Stock Horror

Jan 09, 2015
Garry Haldane

Merry Christmas.

Stock Santa

Hideous right? This was not really what I was looking for when I searched ‘Santa Claus’ on a popular stock photo site. No, not what I wanted at all.

This situation crops up constantly when I find myself charged with producing generic artwork for multiple websites. Particularly at short notice.

Naturally the preference is always to take your time creating something bespoke that conveys your message in a subtle and effective way. Crafting vectors, agonising over layouts, refining and adjusting imagery until it’s perfect is the lofty ideal.

Sometimes however, you just need a picture of Santa.

This is where stock photo sites become essential. A convenient and relatively cheap way of obtaining high quality images, though when I say ‘high quality’ I’m talking strictly about resolution.

The subject matter of many stock images can be a little bit… off.

Over the past few years several memes have emerged that accurately highlight just how ridiculous stock photography can be.

Take the barely-concealed agony of Hide the Pain Harold (below left). What began as simply a bad series of photos – presumably the result of a photographer not having the sense to just say “Harold, smile like you bloody mean it” – has resulted in the poor old duffer being given the full internetz makeover (click Harold to activate).


Another classic is Women Laughing Alone with Salad. An excellent example of just how unnatural and contrived stock photos can be.

However the pain behind Harold’s wrinkled old eyes and the rictus grins of lettuce lovers don’t really touch on what I’ve experienced on my nightmarish journeys through what I call ‘Stock Photo Hell’. I’m talking about the really really messed up stuff. The stuff that isn’t just bad photography or the use of a bad model. This is the stuff that you can’t conceive of being downloaded and used for anything. Ever. Stock photos from the other side; from beyond the bounds of logic and reason.

I’ve taken to keeping my favourite discoveries and I’ve shared a few below for your enjoyment…

Melon farmer

Melon farmer used to be used to dub a much ruder term in films shown before the watershed such as Beverly Hills Cop. This is probably more offensive.

Bizarre potato

A potato. Nothing else to see here.

Bloody sink

For hands that do dishes feel as soft as your victim’s face… Fairy Liquid – the murderer’s choice.

Love heart

I suppose it makes a change from giving your Valentine tongue…

Easter Bunny

Turns out the Easter Bunny lives in a walnut. And is a fat woman in a leotard.


Hallowe'en pumpkin girl

I suppose this is a bit like the Friends episode where Monica wears a turkey. But the pumpkin looks like Michael McIntyre which is more nightmarish than any Hallowe’en costume ever. Git.

Spaghetti monster

Turns out the flying spaghetti monster is real. Take THAT Bertrand Russell et al.

Cloaked figure with all his possessons

I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE AND I BRING YOU…a twig, a mask and a broken mirror. You’re welcome.

That’s probably as much as anyone really needs to see. I could go on, I’ve got plenty more in my folder of nightmares and there are literally thousands of utterly bizarre and unusable images out there that someone somewhere somehow thought might make them a couple of bucks if they fired them up on a stock site.

Despite the surreal depths these sites plumb it should be pointed out that they often contain a wealth of useful vectors and not every photo makes you want to sleep with the light on.

There are other options out there too; alternative and free stock sites that feature photography which quite often surpasses the quality of most of the paid sites given they are supplied by professional photographers. This web designer’s blog has gathered some of the best together.

If I’m honest I actually find the weirdness of the paid stock sites sort of endearing. Stop and think about some of these images for a second and remember that these were planned. The monetary return on stock photography is so little that you have to arrive at the conclusion that the photographers here thought that someone might be able to use these for something. What that is I have no idea…

If you give @whitewallchat a wee follow, I’ll periodically pop up any new monstrosities I find and perhaps share a few more choice ones I left out this list.

Sweet dreams.


This blogpost was provided by Whitewall in-house Creative Designer @ThatRossHill. We didn’t even know he was literate.

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