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Clash of the Titans: Stock vs Original Photography

December 09, 2019  /  by  Cassie Shukitis

Ask any designer in the Roger West office when the best time to use a stock photo is and you’ll be met with a resounding, “Never”. The collective disdain for stock photos is rooted heavily in the industry’s desire for authentic storytelling and a strongly defined brand identity. If a company is using the same stock images as countless others, it’s difficult to tell an authentic story that truly separates itself from the competition. This isn’t to say that stock photos are completely obsolete - they do have some use in the production of brand assets and collateral.

What Are Stock Photos?

Stock photos are images that are stored and distributed via purchasing and licensure, and are most commonly used today in a number of digital marketing efforts, from websites to signage. Stock photos can be purchased and used by anyone - which makes them convenient albeit unoriginal when it comes to marketing applications. Stock photos are taken by photographers with little to no direction, and are submitted to stock houses like Getty Images, iStock, and Shutterstock. The stock houses will then license the images, and sell them based on image usage or with flat fees.

There are two major types of stock photos used today. The first, more expensive photos, are rights-managed. Rights managed stock comes with a plethora of fees including usage, media type, campaign duration, location, size, industry type, and image exclusivity. The specifications of rights managed stock varies, which can make it exponentially more expensive than its counterpart; royalty free stock. Royalty free stock can be free, but they are more often associated with just a one-time fee. Royalty free images may appear as the way to go when it comes to purchasing stock photos, but they are usually a lower quality than rights managed photos. There also may be some limits to usage.

Use It Or Lose It?

Lose it...whenever you can.

Stock photography cannot replace a good ol’ photoshoot. Stock photos are neverdirectly related to the subject at hand. Sure, you can find a photo of a woman in an office - but it will never beyour client in youroffice. Every stock photo looks vaguely similar, which means your content will never feel truly unique. Of course, using stock photos isn’t always an exercise in futility. There is still a place for stock photos in mockups and document drafts. Stock photos are great for conceptualizing and drafting layouts, but should never make it to the printer or live site launch. Think of them as Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses - always the bridesmaid, never the bride. That’s the way it should be.

Just Shoot It

Photoshoot it, that is.

The allure of stock photos is rooted in the guise of convenience and accessibility - but photoshoots are more molehills than they are mountains, and are far less difficult to pull off than you might believe. If you have the budget, time, and resources - always choose original photos for the finished product. Many marketing agencies can help coordinate scouting locations, book photographers,provide shot lists and offer creative direction to help capture the true essence of your brand with just a few snaps of a shutter.

Photoshoots are ideal for preserving and presenting a sense of authenticity to your audience, if they’re done correctly. This is what sets photos apart from stock - they’re real, relevant, customizable, and once they’re yours - they stay yours. The best way to accomplish this organic feel is to keep your photoshoots real whenever possible. If the goal of your photoshoot is to capture your company’s culture for a new careers page, ask your employees if they’d be willing to step in as models and brand representatives in your photos. Tidy up the office and use the space as your photoshoot location for an accurate depiction of the environment future employees will work in.

Your photoshoot budget doesn’t have to break the bank. Using real employees in your office space eliminates the cost of models and space rentals - freeing up more money to hire a professional photographer for a few hours. If you’re just starting out and can’t swing a photographer - there are plenty of affordable digital cameras or entry-level DSLRs that can take great photos which can later be edited for a more refined look. In this day and age, even an iPhone can produce high-quality, high-resolution images that can be used in your marketing materials. Admit it. Everyone knows an iPhone photographer, and if you don’t know one...it’s you.

The winner of this war comes down to one thing. If you’re looking to stand out in a crowd, engage audiences, and fortify your brand identity - always opt for a photoshoot. Original photographs are more effective than generic stock photos, and are a great way to enhance company assets, communicate your intended message, and increase the value of websites, brochures, ads, and other marketing collateral. Photoshoots, to put it simply, will set you free.

Need some photos? Maybe a new website? Some fresh new designs for your marketing materials? Roger West can help. Say “cheese”!