock photography you might ask? The top faux pas in my book is using stock photography but claiming the person in the stock to be an otherwise real person. This would be similar to posting a photo of someone else on a social networking site and claiming that’s the real you (and if you want to get technical, that’s not just a faux pas but a straight up lie).

Behold the example I stumbled on recently that prompted me to write this blog…

How did I immediately know this was stock? Well, as a designer I spend hours and hours of time browsing, one of the main sources many designers now use for affordable stock. It only took me about a minute to locate this guy, “Cheerful Architect” …

I did find out that that a Larry Williams of Gemini Homes does indeed exist but he’s not “Cheerful Architect” from istockphoto either. Regardless if the claim is legit (that he was funded $1 million dollars), using a “fake” photo casts a shadow of doubt on the whole thing. I ask myself, what sort of company would use a stock photo and say it’s one of their clients?

If you’re a designer and your client asks you to stick a customer comment or name with a stock photo on a finalized design, don’t do it – suggest that they either get the real photo of the person or simply not use a photo in that scenario. If you’re a design client, don’t ask your designer to apply a quote or a name to a photo that isn’t that person.

Similarly, stock photos can sometimes tread the line when it comes to “real people” utilized in design. Plenty of times stock photography is used as a representation of the “ideal customer” or something similar. It’s utilized this way as a tool of design and marketing to get a target audience to “connect” more with a piece or to be an example. This is not bad form when it’s not associated with real names or quotes or language that reads something like, “here’s one of our happy customers!” However, it is once again bad form if you utilize a stock photo of a bunch of business people and then add that to your contact page and imply those are your employees.

Keeping it real…

Seems easy enough, right? Well, I see this type of thing all over the web and print advertising. Another perfect example are health product or supplement websites that use a stock photo of a doctor and put something like, “Dr. Paul here recommends our product”. The best word for this is SHADY. It’s simply not honest and to me, that is most definitely bad form.

Unfortunately, since the average person will not necessarily know a stock photo is being used, it’s up to designers and their clients to refrain from this and to have some scruples about how stock is utilized in their projects. So next time you’re confronted with a scenario of placing a person’s name or quote with a stock photo, keep it real and honest and just say no. That will reflect much better on your business than the change of an astute designer like me writing a blog about your bad form and use of stock photography.

Go forth and share ....

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