Stock Library Images v Bespoke Commercial Photography
Sep 14, 2011

Stock Library Images Vs Commissioning Bespoke Photography

This blog article is designed to help you think about the imagery you use on your website and other marketing materials – it’s our guide and we welcome your comments and opinions.

We’ll try to offer the advantages and disadvantages to both sides of the debate.

So, what is stock photography? Let’s leave this bit to Wikipedia, in keeping with its digital nature…

 “Stock photography is the supply of photographs licensed for specific uses. It is used to fulfill the needs of creative assignments instead of hiring a photographer. Today, stock images can be presented in search-able online databases. They can be purchased and delivered online. Often, they are produced in studios using a wide variety of models posing as professionals, stereotypes, expressing stereotypical emotions and gesticulations or involving pets.” 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stock_photography [Sept. 2011]

That’s a pretty good definition, and we agree that the ‘mock-up’ world of models and props within photography is generally the way in which stock library images are created. A pre-emptive library of images, so-to-speak, from various contributors globally who have to pass a moderate to high standard of analysis when submitting their work.

They are clearly not websites full of poor quality photography, the images are technically fine and have a stereotypical ‘professional’ look to them –but should we expect more?

We believe it’s important to realise that photographs are more than just technically correct digital files, are we missing their purpose, meaning and value perhaps?

To decide if the website world of images have no ‘soul’ to them, and whether this matters we should start by looking at some of the generally accepted statements surrounding stock images, and see if the advertised advantages hold true when compared to commissioning a bespoke commercial service. 

It’s quick to get the pictures

It is quick, you could get the shot right now rather than hiring a local company who will have to schedule you in. This seems great, right?

Not necessarily – what if you can’t find an image that you are happy with? Do you keep sifting through hundreds or thousands of images, or do you compromise? We’re presuming you’ll find the right image that morning, and send it through to your designer – if you don’t and it takes you a couple of days to get the right one then that’s getting expensive… what’s your day rate again?

It’s Cheap

If you put the time into researching the image you want, then it can be cheap. However your client may be fussy, which eats up your time again.

If you get the wrong resolution, or don’t have the correct usage right for that image then there could be added charges to re-download an image, or fines from the photographer for miss-use of imagery. 

There are lots to choose from

There are lots on the website, but not always lots to choose from. Look out for similar shots on these websites, and when you narrow your search terminology you may find the results getting a bit thinner on the ground.

One question we ask when commissioned is: “Where are these pictures going?” – this is so important. With advertising images you need to make sure the images compliment the marketing of that particular company, and if the shots are bought as stand-alone images they may not look great when ‘dropped’ into the brochure or website.

Your images should fit your site/brochure and not the other way around. You don’t want to buy a set of stock shots to find out that they don’t fit the nice letterbox headers on your website.

Your options are immediately reduced when you have a good framework in place.

The shots are high quality

Yes a lot of stock photography is of a good professional quality – however you should expect that from a bespoke shoot. Also if you purchase jpeg files and want to work into them you risk compromising that quality anyway.

So, what’s the answer?

Just like your main marketing tools, photographs can ATTRACT, INFORM and importantly SELL your business – bespoke photography gives websites a sense of honesty.

Put simply, when you present your business accurately, honestly and clearly you make it easier for people to buy from you.

Surely there is nothing worse than potential customers recognizing images from other places – “Did I see that picture of the couple enjoying a sunset in the window of the travel agents or on the boat manufacturers website?”

Are you damaging your brand by using stock imagery?

Have a look at the example website screen-grabs below, does the stock library imagery help to tell us anythingabout the accountancy company, or simply confirm their industry sector?

Should we expect more…

Does the second example offer a better sense of realism, authenticating and identifying with the people behind the company? Look for complimentary colours, natural poses, good design juxtaposition and make your own mind up.

Our key tips to consider with regard to stock library work and bespoke commissions.

* Where are they going? (Do they fit with the colours, size and style of my current brand)

* What do they need to say? (Are they misleading, cheesy, or honest and informative)

* What is my Budget? (Will I spend more money/time hunting for the right work online)