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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  – Northlight’s photographer – 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 as in the past. I don’t think he meant that nobody used stock photography anymore – because 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 taken by a photographer are better’, but I’m going to try and persuade you that I’m right – not least because it can often 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 job 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 perhaps organising the shoot – engages and involves them, which is great for morale.

Please do remember though, taking photos of people that simply don’t want their photo taken (and I can guarantee there will be at least one person) won’t give you the happy, engaging shots you’re looking for.

On the other hand, finding someone photogenic, willing and eager might just give you a 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 also because today’s technology means anyone can use a reverse image search to find out where any image has been used – and you may be surprised at what you find.

Think of this – what would you do if you find a 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 your photo, but you’ll have to go through the search process all over again – and pay a second time.

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 entirely by accident found photos of herself used in advertising campaigns all over the world because some photos taken of her when she was in college had found their way into a stock image library.

The story is actually about how she didn’t realise that she’d signed her rights away to the photographer – 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 in the US, a French dating site, education services worldwide, a well known American burger chain, trekking holidays in Cambodia, carpets in New York and has been the friendly 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 very often stock photos are vague, generic and 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, a vague, generic and non-specific stock photograph can water down your marketing message.

The science bit – usability research has shown that people just don’t see irrelevant or filler photos so if you’re using irrelevant, filler photos you’re wasting you’re time and if you’ve paid for them from a stock site, you’re also wasting your money.

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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