Just say no to cheesy stock photos! Whether you are picking out free or cheap pictures for your website, a blog, digital ads or other materials, it’s super important to make sure that you use high-quality images. Because digital content has become so popular, there is a deluge of cheesy stock photos now available on the internet. But many of these photos don’t do your brand justice – instead they send a message to your audience that your content isn’t unique or original. These types of images can also devalue any visual storytelling you may be doing. The cheese factor makes the story look in authentic. You can avoid this by ensuring that you choose photos that better represent your brand.

What Makes a Cheesy Stock Photo

When choosing a free or cheap photo online there are some red flags that can help you avoiding the cheesy stock options.

Eye Contact: A lot of stock photos picture groups of people that are all posed and looking straight at the camera. These look cheesy and forced and are a dead giveaway that it’s not a group of real people.

Too posed: People photographed in postures or positions that just aren’t normal are a dead giveaway. The smiling leader looking at the camera with the team in soft focus in the back hard at work is a good example.

Word Flocks: Photos of a lot of related words clustered together in different sizes and patterns are some of the most prevalent stock photos. They aren’t creative and they are honestly kind of hard to look at / interpret.

Obligatory Handshake: The handshake is one of the most cliche images out there. They are usually people in business attire shaking hands with a blurry backdrop of an office or building. These photos don’t look natural and don’t say anything about the material you are presenting.

Studio Lighting: Photos with bright studio-style lighting that look like they have been taken against a backdrop also look cheesy and posed. Avoid these in favor of real photos that look like a great photographer snapped them but not in a stylized studio setting.

Tips for Avoiding Cheesy Stock Photos

There are a lot of ways to avoid cheesy stock photos. If you have a good eye, you can choose stock photos that are a little more unique, make edits to existing photos or take your own photos to use in your materials. Just follow some of these tips.

Create Your Own Images

If you are handy with a camera, you can take your own photos to use in your marketing materials. First of all, work with a DSLR camera if you can. They are perfect, even for beginners, and they take very high-quality photos that translate well to different mediums and can be resized, etc. Shoot outside if you can, because you can’t beat natural light. An overcast day is better than direct sunlight, which can create harsh shadows. And if you can, use a tripod, which will help ensure that your photos are sharp and in focus.

You can also use tools like Canva.com to create your own images. Try to come up with a theme or do some thinking around the visual storytelling of your brand in order to create visuals that will resonate with your audience.

Choose the Best of the Stock Photos

Not ALL stock photos are equally bad. It’s possible to find free or cheap pictures that are more interesting and will look better on your site. For instance, most stock photos are of all white people – especially if they are business photos. Try searching for photos that display more inclusiveness. Racial diversity is important and most photos that come up in searches display only white people, as well as geographical locations, clothing, attitudes, interior styles etc. that are indicative of white people. Branch out to find more diverse images.

Use High Quality Sources

When searching for stock photos, it helps to use better sources. Creative Market, ShutterStock and Deposit Photos are great options for finding photos that are unique, high-quality and relatively inexpensive. Here’s a list that breaks down some other options as well. Photos of people, particularly faces, are always a great choice because humans are hardwired to respond to faces. You can also do a simple Google search and filter to find the pictures that are free to use commercially.

Apply Filters

If you’re not ready to take your own photos just yet, you can start by choosing a stock photo and putting a more interesting filter on it or doing some basic edits in Photoshop or a similar app. Filters can bring more life to a photo and you can also make adjustments to the image and add in other elements like text, graphics, etc. to lessen the stock photo factor.

Follow these tips to avoid cheesy stock photos, and to make sure that your marketing and fundraising material stays in line with your brand and makes your nonprofit stand out!

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