Deliver Us from Bad Stock Photography

A few weeks ago I was developing a communication training program for new managers for one of my clients, and needed some visuals to liven up the slide presentation.

After what seemed like hours searching through affordable stock photography from a variety of sources, I came to the conclusion that the creative directors and photographers responsible for “business” images have never actually worked in an office environment.

Don’t believe me? OK, try this: go to your favorite stock photography website and search for images of “staff meeting.”

You are going to find lots of photos like this one:
Close-up of hands at a business meetinig

What kind of crazy meeting is this? Is this some type of a pop quiz and the guy at the top of the image is afraid that someone is going to steal his answers?

Or how about this one, which I have subtitled: “Two attractive young corporate executives are distracted from their colorful charts when Superman flies past the conference room.”

Women in a meeting
(I give the photographer credit for diversity, and for dressing the models like career women rather than call girls.)

My personal favorite is an image you will see over and over, in infinite variations: A group of people gathered around an open laptop computer, all pointing at something on the screen. I’d venture to say that this type of behavior does not exist outside a photo shoot (or an episode of “The Office”).
Employees gathered around a computer

Now, I realize that, when funds are doled out at budget time, the internal communications team is always at the end of the line. I’ve spent more than 20 years in Fortune 50 companies launching companywide programs with little to no funding.

So I feel your pain, internal communicators. Yes, these low-cost stock photography suppliers seem like a great solution to your budget woes. But you must resist the temptation.

You probably have a smart phone. If you don’t, I’m sure one of your coworkers does.

Rather than purchasing a generic (and somewhat bizarre) image like this one (Is it just me, or does it look like the standing guy is about to get violent?),

Business meeting
why not take a stroll with your smart phone or digital camera and snap images of actual employees at work in your office?

You will see groups of people collaborating, teams brainstorming and coworkers simply chatting as they exchange information about the projects they are working on.

These real-world images offer you three very important benefits:

  • They reflect your true work environment (the demographics of your workforce and your physical space), which reinforces the credibility of your communications;
  • They feature actual co-workers, which creates a “buzz” among your workforce and drives readership; and
  • They are free, which allows you to spend your meager budget in other areas.

Let me close with a special message to all the creative directors and stock photographers out there who might be interested in creating images that reflect the reality of the business world: Call me. I can help you.


About Susan Rink

Susan C. Rink is president and owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC ( and a partner in Triple Play Consulting.
This entry was posted in Communication Best Practices, Employee Communications - General and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Deliver Us from Bad Stock Photography

  1. Another tip: search for CC-licensed photos on sites like Flickr or Google Image Search. They are taken mostly in real situations, and suprisingly many are available for free even for commercial use.

    • Susan Rink says:

      Great tip, Joonas! I still prefer images of co-workers for all the reasons I stated in the post, but I agree that Google Images and Flickr are an excellent option for internal communicators, as long as the owners have specified that it is OK to use their images. Thanks for commenting,


  2. This made me laugh so hard 🙂 especially the guy giving the “menacing” presentation. Oh my lord.
    I like your idea of people taking real photos of people at work for use in projects like presentations. All that needs to be in place for that to happen is a simple, signed release form on file and they should be all set.

    • Susan Rink says:

      Thanks, Mary! I believe in authenticity in employee communications, and using your own employees in newsletters, presentations and posters/flyers goes a long way toward maintaining credibility with your staff. Thanks for commenting,


  3. Mark K Curtis says:

    The camera phone tip is good but I suggest investing in a decent slr with zoom, then you can take office shots without getting up people’s noses.

    Also if you are having a photographer in for something, get one that charges for time and not the job. Then cram in a whole bunch of other shots you didn’t originally plan for.

    Choose different points of view too, people at the dinner queue, someone chatting to the receptionist, interactions with ‘services’ people such as cleaners, delivery agents etc – it’s all reflective of the office day.

    But do be mindful not to go mad! People will begin to get photo fatigue and they like to know when cameras are about too.

    • Susan Rink says:

      Mark, these are excellent suggestions. And yes, I do agree that an actual camera trumps a smart phone camera, but based on my friends’ Facebook pages, it looks like people are very comfortable taking quick snapshots with their phones.

      Thanks for commenting,


  4. Pingback: Five Tips for Working with a Professional Photographer | Rink Strategic Communications

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