Why you should avoid stock photos in your research presentations

A young female engineer at her laboratory desk, smiling.
You will hear us say [a lot] that more images are needed in science – and especially how photography is heavily underutilized! But what's the deal with stock photos? They may seem like a convenient solution, but here are our top reasons why you should avoid using stock photos in your research presentations.

A stock photo is an image you can purchase (although some are free) a license for use in your communications media. The type of licence you purchase determines where and how you can use an image.  The big draw card for using stock photos is that, instead of hiring a photographer to create original content, with a few clicks, you can search, buy and import a stock photo into your research presentation or outreach media.

Traditionally, the selection of stock photography for science has been very limited – not to mention notoriously cheesy! If you searched “science” on a stock photography website 10 years ago, you would have found an array of models dressed in outrageously white labs coats, pointing with excessive enthusiasm to a test tube of coloured water. Nowadays, there is greater variety of images that are far more representative of science and technology.

Stock photos then:
Stock photos now:
So, what's the problem?

Great science communication should build credibility, relevance and differentiation. Whilst some stock photography is ok, a heavy reliance on generic images will hurt the overall perception of your research in the long run.

They make you seem "generic"

You wouldn’t use a stock “graph” to represent your research findings, so why would you use a generic photo? One of the other major issues with using stock photos in your research presentations is they are non-exclusive. If you’re using them, chances are others are too.

Imagine giving a presentation at a conference and having the same image as another speaker – or worse, multiple other speakers in your slides? It doesn’t do much to differentiate your work from that of the other presenters. So, whilst they can be useful in a pinch, a reliance on stock photos for your communication and outreach content can downplay the novel aspects of your research.

Great science communication should build credibility, relevance and differentiation. Whilst some stock photography is ok, a heavy reliance on generic images will hurt the overall perception of your research in the long run.

Original photos make you memorable

The best part about having real images taken of you and your research is that they are original, and they are 100% relevant to what you’re trying to communicate. Not only this, but people connect better with people they can relate to. As an alternative to stock photos, sharing images of your research process, or results – or even of yourself and your colleagues adds another layer of relatability to your communications.

Your audience will feel like they’re getting to know you better as you share more content. This can be incredibly useful at conferences to help break the ice and begin those all-important conversations that may lead to new opportunities.  

You wouldn’t use a stock “graph” to represent your research findings, so why would you use a generic photo? The best part about having real images taken of you and your research is that they are original, and they are 100% relevant to what you’re trying to communicate. 

Are stock photos ever ok?

Of course. Stock photos can be a very handy resource when used effectively. There is a great selection of abstract images out there that are great as decorative media for presentations, blog and social media posts.

Additionally, a lot of stock photography focuses on people or population studies. You may find that stock images are highly relevant to your research subject matter – and even help you advertise the study to potential participants!

Photography is a worthwhile investment

Yes, stock imagery is ok…sometimes. But nothing beats having professional photos taken of your research. You have limited chances to stand out from competitors and strong use of photography is a great way to do this.

Taking good photos can take a lot of time (and is a lot trickier than the Instagram influences make it out to be)! Why not reclaim some of that time back with our half-day and full-day photoshoots? We’ll provide you with thoughtfully composed imagery that will be sure to can leave a lasting impression on your audience.

Check out some of the testimonials on our homepage to see what other organisations have to say about our work. 

Ready to start a project?

If you’re interested in us becoming your forever creative collaborator, we welcome you to book a free 30-minute consult with Molly to help you get the ball rolling on your next project – we can’t wait to work with you!

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