Are You Guilty of Using These Stock Photo Cliches?

With the launch of photos on Envato Elements, we're focusing on authenticity and quality in stock photos. Here's a few red flags to avoid in stock photo cliches.

Portrait for EnvatoBy Envato  |  Updated November 26, 2020

We get it – good stock photos can be hard to find.

And when you need an image, fast, it’s easy to default to the obvious.

In online publishing, feature photos are sometimes the last thing to be added to an article, and it’s just more straightforward to search for the main keyword in the article for your search term.

But, that can lead to some less-than-stellar photo choices. And we’re here to help you put an end to it.

Here’s a few of the most played-out and overused stock photos to watch out for. As editor for the Elements Blog, I am guilty of using nearly all of these photo cliches. Here’s an article about creativity, one about teams, and one about virtual reality – all with fairly cliche feature photos.

Most played-out and overused stock photos
Most played-out and overused stock photos

With the launch of photos on Envato Elements, we’re focusing on authenticity and quality in stock photos. Here’s a few red flags to avoid in stock photo cliches (and because we want to make the internet a better place, we’ve also added some ideas for what to search for instead!)

Updating your Travel Blog

You can do better than a bunch of nighttime cityscapes.

city night stock photos
Search: ‘city night’

Can you name the cities by the cityscapes above? Probably not, because most cityscapes end up looking the same.

Skip the city lights, and find some authenticity in your travel photos: images that look like something you’d take if you’d actually taken a trip there (and you were a skilled photographer).

Paris by Jacques_Palut
Paris by Jacques_Palut.

Company Career Page

Get rid of: the people high-fiving in an open-plan office.

high five stock photos
Search: ‘high five stock photo’

Photos of high fives are weird. The point of high fives is that they’re in motion the whole time. This means that a photo of high fives just looks like people are raising their hands at each other, or comparing hand sizes, or doing some strange ritual.

Instead, look for people working together. Maybe in a conversation. Like normal.

Favorite Podcast

Please don’t use: an up-close photo of a microphone.

podcast microphone stock photos
Search: ‘podcast microphone’

As someone who writes about podcasts a lot, this one is a particularly frustrating stock photo trope. Luckily, I’m not the only one who’s noticed. The excellent Julia Barton wrote an article in Current railing against the use of ‘mic pics’, which she says are ‘missing the point’.

Isn’t it odd that we’ve chosen to represent a spoken-word medium, a really human medium, in the most sterile, reductive and mechanical way possible?

Julia Barton

Instead, go for photos of people listening. Or headphones, at the very least.

Man with earphones by dolgachov
Man with earphones by dolgachov


Don’t choose: that photo of a guy with a laptop on a beach.

laptopbeach stock photos
Search: ‘laptopbeach’

This is unrealistic. You will probably get sand in your keyboard if you do this. Don’t perpetuate this fantasy with a stock photo. Also, how can these people see their screen in the direct sunlight? And what if their computers run out of battery?

An alternate suggestion: someone working in a fun place that’s slightly more in the realm of possibility. Think ‘trendy coworking space’ or a ‘shady park bench’, not the edge of a mountain.

Freelancer in cafe by bialasiewicz
Freelancer in cafe by bialasiewicz.

News Story About Hacking?

Skip: the vague coding image.

code stock photos
Search: ‘code’

Not only does this not say anything about what you do, but half the time, the code in these pictures isn’t even relevant to the actual work.

Instead, go for a nice mock-up of a web design in action, or maybe a fun illustration of a web developer.

Something About “Creativity”?

Don’t pick: watercolors, paint brushes, or crayons.

creativity stock photos
Search: ‘creativity’

This is another one that I’m guilty of in day-to-day work. We have a lot of articles about creativity on the Elements Blog. It’s easy to hit ‘creative’ into the image search box, grab a pretty photo of some paint-filled brushes or watercolor scribbles, and call it a day. Hey, it doesn’t look bad! But unless you’re literally a watercolor painter, it can feel a little arbitrary. And also, boring.

Instead, look for a photo that’s more descriptive of what you really do. Or, flex your creativity skills and add an interesting Photoshop action to take a standard image to the next level.

Writing About Virtual Reality?

Skip: the guy in an empty room with a VR headset.

virtual reality stock photos
Search: ‘virtual reality’

Sure, this is an accurate representation of virtual reality. But, it looks silly. If you’re trying to write about VR in order to move it forward and/or make it more popular, these images aren’t helping.

Choose instead: when you think of VR, you think of the imagery inside of the headset, not the empty room outside of it. Pick something that represents what the users are seeing. If you can’t do that, at least find a VR photo that seems more realistic than an empty room.

Speed Round! A Rapid-Fire Image Guide:

If you’re writing about – don’t use:

  • Millennials – a photo of a texting, plaid-wearing, coffee-drinking twenty-something
  • A conference – a panel of guys sitting on a stage
  • A business merger – the handshake stock photo
  • Successful – Guy in a suit
  • Money – a close-up of dollar bills
  • Healthy eating – a woman laughing alone with salad
  • Politics – the White House
  • Plants – a plant in someone’s hand

Discover more beautiful, authentic stock photography on Envato Elements.

Related Articles