Kick the Habit of Bad Stock Images

By Emma Fitzpatrick  

Stock photography is not inherently bad for your bank’s brand. Really—it isn’t. Instead, like most marketing endeavors, it’s all about knowing how to do it right.

That being said, there are stock images that you should do your best to avoid. Remember, you’re using these images to tell your story and capture your brand. So, if the picture looks like any of your competitors could use the same one (or already has), skip it.

As you’re culling through another stock photography website, do your best to avoid these types of stock images:

[Editor’s note: We’re guilty as charged of the following photo faux-pas.]

1. Photos of people looking directly into the camera.

Researchers at Georgia Tech and Yahoo Labs research found photos with faces are 38% more likely to receive likes and 32% more likely to receive comments. And when the subject looks directly into the camera, the resulting image can be stunning. But choose such images with extreme caution.

Stock photos in which the subject appears to be gazing into your eyes often end up looking forced and cheesy. That means viewers likely won’t receive them well. They tend to come across like a counterfeit version of the real, likable people who actually work at your bank.

Instead, opt for more action-orientated shots of people. When the models are engaged in an activity, they sell it better. Small details that make a photo look believable—a model who appears to be speaking, for example—elevate stock photography to the next level.

2. Photos of obviously fake scenarios.

When was the last time you saw an adult using a piggy bank or planting a tree in a jar of money? These images are meant to portray specific concepts, like saving or growing your investment. But the result is often hokey. If the stock photo is of something you wouldn’t see it real life—and wouldn’t really want to—keep looking.


Instead, try going for the big picture. Try to capture the emotion behind why people save because that’s what they’ll respond to. People often save to buy a house, for example, so try using an image of a family at home—one that radiates joy.

Or if you really want to stick with the literal—again, opt for action shots that are beautifully composed but relatable—people working on their finances, or a dynamic workplace tableau.

3. Stylized photos portraying abstract, digital, or social media concepts.

A close-up of a finger pushing a disembodied button. A swarm of icons floating above a mobile phone. A keyword written on a chalkboard. You’ve seen images like these everywhere. While the images may literally spell out the concept you’re writing about, they don’t capture the feeling or experience behind it. Plus, they’re ubiquitous—which means people are tired of them—and they don’t visually differentiate your bank’s brand.


Instead, try to reflect the human experience of the concept you’re portraying. Is it when you snap the must-have selfie? Agonize over whether you’ll get any likes? Or build a digital community? Go beyond the surface here to discover images that will resonate. Your images will be richer, and they’ll better illustrate your message.

How can I find the right types of images on my own?

To find the perfect picture, you need to put in the time. It often involves culling through many, many pages of photos and trying out every different search term you can think of.


Here are a few tips to find the right images on stock photography sites:

  • Think big picture. People don’t save money in order to look at stacks of coins. They often save to buy a home or retire early. So, search for those terms instead. You’ll broaden your search and discover more telling images.
  • Narrow your search. Describe the picture you want to find. If you don’t like the images for “buy a home,” try “young homeowners,” “couple in front of house” or “real estate agent young couple.” Add in qualifiers or sub in synonyms to find exactly what you are looking for.
  • Stick to photographs. Generally, stock photos, as opposed to illustrations or renderings, look more authentic. Applying this filter to your searches may make the golden images easier to find.
  • Listen to the data. A Curalate study found that images with a single dominant color, lots of light, and a high amount of background perform better on social. Though, of course, the best data will come from your own analytics. Test and learn what works for your bank.
  • Find your brand’s visual identity. You can grab photos from a wide variety of sites. But they should all look cohesive and complementary as you scroll through your social feed.
  • Make it beautiful in an instant. Want to elevate your stock photo? Upload it to one of the many design platforms out there to create visuals with a custom look. It’s super easy and can be done in a few clicks.
  • Try new sites. Your bank may already subscribe to a stock photography website. But if you’re stuck, the below stock images are fresh, different and free. These are a great place to go if you need something else or want to cast a wider net (without the cost).

Emma Fitzpatrick is a Philly-based freelance writer and marketer, whose specialties include content marketing, social media marketing and short, snappy writing. Pick her brain at [email protected].