18 Awful Stock Photo Cliches and Their Awesome Alternatives

“The pretty model with the headset again! Even Angelina Jolie must not be that famous.”

“Why do these employees jump in the air so much? My employees do nothing but sulk around.”

“Gimme a break. I have never seen such happy faces in my meeting room. Blank, stoned expressions are all I get.”

“I am sick and tired of handshakes. Handshake in presentation, Trump handshake on news…don’t we have anything better to talk about?”

Cliche. Cliche. Cliche.

Saying stock photo cliches has also become a cliche. No? So much bad-mouthing has been done about the overuse of some stock photos that I feel a bit guilty for jumping on the bandwagon too.

But while all raise a hue and cry — “do not use photos like the almighty handshake, pretty petite call centre model, women laughing with salad…” let us travel the road less travelled and see what we can replace them with. It’s easy to shame others when all of us (yes, including me) have been guilty of choosing a generic photo that countless presenters have already used.

Step inside the shoes of the audience and we’ll have to admit that yes, they deserve better. We may be hard pressed for time and other resources, but the audience has taken out time to listen to us. We better make it worth it.

It’s time we stop shaming stock photos. Some stock photos are damn awesome! If only we lose the habit of picking the first photo that we see and if only we apply our mind and think more creatively. There’s a great stock photo available for every great idea! You can also go beyond stock images and choose creative, metaphorical images to depict common business concepts. These in turn will make your presentations more insightful and engaging.

Let us show you 18 examples of cliches and their creative alternatives that’ll inspire you to put on your thinking hats and treat audiences to amazing visual slides. Let’s get started:

Also read: How to Create an Impactful Mission Template [ + 12 Amazing Mission Slides For You]

Creative Ways to Show Concepts in Presentation

Stock Photo Cliche #1- Leadership

Audience is tired of seeing cliche images of a leader standing in the centre of a circle or in front of “followers”. It appears from those images that a leader has no job other than to raise his arm and point the direction others are supposed to follow. Seems a bit autocratic, doesn’t it?

Leadership can be shown creatively in so many ways. Show a famous leader from history that you know the audience will instantly connect with. Show an image of a person lending a helping hand to somebody else — that would represent democratic leadership, the one that is more common in business settings. Show the captain of a ship. Or look to the animal kingdom for inspiration- king of the jungle for instance or an elephant leading his tribe to a new habitat like the one below:

Stock Photo Cliche #2- Team / Unity / Harmony

Hands on top of one another. A huddle close up shot with models smiling down at you. Yes, that’s how teams function in offices, right?

You know the huddle-in-a-circle concept has been borrowed from sports, so why not show the players huddled up! If you want to be literal and show teamwork in an office setting, then don’t choose phony, staged photos. Go for realistic images of teams working in an organization — see #15 in our list (Time to Work) that you can use. You can even go for a metaphorical image of synchronization among team members like the ballerinas we have chosen below:

Stock Photo Cliche #3- Partnership

The most used stock photo of all time- handshake. How else do you show a new business deal? It’s, without any doubt, a perfect representation of new partnership. All of us have used this image (including us) and all of us are responsible for making it a cliche.

What is the substitute for a handshake? Go for famous partnerships, be it in sports, science, or literature. We chose the kick-ass Batman and Robin partnership. Using such images not only makes the presentation more lively but also communicates that your partnership is not just formal, serious and a boring affair but a lasting, friendly one. What do you think?

Also read: 15 Must-Have Free Business Fonts for Beautiful Designs

Stock Photo Cliche #4- Success

Now, this is not an easy concept to showcase visually. What does success actually mean? Lots of money and fame or bringing change in the world. Don’t want to get philosophical over here but showing a man standing on top of some structure hardly conveys success. It is a cliche and failure to show success.

