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Stock photography is not the answer

  |   Northlight Blog, Northlight Information, Photography Business

Stock photography is not the answer

Why you need relevant photos

Stock photography is often not the answer when promoting your business.

Why stock photography – particularly bad stock photography – can actually harm your marketing message.

Why great photos taken just for you work much better when telling your story.

Northlight’s Karen Cooper looks at some of the reasons stock photos may be selling your business short.

Lathe setup

When stock photos work against your business

12 years ago, when I met my husband Keith  – the photographer in this business – and before I took over running the business side of Northlight Images, I remember him telling me that ‘the bottom had dropped out of the stock photography business’.

I think what he meant by that was that if you took/owned the photo you weren’t getting paid as much for them. I don’t think he meant that nobody used stock photography anymore – and if he did he was wrong, because people do still use stock photography to promote their business.

The real question is though – should they be?

Now, I know you’re going to say, ‘well you’re photographers, of course you’re going to say real photos are better’, but I’m going to try and persuade you that I’m right – not least because it can be the case that even ‘amateur’ photos taken in-house can be better than posed stock shots.

Always remember, the photographs you use can be one of your most powerful marketing tools and a great image can often communicate your message far more quickly than the written word.

As a commercial photography business our mission statement is to provide our clients with photographs that tell their story and I’m pretty much convinced that stock images very often just aren’t able to do that.

Reasons why bespoke photos are better:

It’s all about your message.

Tell YOUR story

Photos of your staff, premises, products or processes are genuinely telling your story. They tell your clients or potential customers what you do, where you do it and who does it – they tell the truth.

Show your friendly side

They can show the friendly face of your organisation – your staff working together, happy at what they do.

Answering the phone

The photos you want and need

You can use photos that show exactly what you want them to show – instead of making do with something you’ve found on a stock site.

Engaging your staff

Involving your staff – either in the photos or just organising the shoot – engages and involves them, which is great for moral.

Although, please remember, forcing people to be in the photos when they just don’t want to be won’t give you the happy, engaging shots you might be looking for.

Alternatively, finding someone photogenic, willing and eager might just give you your friendly face of the organisation – a invaluable marketing tool.

Who else might be using the image?

Stock images are easy to identify – not just because they often have a certain ‘look’ but because with today’s technology anyone can use a reverse image search to find out where else they’ve been used – and you may be shocked!

What happens if you find your competitor is using the same shot you are. Or worse, a business or organisation you have strong opposition to is using the same photo?

Sure you can change it, but you’ll have to find – and pay for – another photo and go through the search process all over again.

Having photos taken specifically for you means you know no one else will be using them.

Arc furnace

A case study

Just a couple of points to finish with. I’ve been pondering this article for a while now, but have been spurred on by 2 articles from the BBC.

The first concerns someone who – inadvertently – managed to get photos of herself into a stock image library to find, entirely by accident, that they have been used all over the world.

The story is actually about how she didn’t realise that she’d signed her rights away, but what stuck out for me was how the images were used and by whom.

Her face has, to date, been used to promote immigration services in 2 different countries, dentistry services, a French dating site, education services, a well known American burger chain, treks in Cambodia, carpets in New York and has been the face of countless testimonials for products and services she’d never had anything to do with.

Basically, her photo has been used worldwide to advertise the most diverse of products and services. This myriad of uses perfectly illustrates that stock photos are vague and often non-specific – and this is deliberate, because they have to appeal to as many businesses as are willing to pay for them.

But – and this is important – this is bad for you, as the generic nature of the stock photograph can water down your marketing message.

Usability research has shown that people just don’t see irrelevant or filler photos.

Need convincing? You can read more from Nielsen here:

And finally

… to finish, a second article from the BBC about ‘the weird world of stock photos’ which I think perfectly illustrates – in photo form – some of my points.

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