It’s challenging to find good stock photos. I’ve noticed recently that they’re SLOWLY getting better, but most of them still don’t look authentic. And most of us continue to use them because we just don’t have the time or funds to procure something better.

Some images are easier to find than others.

  • Happy business person? Pretty easy.
  • Hard working team? Lots of those.

But did you ever notice how hard it is to find a realistic photo of a person with a surprised look on their face?

As you can see from the Google search captured in the photo above, there are a lot of choices — but I wouldn’t call any of them authentic.

What does “surprised” look like?

In the stock photography world, surprise usually looks like this.

Wide eyes and an open mouth, with fingertips lightly touching the lips.

Or like this.

Now I don’t know about you, but in my humble opinion, these photos aren’t exactly dripping with emotion.

And what about the open mouth thing? Is that real? According to Janine Drivers, president of the Body Language Institution in Washington, D.C., it is.

” … although the hand-over-mouth gesture isn’t a universal form of expression, opening our mouths in an oval shape and raising our eyebrows is something we can’t control” (Broderick, 2011).

So the search continues.

This one gives me some hope.

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy from Pexels

Although it’s clearly posed, she’s a bit more surprised than the models in the first two photographs.

How about this one?

Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay

I don’t know if she always looks this surprised when she gets out of the shower (and I don’t believe in vampires) but those lips are frightening. And that pointy tooth on the upper right hand side of her mouth scares me.

How about something more artistic?

Image by prettysleepy1 from Pixabay

Interesting, but it isn’t really appropriate for most work projects.

Capturing a Moment

The good news is that you CAN find good photos — it is possible. It just takes time, patience, and a little bit of judicial cropping. You have to look for photos that capture a moment.

Here are some great “surprised” photos I found using Unsplash and Pixabay, sources for free stock photos. They’re authentic because the photographer captured a moment, which reveals the subject’s personality (Gitner, 2016).

Photo by Andre Guerra on Unsplash
Image by quentcourtois0 from Pixabay
Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

Sorry, I couldn’t resist including the monkey.

Embedded images from Getty

Getty has great photos which are, of course, expensive. After all, you get what you pay for.

But did you know that some of their photographs can be embedded at NO COST? You can use their embedded viewer on a website, blog or social media platform.

Here are some examples:

[getty src=”992097168″ width=”508″ height=”339″ tld=”com”] [getty src=”BD3680-001″ width=”507″ height=”338″ tld=”com”]

You can go to Getty’s website to get the skinny.

Have a little money to spend?

Check out Death to Stock. It’s an artist-owned co-op that promises its authentic photos will keep your brand intact.

“I believe that successful brands are built on three things: credibility, relevance and differentiation. Cheesy stock photos can hurt you in all three areas … ” (BN Branding, 2017).

No kickbacks here — I just think it’s a great alternative, especially for small business owners.


“The problem with stock photography isn’t the photography, it’s the judgement of the person choosing the image. There are great shots to be found, so either spend a lot more time refining your search, or hire someone to get the right shot for the job to begin with” (BN Branding, 2017). 

So the next time you need a good photo, take the time to dig deeper. You may just surprise yourself and find a hidden gem.

until nxt time …


BN Branding. (2017, May 15). How stock photos can hurt your brand image—Beware of visual clichés. Retrieved from: https://bnbranding.com/brandinsightblog/stock-photos-and-brand-image/

Broderick, B. (2011, August 18). Please keep touching your face. Retrieved from: https://www.prosek.com/unboxed-thoughts/please-keep-touching-your-face/

Fletcher, J. (2016, December 23). 8 alternatives to generic stock photography to help improve your bounce rate. Retrieved from: https://edit.co.uk/blog/8-alternatives-generic-stock-photography-help-improve-bounce-rate/

Gitner, S. (2016). Multimedia Storytelling for Digital Communicators in a Multiplatform World. New York: Routledge.

Jezouit, B. (2017, June 25). Are You Guilty of Using These Stock Photo Cliches? Retrieved from: https://envato.com/blog/guilty-using-stock-photo-cliches/

Royalty Free Stock Photos, Illustrations, Vector Art, and Video Clips—Getty Images. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.gettyimages.com/

Header photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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