Instead, showcase achievement of any personality in their respective field. By that, we don’t mean mug shots of successful people but candid shots of them when they tasted victory. Imagine a black and white image of Muhammad Ali celebrating his victory in the ring. There are hundreds of images of sportspersons and other personalities showing their raw emotions and jubilation upon tasting success. Those images will create a hundred times more powerful effect than a business-suit-clad professional standing on top of a building.

We took the image capturing winning moments of reigning UFC Lightweight Champion Conor McGregor to create a dramatic effect:

Stock Photo Cliche #5- Goals

Almost every presentation has a slide on business goals and objectives. Nobody wants to see the alphabets of goals hanging on a wire in the air. Ideally, if your business goal can be shown visually, nothing better than that. You can use a metaphorical image of goal (reaching the summit of a mountain) or go absolutely literal — take the soccer goal. It may not be that creative but I haven’t come across this image in any presentation so far.

Stock Photo Cliche #6- Targets

Goals and targets sound the same but there is a slight difference. Goals are the ultimate desires you wish to accomplish while targets are the smaller aims you wish to achieve in order to reach that goal.

Business targets is one slide where you should not go wrong. You can easily show an impressive image of archer aiming for his target. But some go wrong here too. Images of a man or woman writing on a whiteboard pointing towards an upward rising graph have become an eyesore. Your team members know that they need to close more sales this year. An upward line graph won’t inspire them more.

Also read: Perfect Pitch Deck for Startups: Lessons from Uber

Don’t make your presentation so formal and devoid of all fun. Take a basketball player instead with his eyes set on the basket and posed to score an amazing shot.

Why are such images more powerful? Because they are action images and seem to be in motion. They add that energy and dynamism to your presentations too.

Stock Photo Cliche #7- Mission

This might sound repetitive but writing your mission statement on a whiteboard is damn boring. Show launch of a new space mission instead. There can definitely be more creative expressions for mission but you do not not want to be so creative that the audience doesn’t get the implied meaning. Choose common metaphors that the audience instantly understands.

Stock Photo Cliche #8- Business Risks

Not every image in a business presentation needs to show a man wearing a black suit. Business risks are often portrayed in images like the conventional image below- a lifeless silhouette of a businessman carrying a suitcase in his hand and walking on a tightrope. The concept of walking on a tightrope is great — the execution is terrible and cliche.

Instead of changing the concept this time (though that can be done easily too), let’s execute it creatively. There are hundreds of amazing images available on the web showing adventure seekers trying out new risks everyday. The angles of those images puts the viewer right in the shoes of the performer. Doesn’t the creative image below give you the goosebumps!

Stock Photo Cliche #9- Business Conflicts

We are bored of seeing images of the boss shouting and the poor employee holding his head in hand. Let’s add more teeth to conflict! Let’s choose images of wild animals in a conflict. That will add the “interest” factor to your PowerPoint presentation!

Stock Photo Cliche #10- Business Growth

This is a slide you need to show every now and then. Whether the audience you are pitching to is investors, budding entrepreneurs, team members or MBA students. Trust us, none of them is motivated or thrilled when the stock photo of a man seeing an upward arrow appears on the screen (see the conventional image below). So, you are promising growth and time to spend with the nature all day? No one is going to buy that.

What to do? Split the words- business and growth — and see how they can be depicted differently. For business, a bulb is a good metaphor as it represents your idea. Growth is represented by a sapling. Combine these two — sapling or tree growing in a bulb and you will have an image far more interesting than an upward arrow.

Stock Photo Cliche #11- Business Perspective

A suited professional looking into the distant future is not a terrible depiction of business perspective. But that is what everybody uses. Finding a creative perspective image is not difficult at all. Go to Pixabay, Pexels and other free stock photography sites or even paid ones like Shutterstock and you’ll find perspective images taken from different angles easily.

Don’t settle for the first result that appears when you hit enter- that is what made these images cliche. Spend 10 minutes and you’ll find an awesome stock photo on page number 5 or 7 waiting to be discovered. Like the one below:

Stock Photo Cliche #12- Deadline

Everybody has been in this nerve-wracking situation- time racing towards project deadline and you are far from completing it. But nobody has been in this situation- running on top of a clock (see the conventional image below) or holding a gun at an innocent clock.

