30 September 2010|
Like most things in life, there are benefits and liabilities to using stock photography in your marketing materials. Think of stock photography and contract photography as two different tools in your toolbox... and know the appropriate times to use them.
Just because you have a saw, it doesn't mean you won't ever need a screwdriver again for instance. Depending on the project, one tool may be more utilized or appropriate than the other, but both serve a very specific purpose and do not negate the need for the other. In many cases, both stock photography and custom contract photography can be used together within the same project. But you wouldn't use a screwdriver to cut a board, and you wouldn't use a saw to tighten the screws on your doorknob. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each tool and when one should be used over the other is key.
Some of the main benefits of stock photography are that it can be quite inexpensive, immediately available, and there is an increasing selection of images to choose from. Most people are already aware of those benefits, but what many people overlook or aren't even aware of is that a stock image can be licensed hundreds or even thousands of times to different companies. You do NOT have exclusive rights to any stock image that you "purchase". Twice this week alone, people I know have been reminded of that fact. You will probably find that exact same image you used in your brochure being used on another company's website, and on a billboard for a completely different company, and on and on. Who knows, it could potentially end up in your competitor's marketing materials.
That is just one of several tradeoffs to using stock photography over hiring a photographer. Yes, it may have only taken you 10-20 minutes to find the image. Yes, it may have only cost you $40. But you need to realize that there are many other companies out there using that exact same image in different ways. That is the business model of stock photography—the only way to offer images at that low price point is to sell each image in-masse. In some cases it may be perfectly acceptable to not have exclusive rights to a particular image, but in other cases it could be devastating. For example, if you are a plastic surgeon and you use a stock photo of an attractive middle-aged woman in a bikini and feature it prominently in your marketing materials, inevitably people may subconsciously assume that you worked on that particular individual and that she is endorsing your service. So if a potential client sees that same image used in another plastic surgeon's advertising, obviously there is going to be some confusion and maybe even mistrust generated. So don't underestimate the value of owning exclusive rights to an image.
Another commonly overlooked drawback to stock photography is that most agencies require the photographers remove every single logo from every image, even tiny little logos on buttons and zippers. That might not sound like a big deal, but if you own a bike shop that sells Specialized, Giant, Cannondale, Pivot, and Dimondback mountain bikes, you WANT the logos on the bikes. You may also want well-known riders on local trails that are recognizable to your clients.
In my experience of buying hundreds and hundreds of stock photographs over more than 15 years, I have seldom found an image that is exactly what the client needed. There is almost always something that I wish I could change about the image... the age or ethnicity of one or more of the models, the clothing worn, the hair style or overall look of the model, the facial expressions, the angle of view, etc. When you hire a photographer to create your own images, you control all of that. You select the models, you pick the clothing, and you direct the shoot so that you get exactly what you had envisioned. Yes, it will take longer and cost more to create the images, but you will not have to compromise, and it will give you exclusive rights to those images so that you control 100% how they are used. Keep those things in mind when making a decision on whether to hire a photographer or buy stock photography in your next project.