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Royalty free. Boom! There’s an image! Perfect!
Click. Click. Ker-ching! $19. Sweet.
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Problem is, you and 261,600* of your closest friends can do the same thing with that exact same image. What are the chances?!
Know this woman? Her name is Rebecca Ariane Givens and she’s officially known as The Overexposed Stock Image Model. At one point, Ariane (as she is known on the myriad websites honoring her stock photography) was in 200 new stock images a month. You can use an image featuring Ariane on your website — but know that there will be a thousand other websites where she’ll also appear. Are you willing to take that chance?
For the record, we don’t hate on stock images. But we are very picky about how we use them for our clients. Here are some guidelines to consider before committing to a stock image and some alternatives that can get you there for a reasonable sum.
Don’t base your brand on stock people.
Visual language is one of the core elements of a good brand. It’s not something to address lightly. So if your current look or campaign is based on people, spend the bucks for a photo shoot and get a professional photographer. This allows you to choose a subject (a customer, an employee or a hand-selected model) that is both authentic and accurate. With stock, you don’t have that flexibility. You’ll have to spend ample time in retouching, sometimes equal to or greater than the out-of-pocket costs themselves.
It’s about perception.
When you use a stock image featuring a model, you’re implying that this is a certain character that fits into your brand narrative. And when — because it’s when, not if — that same model’s image is used on another site, you risk the chance of losing credibility.
Shooting a model with consistent lighting, the correct poses and multiple angles gives you the flexibility to strengthen your brand across many channels, versus having only one pose or person to choose from.
If it’s not critical, stock is okay — but be picky.
There are fewer and fewer stock photo sites out there. Go to three or four stock houses to get your image. We like to download ANYTHING that might work and shuffle through them later.
Also, consider going up to “rights ready” or “rights managed”. They’re more expensive because you’re paying for exclusivity. That means the chances of your image bumping into another is diminished, especially in print. But as the world continues to shrink, that too is a challenge. Most likely when you’re in the rights-managed arena, you’re practically paying for a photoshoot. So you might as well own it outright!
Absolutely never use something off the internet.
It goes without saying that if it’s free, it’s probably too good to be true. And if you get caught — again when, not if — then you’ll have to pay for it. Plus, you don’t want low-res images on your site or in your printed material. That also looks terrible for your brand.
Consider the alternatives.
Of course, the alternative is shooting something from scratch. And while that might sound daunting, a photoshoot gives you the most control of your photographic language. Some photographers can be expensive for high-end shoots, but many are reasonable. And you can get a great deal of usable content that is tailored to your brand.
Another alternative is shooting it in-house. There are many great tools you can use to do a decent job. Technology and simple lighting can go a long way, especially if you’re doing tabletop shots of products.
And, finally, you can look to your smartphone. Yeah, that might seem a bit out there but your smartphone’s camera is very, very good. In some instances, say, an outside city shot, your phone will give you excellent results for online usage or even small print. Chances are it’ll be more unique than a stock image and with no more cost than it takes to walk out the door.
So although stock photography can pose its own challenges in terms of cost and effort, we feel that it’s well worth the effort versus taking a chance on tarnishing your brand no matter how remote the possibility. Be smart out there.