But you can easily empathize with a person racing against deadline. Your heart beats faster than DJ’s beats, eyes scan the computer screen faster than eye scanners, and you are in a fight-or-die mode. You are as close to dead if you do not meet the project deadline. What better to show the last minutes before a deadline than a heart beat line:

You can even look for an artistic image (search creative images on time) and go for an image that will pleasantly surprise the audience:

Stock Photo Cliche #13- Stand Out From the Crowd

How do you show uniqueness? The first idea that would come to most of us, including me, is to show a person standing out from the crowd. While all are moving in the left direction, the unique person is moving in right. While all are in greys, the unique individual is standing out shining in a different color. Nothing wrong about all these; except that we have seen it too much.

Surf stock photo websites for a while longer; you’ll surely find an interesting image. You just cannot afford to be cliche in an image that tells you to be different!

Stock Photo Cliche #14- Time to Be…

Time to think. Time to work. Time to adapt. Time to be happy. Nothing wrong with these phrases — what is wrong is the stock photo cliche in the conventional image below (Are you feeling happy after reading this message given by none other than a clock?)

What will make the audience instantly happy? A glass of beer would, don’t you agree!

No? Not all would be, you might say. But this baby has the power to make the multiverse happy, what say?

Stock Photo Cliche #15- Time to Work

Are you motivated by a clock telling you it’s time for you to work? Or some random guy’s hands on a laptop? By using such images, you are only telling others that work is no fun- it’s a no-nonsense job that requires perpetual staring into the screen with hands on a laptop. But we all know that’s not how we work- we share ideas with each other, share a joke in the middle of serious work and listen to music or have coffee while working. Share such a photo in place of clocks and hands typing on a keyboard:

You can even change the text to make the message more inspirational than the bossy “go back to work” tone. Perhaps saying “time to get your creative juices flowing” would make the employees feel more motivated to put in their best efforts:

Stock Photo Cliche #16- Time is Money

Some concepts don’t lend themselves easily to creative visualization. Time is money, for example. In such cases, look for more creative execution of the concept. Don’t show clock and a pile of money scattered around. That shows you did not search hard for a better image. Look at the creative image of clock and money below which is showing the same concept in a totally different way:

Stock Photo Cliche #17- Opportunities

Road signs have populated stock photo websites like no other category. They do not give directions to a place but to abstract concepts like teamwork, hope, goals, and opportunity. It is not an awful depiction of concept but it’s that ominous word- cliche. Are you inspired to explore new opportunities after seeing a sign board?

Choose a different road to explore opportunities. Travel the road less travelled. Be curious and look into places where you have never looked before — How do you convert all these statements into images? By showing a new doorway that piques audience’s curiosity to know what is behind that, as in the below image:

Stock Photo Cliche #18- Future

I have seen some good images on future in presentations. There is a woman doing something with touchscreen, men wearing futuristic 3D glasses and so on. Good but could have been much better. It’s future guys — you have the complete liberty to paint a future you like, no matter how unrealistic it is!

But it’s an unforgivable sin if you choose a stock photo cliche like the one in conventional image below! Future is a utopian dream. Speaking of dreams, have you seen Inception? The very idea of infiltrating somebody’s dreams to plot a new idea was extraordinary and quite futuristic too. The shape-shifting architecture with buildings recoiling unto itself was breathtaking. How about stealing one of the special effects from the masterpiece to show the future (you never know we may be able to design buildings that defy gravity one day!):

What other cliches come to your mind and how can they be shown creatively? Do share with us in the comments form below.

Let’s stop being lazy in choosing images for our presentations. Let’s switch on our mental bulbs and get looking for amazing stock photos and metaphors. Give yourself and audience the much needed break from cliches.

SlideTeam is the world’s largest supplier of innovative, creative and highly effective PowerPoint collection. www.slideteam.net