Have we reached peak stock photography?

Have we reached peak stock photography?
Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

I woke up this morning and like every other Saturday morning before I even get out of bed, I check my emails and social media accounts to make sure I haven’t missed anything important while asleep.

Starting with my personal emails this morning, I came across one from a local company focused on Influencer Marketing. It’s an email from almost a week ago but, hey, weekends are when I catch up on my lower-priority emails.

The purpose of their email was to notify me of their latest blog post, How to build trust with your clients during the development of your influencer campaign.

I’m a huge fan of the company, the team, and the content they create, which means whenever I see an email from them, I click the link to check out the latest on their blog. As I’m reading the blog, I noticed the photo associated with the post as a familiar one. It’s actually one that I’ve seen around the web… a lot. We’ve even used it on the homepage for one of our startups 4-5 years ago.

Want to do a Google search for an image? Just right click and select "Search Google for Image"
(Want to do a Google search for an image? Just right click and select “Search Google for Image”)

A few minutes later, I decided to check my work email and came across an email from Medium, and the first article listed in the email? “10 free stock photo websites you will actually use

I'll clean out my inbox later today.
I’ll clean out my inbox later today.

The image associated with the article is also one that we’ve used for another startup 2-3 years ago.

Two emails in less than an hour, both filled with the similar flat lay photos shot in a coffee shop setting, a reclaimed wood table top adorned with the requisite MacBook Pro/Moleskin combo, finished with a mocha latté.

As I started my day, I wondered, have we reached peak stock photography? Is this as good as it gets? Are we at that point in time where stock photography has reached its Instagram/Pinterest inspired flat lay pinnacle and as a result, have we depleted our creative resources?

By the way, did you know that the flat lay aesthetic was originally known as “knowlling” started in the 80’s by Andrew Kromelow, a janitor working for the famous Knoll studio? It Kromelow’s approach to keeping track of the tools used in the studio.

Back to peak stock photography…

Are we in a state of terminal decline? I hope not.

Everyone has a camera in their pocket and the technology powering our cameras continues to get better by the day. We live in a world with faster news cycles. Fashion cycles have gone from three seasons to six seasons in a year. E-commerce brands now understand that authentic, user-generated content (UGC) resonates with consumers and generates a higher ROI than the professionally styled photo shoot. 

As a result, photos today, like our news and our fashion, are fleeting and even though our smartphone camera technology gets better by the day, we simply do not require the high production values once required pre-Internet.

I don’t believe we’ve reached peak stock photography. I do believe, however, as brands, agencies, publishers and more continue to evolve and embrace UGC as an option for campaign and editorial work, we’ll see a new wave of inspired photography beyond our current glut of coffee shop stock photography.

I believe everyone’s a photographer.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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