Here's Why It's Time to Un-stock Your Photography

Author: Erin Robinson
Posted: Feb 19, 2016

Topics: Graphic Design

There is a false sense that sticking a photo, any photo, on something gives it more value. We have access to billions of photos with the rise of stock photography. Heck, it can be easy and cheap so why not. Let’s step back and take a look at what stock photos are and what photography says about your brand. Stock images are photographs that already exist and are licensed for a specific use. It often replaces the need of hiring a photographer. Stock photos are licensed either as rights managed (RM) or royalty free (RF).


What’s the difference between royalty free images and right-managed? The literal answer is RF images are images that one-off fee is paid to the photographer by the image-buyer. The photographer is free to sell that image multiple times to different buyers as much as he or she wants. Essentially, this is also known as “unrestricted” content. The buyer gets no exclusivity to the image. With RM images the buyer pays a licensing fee in order to be able to use the image. That licensing fee is based on usage. For example: location, type of media, length of time the photo will be used, etc. The buyer can also opt to pay for exclusive rights and there can be restrictions that apply based on all of the above factors.

But when we compare RF images next to RM a lot of the differences come down to the quality of the image. It’s interesting to look at this from the perspective of a photographer and how they decide which of their images will be sold RM or RF. If their images is one that is unique and high quality the will aim to sell RM and if its something that is more generic they will sell RF. RM tend to cost more money ($$-$$$$) and RF tend to be much cheaper ($-$$).

This all matters because you are establishing your brand, photography matters. Good photography can make or break your marketing campaign. Images help evolve a brand and tell a visual story of who you are. Marketing is all about communicating your value. Tapping into the use of photography is an excellent opportunity to create messages for your business that makes you unique. When it comes to imagery, it’s not so much about having images, as it is about making sure those images give your audience a sense of your brand.

That’s why I think everyone should stop before they buy their next stock photo and think about the pay off of original photography. I’ve tried to break it down to five simple reasons how original photography can elevate your brand.

  1. With original photography you have control of your brand voice.

    No matter how much searching you do for the “perfect stock photo” it will always be someone else’s interpretation of the idea, concept or emotion. This lack of control may not seem like a big deal but it is HUGE. With original photography you have control over what thoughts and emotions that your imagery is conveying.

    Jumpman Instagram – Look at their instragram you will see how there is a distinct style that ties all their photographs together. It unifies their brand and gives their brand a distinct voice and with that a value.
  2. It’s authentic.

    Photos can help establish your own unique identify. The images that you promote with your advertising or social accounts should be images that you want to resonate in your audience’s mind when they think of your brand. Your style or voice.

    Apple didn’t use a generic image of a girl on a cell phone to promote the release of iPhone6. No way. Their ad campaign centered around a gallery showcasing videos that were created using the iPhone6. Not only was the imagery breath-taking it was incorporating camera features like Slo-Mo and Time-Lapse. These authentic messages not only reinforced their brand voice it sold their product in a way that competitors can’t argue.
  3. Short-term cost versus long-term cost.

    Obviously, hiring a professional photographer will have larger initial costs than using stock photos. But, there are also many indirect costs associated with stock photos that go beyond the licensing fee (which can be quite high depending on the quality of the image and how often you want to use it). You also have the time costs of scouring through hundreds, and potentially thousands, of photos to find the “perfect photos” for your brand. And then there is the issue if you can make multiple photos work together.

    Additionally, when you use custom photography, you build a library of images that you own and can use in perpetuity. With stock photography, there are often limitations on how you can use the image and for how long.

    You might find a “perfect” stock photo where the talent is on-point and the style is yours and the setting is just right. But it may cost you $3000 a year to license that photo for JUST your website. In 4 years that $12,000 on one photo that you can use in one place.

    Unless that image is some remote location, most likely you could shoot that photo and have all the rights.

    Another argument for short-term versus long-term is if you see value in building out a library of photos for your brand, it will be more efficient and effective to plan a shoot. You will get more bang for you buck and have control over all the details.
  4. Calling your bluff.

    Unfortunately, when you use stock photos, situations like this can arise.

    Your ad right next to and ad with the exact same photo. Esh! That’s not great for any brand. Int 1996 the same girl was used by both Gateway and Dell for their college campaigns. People are starting to get better about noticing what photos are stock. Photos can seem “too commercial” or “too staged.” Think about the last time you visited a website and clicked on “Customer Service,” “Contact Us,” or something similar. Was there a picture of a customer service agent? Did it look like the person actually worked for the company, or could you tell right away that it was a generic, stock photo?
  5. Sometimes stock won't work.

    In my time as an art director I’ve had several instances where stock wouldn’t work. We tired to make it work and it just wouldn’t. Sometimes the need is too specific. The gender, race, location, age, combination of people, number of people, mood, and tone are something you cant’ find in stock. It’s not a request that is made enough that a photographer would take the initiative to create that image. So if your need is that specific, shoot it yourself. Sometimes clients need a photo library and not just a few photos to fill in a campaign or a website.
The reality is that sometimes stock can be effective both for your timeline and your budget. Be mindful of how you use it and make sure to select stock complements your content and aligns with your target. You can even modify stock to be specific to you with a little design work.

Recent Graphic Design Blogs

Good Vibes

Want more marketing tips from VI?


Trending Blogs