Why Are There Weird Stock Photos?

Weird Stock Photos: Hands at Window

Discover why weird stock photos and footage captivates audiences in whole new ways.

The nature of stock imagery is changing, or more specifically, getting weirder. According to Google, search interest for “weird stock photos” has more than doubled in the past five years — growing faster than perennial favorites such as “business stock photos” or “stock photos of people.”

Whereas a decade ago, an office worker smiling and holding a cup of coffee might have been perfect for a corporate website, today that won’t sell your product or service. With people posting their day-to-day life on social media more than ever before, authenticity reigns supreme. Consumers are also becoming increasingly disengaged from generic advertisements and are seeking a more personalized experience in their interactions with brands.

So goodbye coworkers laughing around a water cooler. Hello memes of “bad stock photos of my job” and “cyber woman with corn” (yes, those are things people have typed into our search engine on Shutterstock.com).

To showcase the power of the weird, we recently created “Strange Things.” This 60-second mock trailer of the real trailer for Season 3 of the popular Netflix series Stranger Things features twenty-nine footage clips from our collection.


Making it Weird

Here’s how we found those gems, showcasing just how weird some of the stock assets from Shutterstock’s library are.

To create the latest video in our “It’s Not Stock. It’s Shutterstock” campaign, we typed in a search phrase on Shutterstock.com and added a descriptive word, such as “strange”, “weird”, or “funny”. We refined our search by using our site’s smart search filters, including “sort by”, “popular”, or “best match” to yield even stranger results. We then narrowed it down further by adding “maximum resolution” to get the highest-quality HD and 4K videos in order to achieve cinematic results similar to the real thing.

Taking inspiration from the supernatural world and the Steven Spielberg-esque 1980s movie look and feel of Stranger Things, we also searched themes such as, “80s,” “upside down,” and “shady” to make a trailer that felt real. Once we found a clip that we felt was demonstrably strange enough, we used the contributor link to find even more shots and angles of the same subject to get that perfectly weird shot.

This isn’t the first time we’ve used our stock for culture jacking. Earlier this year, we made “Overhyped Festival,” a playful mock promo video of the ill-fated Fyre music festival. In just one day, using eighteen different Shutterstock clips, we created a video for less than $5,000 USD — a far cry from what must have been an eye-watering budget for the original. We also made a Game of Thrones teaser video called “Squabble of Seats,” showing off some of the thousands of images and videos of chairs in the Shutterstock archive that rival any iron throne.

Weird Sells, Weirdly

So why does weird sell? We asked our contributors featured in “Strange Things.” They told us that uniqueness in a photo can be more important than its technical quality. People who are buying photos have highly specific needs and will often opt for something that stands out from the crowd over one that is high quality, but otherwise standard.

In a world that’s increasingly flooded with content, people and brands are seeking unique over uniform, bizarre over banal. There’s even a market for bloody hands over bloody boring.

Why Are There Weird Stock Photos? — Visual Impact of Bloodied Hands
“Scary horror bloody victims hand touching transparent splattered glass depicting murder scene” by Breakermaximus

The latter was one of the clips we used for the “Strange Things” video. Shutterstock contributor Breakermaximus said if some of his “weird” stuff like “bloody hands” is useful, then that’s great. His inspiration for the bloody series? “Fans of the horror genre and Halloween celebrations,” he said, adding that it could also be picked up in criminal news cycles — his “criminal” photos have been successful lately as well.

Why Are There Weird Stock Photos? — Mrs. Chinigan
“Mrs. Chinigan whistles. Cartoon eyes on inverted female face. Whistling.” by Orbit Rob

Another clip featured is “Mrs. Chinigan,” created by Shutterstock contributor Orbit Rob who said his inspiration comes from being a fan of “weird.” “I love it because mainstream videos can be boring. It probably sells because it ‘sticks out,’” he said.

Why Are There Weird Stock Photos? — Silhouette of Evil Woman

“Silhouette of an evil woman hammering on glass, obsessed person, psychoneurosis. Blood-chilling horror thriller shot” by SynthEx

Likewise, Shutterstock contributor SynthEx, who created “Evil women silhouette,” said she’s noticed a growing interest in genuine, more realistic footage recently. But she still sees a demand for the “polished version of reality” of yore from businesses. Having said that, she has hope that social media can help improve the quality of stock content: “Remember recent viral posts ridiculing awkward and bizarre stock photos? Also, the internet-famous ‘Hide the pain Harold’ meme is a thing.”

Why Are There Weird Stock Photos? — Doll's Head Boiling

“Doll’s head in boiling liquid, in an unusual ultraviolet color” by Shoma81

But perhaps one of the weirdest clips that made the cut for the “Strange Things” video was “Doll’s head boiling” by Shutterstock contributor Shoma81. His inspiration was also taken from the horror genre and Halloween. He said people are tired of fake images and are looking for niche photos and videos, which can be especially useful on social media platforms.

The Stranger, the Better

So whether you’re looking for a video clip of an upside-down turtle, a creepy clown holding a balloon, or something else that’s just downright “weird,” we’ve got “strange things” lurking in the shadows of our library. Shutterstock has over 15 million royalty-free video clips with nearly 150,000 new stock clips added weekly.

And you’d be surprised, something that we might think is a little “too creative” (extreme close-up of a purple-eyed robot, for example) from our contributors might be just what people are looking for to use in their avant-garde projects, humor pieces, or shared in viral memes.

“Weird” stock is only a small part of the 280 million assets that you’ll find in our library. While you’re pretty likely to find almost anything you need, justice for Barb won’t be one of them.

Like the clips we used, even if you were weirded out a bit? Check out the full collection here.

Or, if you want to try your hand at making your own gory video clips, check out these simple practical effects from Robbie at PremiumBeat.

Top image by Joe Techapanupreeda.

Want to learn more about using premium stock footage? Check out these articles:

Take Another Look and See Why It’s Not Stock, It’s Shutterstock
Fyre Festival Lessons to Influence Your Next Viral Video
Shutterstock Made a Video Inspired by Fyre Festival — Here’s What It Cost

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