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What you need to know about Stock Photography

21st September 2017

 
The words ‘Stock Photography’ for some reason tend to conjure up somewhat negative thoughts in most people. Right now, you’re probably thinking of cringe worthy shots of people pretending to be in real-life situations, that end up looking, well – a little fake.
 
It’s why stock photography has, to many, a reputation of being a bit naff. And so, to be avoided.
 
Yet, it’s a reputation that we think nowadays, isn’t justified – due to the ever-improving range and quality of the stock photography now being made available.
 
Stock photos are useful assets to be able to turn to. Great for campaigns, websites, blogs, and for publications, brochures, and reports. But like any form of media, they have to be used correctly in order to be effective.
 
So, we thought we’d share our experience with stock photography. To try and help others get the most from it. And hopefully, to change the perceptions people have of it. We’ll start by highlighting the two biggest issues you’re going to face with stock photography.
 
 
 

Drawbacks of stock photography

 

1. They can be purchased by anyone

By not being exclusive to you, it means the images you use are not ‘brand ownable’. Therefore, it’s best to bear this in mind when it comes to your branding, as if other businesses are using them too, then you’re brand identity will simply blur in with that of others.
 
 

2. They tend to be generic

That’s because they are focussed on common situations.
A business meeting.
A happy team hard at work.
A family playing in the park.
 
Great, if that’s the situation you want to convey visually. But when you have a more specific idea, then things get a little bit trickier.
 
 
 

The ways stock photography can be useful

 

1. When you just don’t have the budget

Depending on what requires capturing, photoshoots can become expensive. Not just for the photography, but also due to factors such as travel, location, actors, consumables, etc. And then of course the subsequent editing of what was shot.
 
 

2. When you just don’t have the time

Much like the previous point. Time will need to be spent on sourcing the talent, finding the right location, actors etc. Detailing the shots that require taking, and then the touching up of the photos in post.
 
Whereas acquiring a stock photograph, in the main, is just one simple click of a button.
 
 

3. For presentations and mock-ups

When you’re trying to sell an idea to a client, it’s just not necessary to do a live shoot. Using stock imagery is often the best way to go. You can very quickly and cheaply use a number of stock images to create a representation of the idea you want to present.
 
 

4. For use on non-branding

As we mentioned earlier, using stock imagery within your branding assets – basically the things that are going to (hopefully) get a lot of eye balls on – isn’t really recommended. However, stock is more than suitable for use within materials where the imagery isn’t a direct reflection on your brand.
 
It’s about recognising the situations where original, brand ownable imagery is required, and adds value. And so also where the investment in original photography isn’t justified based on the branding opportunity.
 
Reports and blog posts. These are the sort of materials where the outlay required for original imagery isn’t justified – stock photography is appropriate for use here.
 
 
 

Recommendations for when using stock photography

 

1. Ensure the images you find fit your brands style

No doubt you’ll have brand guidelines, that detail how the brand should be represented visually. Follow these while seeking out new stock imagery – to ensure any images used, match the tone of your brand, and don’t stand out like a sore thumb, or dilute your brand.
 
Your brand may be focussed on people, on infrastructure, on communities, a certain service. Or styled a certain way – colour / crop etc. Be sure every image you source matches the tone your brand is trying to convey.
 
 

2. Avoid generic images

Instead, identify what you want an image to specifically say and represent, and hunt for images related to that. These images may take a little longer to find, but it’ll be worth it. Also, take note of how new the imagery is, and if possible how many downloads it has had. The fresher the image, the less generic it’ll likely be. Then when/if the images you’ve used rise in popularity, simply repeat the process.
 
 

3. Keep their use to a minimum / use your own photography

While in this post, we’re lending our support to stock photography. We’re big advocates of original photography. And would always recommend it over stock, when possible. Therefore, if you are using stock, particularly within materials that are a reflection of your brand, use it sparingly. A sprinkling of it amongst original photography, is a great way of padding out your existing imagery – allowing you to maintain your brand feel, and avoid being seen as just like other brands.
 
 

4. Be authentic

Authenticity is a characteristic consumers now expect a brand to demonstrate. The absence of it, isn’t tolerated.
 
Therefore, a brands imagery must convey authenticity. And there are two things that you should look for to achieve it: Simply, real people and real poses/environments.
 
There really is no need to be using photographs that look like they are made up of models in a fake room. There are now enough stock images of real-world situations out there.
 
If people think an image you are using is fake, then they’ll very quickly lose trust in your brand.
 
 

5. Edit them

This is an important one. The stock photography you download, isn’t at the end of its journey. There is still work you can do to it, to make it even more in line with your brand.
 
For example, you could change its contrast. Crop it. Add a text overlay. Add in another element to the picture. Basically, treat it in a way that matches the look and feel of your brand.
 
 
 

Other things worth knowing about stock photography

 

The main types

We’ll keep this to the point.
 
There are three main forms of stock photography:
 
1. Public Domain: Completely free to use.
2. Royalty-free: A one-time payment for the use of an image to be used however and whenever.
3. Rights-managed: A one-time payment for the license of the image. And the image must be used in relation to the terms of the license. For example, it may only allow for the image to be used once, or for a certain duration.
 
To add to the above, rights-managed images tend to be of higher quality and less used. Meaning they cost more. And royalty-free images offer subscription services to make them more affordable to regular uses – a ‘get so many a month, for a fixed fee’, thing.
 
However, in recent times, we have seen an explosion in the amount of Public Domain stock imagery – free and available to all.
 
 

Useful links

Unsplash is an example of a new breed of stock photography provider. And so, some truly great stock photography can be found, for free, here.
 
This article has a list of all the great places to find free stock photography. Well worth checking it out, and saving it for reference – here.
 
And one other useful tool worth mentioning, is TinEye. This basically allows you to find the best version of the image you have found. Very handy.
 
 
 

Conclusion

And there you have it. Changed your view on stock photography? Or at least, how to approach it? We hope so.
 
If you do need help with the sourcing and editing of any imagery for your organisation, please do get in touch. We’ve been helping clients with this for more than 30 years now.
 
Until next time…
 
Rima
 
 
 
 

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