Five photography clichés to avoid (and what to use instead)

February 5th, 2018

A picture paints a thousand words… so what’s the point in repeating ourselves?

Telling content marketers that they have to use engaging imagery should be a grandma egg-sucking scenario.

In fact, if this blog post had a main image, a grandma sucking eggs might be a good choice.

But too many times, the sense of good image selection has been lost. The evidence is everywhere. Reams of content let down by a choice of image that is, at best, uninventive and, at worst, boring.

The positive side is that it can easily be fixed.

Here are a handful of photographic tropes that you should avoid like the plague – plus some useful alternatives for your consideration.

  1. Wacky Millennials

At this point, even using the word ‘Millennial’ is debatable. But there is undeniably something useful about having another word available in place of ‘young people’ or ‘young professionals’.

But please, no more coffee-clutching, plaid shirt-wearing, avocado-feasting funsters in thick-framed glasses. Wearing headphones. Taking a selfie.

Instead, how about a regular young person doing regular young person things? On a bus, at a desk, on the street.

Because that’s the point: there is no need to differentiate between Millennial and young person in your photo choice. It looks patronising and alienates a healthy proportion of a potential audience.

  1. Graph with upward arrow

Business performance is up. That means ROI is up. That means… a graph?

No one in content marketing equates content performance to be numbers on a sheet of paper, let alone an upward-pointing graph. So why represent it that way in your imagery?

Instead, that upward trajectory can be shown in more positive, human forms.

That could be a wide-framed photo of people walking up a set of steps. Or maybe some retro appeal from an old lift button, pointing up. Sometimes it’s ok to be more up front too. If it’s about an increase in business (aka revenue), then a nice-looking cash register might also do the trick.

Content marketing is about human connection and engagement to support a brand. Let’s not get all mathematical about it.

  1. Money with plant sprouting out of the top

Full disclosure, I used to quite like this one. It seemed like a less crass way of writing about money than showing a big pile of dollar bills.

But sadly, it’s time has come and very much gone. Not so much because it’s a terrible idea but from simple overuse. Which teaches us another valuable lesson about photos to avoid – if it’s the first thought that comes to your mind when you’re choosing your photos, then a) you’re a natural picture editor or b) it’s been done before.

Think of an alternative angle. What is investment? It’s the growth of something… tape measures… those marks on the wall to signify how much a child has grown…it’s expansion… so a balloon filling up… these are the kind of thought paths you can wander down.

  1. Sad-looking office worker

Always tinted with a shade of pastel, usually suited and booted, always in offices that look like an IKEA showroom. (Where are the dirty coffee mugs, array of phone chargers and wilting pot plants?)

This trope typically indicates stress or unhappiness in work. So again, look for that angle.

If the content is talking about stress, then what is causing the stress? Overwork? Then try a mountain of Post-it notes. Underpay? The sad contents of an empty pocket. Too much work; not enough time? An egg timer, alarm clock or even sundial.

  1. Digital code

Used for anything remotely digital – from hacking to bitcoin.

The intimidating green-and-black screen with unspecific code is another unwanted classic.

For those directly involved in tech and digital development, it’s clichéd. For those not involved in that area, it’s dull.

Consider the subject more specifically.

If it’s hacking (oh, stick ‘figure wearing hoodie and mask’ in this list too) then you could play with the other meaning of ‘to hack’ and show a bit of tree surgery. It will stand out, at least. If it’s tech strategy then maybe the concept of ‘plan’ is the key – try a map or set of directions. Software is about networks – i.e. things that are interlinked. So you could try knots or a chain of decorations…

Ok, enough of my pathetic attempts to force a job transfer over to the picture editor desk here in the office. But this all shows the varied and specific skills involved in choosing the right image for your content.

Progressive Content has a dedicated team of picture editors for this exact reason. To get that balance right between teasing an audience, providing additional information that accentuates the story and making it stand out as visually interesting – all within brand guidelines, in copyright and on budget? No wonder so many resort to such boring old tropes – they fail to see the bigger picture.

James Sullivan, Deputy Editor, Progressive Content

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