I have an ingrained (possibly even genetic) aversion to stock images. Actually, not all stock: just the vacuous kind. You know what I mean: like the politically-correct, gender-balanced, racially-balanced, age-diverse ones where people are all smiling and pointing at a computer screen you can't see. Ugh!
(Photo credit: istockphoto.com)
There are many reasons not to use images like this. I guess it's okay in some situations -- for example when you just want a smiling, attractive woman with a customer-service headset to reinforce that you've come to the right place for support. However, even these really don't have to be stock images. One of my former employers used their own employees for such photos, almost exclusively, and it made the site much more real. And there are plenty of examples of companies that use photos of their own employees and get "realness" as a result. If I'm not mistaken, Title Nine does so except for certain things, such as underwear models (for obvious reasons).
However, one great reason to eschew stock: other people will re-use the same image. A famous example from a few years ago: the cover image of Head First Design Patterns was a stock photo that also appeared in a commercial for a feminine hygiene product.
This incident was actually pretty widely linked on the Internet at that time. So no one will ever make that mistake again!
Interestingly, I ran across all three over-usages of this image in one day, completely by accident. Are there other places this image is used? I'd bet there are.
Who cares? Well, the images that go on the cover of your book, your brochure, or your website become part of your image. If someone else then uses the same image, they can (accidentally or otherwise) exert some control over what people think of your product or company.
If this matters -- and it almost certainly does -- you should just get some of your own employees, hire a good photographer, and go into your own server room (or beg a friend to let you into theirs) for a photo.
On the subject of image, I've just gone to a photographer for some new portraits of myself, and I'm also hiring someone to design a logo for Maatkit (for a new website, and for t-shirts to give away at the upcoming conference). I'll post more about that later.