Stock Photography: Friend or Foe?

Stock photography. It’s often bland, clinical and unrealistic - but we all use it in content production. Why? Because it’s the easy option. A quick keyword search and simple download equals instant results.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some fantastic stock imagery out there, but generally stock photography has a bad reputation. It’s associated with cheesy corporate poses, fake colleagues pretending to be the best of friends and mocked up scenarios that look too perfect to be real.

What’s the answer?

Build your own photography archive. Take every opportunity to capture images that represent your brand. If you are low on resources, time or expertise, get your content producer to manage it for you. You may already have a content specialist responsible for producing your video, get them to take care of your photography at the same time – they already know the subject. With a little pre-planning this can be done on the video shoot, reducing time spent and budget. 

Why are real images better than stock images?

  • The images will have meaning and purpose: Whether taking the photographs yourself or hiring a content producer, you know that they meet the brief.
  • Being realistic makes you trustworthy: Use your own people instead of actors, showing real life makes you appear more trustworthy as a brand. You don’t need actors to demonstrate that you have a great team, let your team show it!
  • It can be cheaper than stock – Hiring a content specialist can be cheaper than buying stock. Whether tagged onto a video job or by arranging a couple of hours to get a whole suite of images captured for your content library.
  • You own them, you have control: You own them therefore you have full copyright. You can pick and choose where and when you use them, as opposed to a stock site that might limit the usage through licensing.
  • No one else will have the same image: There’s a strong chance you will be using the same images as another business, or if not it might be similar if bought from a popular website. 
  • A stock image is usually easy to spot over a real image - therefore easy to dismiss by the audience. Yes, it might tell a story, but is it actually relevant to your brand? Does it demonstrate your brands core values? Essentially it’s content pretending to be your brand.

When stock photography is the only option

Real images are always better, but there are a couple of reasons when stock photography might be the only option:

  • You have an impossibly tight deadline (“the deadline was yesterday”)
  • The subject is inaccessible, i.e. in another state.

Stock photography can also be used to complement real images, if it supports the content’s messaging it can work well.

Examples of where photography has been worked into a content production project:

  • A large corporate company hired The Brand Agency to write their blog articles. They are community-focused, mainly based on educating their audience about relevant issues within the community as well as lifestyle reviews on other businesses and services in the state. The articles are published on their website with links from social media, and distributed to a large database on their newsletter. Real images are captured as part of the package, with the client being provided a selection of edited images.
  • A not-for-profit hire The Brand Agency to produce short videos for their website and accompanying video clips for social media. Throughout filming the content producer also captures still images to complement the footage, which can then be used across all platforms.

Where possible, use your own photography. There may be a talented photographer in your team whose skills could benefit the business. Or hire a content producer, they are trained to tell stories whether through writing or vision, and can make your life easier by including an image package within your content plan.