When I see a corporate website making use of stock photos, especially stock photos of supposed customers grinning their faces off or employees deep in thought, the site's credibility goes down a notch in my book. When you recognize these same photos or persons appearing in other companies' advertising, it's pretty amusing. Even when the photos are well done, I think the insincerity the photos add can detract from the site.
At the same time, what is a designer to do when the options are thin? If you're a farmer and you have a website, you probably want to include some pictures of your fields or produce. If you're a shoe company and you sell shoes, you'll likely include one or two pictures of shoes on your site. But if you're in a financial or business processes company and it offers an abstract, intangible service that one can only explain in ethereal, domain-specific language, how do you convey the service in a pictures or icons? An easy fall-back is the genre of business person/business office environment. After all, these elements are related in some way to the product.
But if you go this route, how have you differentiated your company? Or maybe sticking with this convention is a safe route to take?
So, for websites of companies offering intangible products, what guidelines do we have for using stock photos? Would using a stock photo involving nature or a place or an action loosely connected to a concept that's part of the company's services be out of place?
Any other suggestions or thoughts on the matter would be appreciated. I'm aware of the discussion of UX impact of standard stock photos, but think this is a bit of a different take on the subject.