Stock Photos: These poor guys get a bad rap.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Unless, it would seem, it’s a stock picture. The only words it might say is, “uncreative, lazy, and generic,” according to all the posts out there on the subject.

But I’m here to tell you that stock photos are just tools, and like all tools, how you use them determines their success.

Most people don’t have a problem with stock photos themselves; they have a problem with how they are used. Who hasn’t seen the “pretty girl smiling into a headset” photo used on a contact page, or perhaps “corny business group smiling into the camera in the conference room” teamwork page? Every designer, marketer or graphic designer has used them at one point or another (even those who complain about their use) because they actually do what they are supposed to do, communicate a specific idea.

But using those photos for those ideas doesn’t require a lot of imagination. That’s why people see using stock photos as “uncreative, lazy and generic.” And they’re right! If, instead, you see stock photos as a wonderland of creative freedom, you can do some amazing work with them. It just requires a little extra time to find the right picture—and tiny smidge of energy thinking outside the box.

Let’s take the two examples I listed above: Contact Us and Teamwork/Team page photos on a website.

Contact Us is a page that often gets the shaft when it comes to website design. Usually there is just a listing of contact information and maybe a form of some kind. So the image is generally the only visual element of interest on the page. Use that wisely! Instead of using “headset girl” why not use an interesting picture of an old fashioned telephone or perhaps something humorous like a smoke signal scene? You could even go tongue-in-cheek (as we have) and use a stuffed animal donning said headset.

Meet the Team is another culprit that tends to get generic treatment, especially if you don’t use head shots of key employees. So instead of “happy conference room attendees” you could do something simple and direct: show a team of workers building something. Or you could go with an opposite-type approach and show people doing anything but working together and then put a big red line through it. Or you could go outside the box (again, like we did) and use nature. We show a group of ants spanning a gap by working together.

All photos representing ideas like these can easily be found on a stock photo site like www.gettyimages or www.graphicstock.com. Use the search engine to enter in some of your out-of-the box ideas and see what turns up. Blow away the perception of stock photos and get your creative mojo on!