Our love-hate relationship with stock photography

Every day you come across hundreds of examples of stock photography. If you live in London you most likely come across it a lot more. Stock imagery is used everywhere for marketing material, websites, social media and outdoor advertising. Designers rely on it all the time to break up text, clarify a point and keep readers intrigued.

So what is stock photography exactly?

Stock photography are professional photographs that are sold on a royalty-free basis and can be used and reused for commercial purposes.

Why we sometimes love it
People are naturally visual creatures, and using photography and images in online and offline marketing is essential.
Most clients don’t have good enough quality images for their marketing material. And most don’t have the resources to hire a photographer. In these cases, stock photography is the answer.
Nowadays there is a vast array of cheap and sometimes free stock photography to choose from on the internet, easily available with a one-click download.

Everyone does it- and that’s part of the problem
Lat week a client realised the photo we had used on their website previously is now the image plastered across all East Midlands trains. Slightly awkward.

Stock photos are free for anyone to use, with no exclusivities. This means any stock image you use to represent your business can also be used by anyone else. You have no control over it.

The cheesy stock photography cliché
How many times have you seen a cheesy photo of business men shaking hands and smiling unnaturally?
Photographers that contribute to stock photography try to submit photos that will be used by as many people as possible. As a result, stock photography is often very predictable.
Audiences can see right through this, and don’t connect with these cringy images.

It creates design limitation
A designer wants to be as original and creative as possible, and wants to create a website or marketing material which is unique to your brand.
However the stock photos were not taken with your brand in mind, and do not accurately represent your products or services. This in turn hinders the authenticity of the designs.

People want to see authentic, emotional photos
In an ideal world, we would get our Art Director Natalie (who is also a photographer) to take photos for our clients as she is the person who knows and understands the brands the best.
However, as we mentioned previously, sometimes client budget prohibits this.

So when stock imagery is necessary here are our top tips for choosing the best of the best.

Think about the message
It’s easy to get distracted when looking for stock photography, and forgetting what your initial message is. Stick to photos which are consistent with the message, tone and colour palettes of your design.
Go for images that are more relatable. If you are advertising to the corporate world, keep your photos sleek and professional. If you are catering to the older generation, make sure your photos resonate with that specific target audience. This will let them feel like the content was produced for them, and consequentially they will relate to it better.
While it might take longer to find the perfect images to compliment your brand, once you do it’ll all be worthwhile.

Look for the more realistic images
Sounds obvious. Choose a photo in a realistic setting, with models that don’t look out of place. Try and avoid the cliché options.
If you are looking for a holiday-themed image, don’t go for the typical white sand and palm tree beach- instead try and find an image with humans enjoying themselves (without it looking too staged!).

Don’t overdo it
Audiences can tell when a stock photo is chosen for the sake of having a placeholder image versus a contextual placement. Don’t start downloading and adding any image that “will do”. Only add stock imagery when needed otherwise your audience will end up getting bored.
Think about whether you really need an image in that space? Is it distracting from the content?
If you can try and mix it with some of your own content- to keep your brand feeling more genuine.

And finally, make sure you are using them legally

Make sure you are using proper stock photography, and don’t end up being sued.
Some licenses allow you complete freedom, whereas others limit you to non-commercial use only. A reputable site will clearly indicate your rights. If in doubt don’t use it.

While stock photography does get a bad name, it is also very valuable to small businesses and designer. As long as you use it properly there is no reason to avoid it.

Photo credits to Kuan Fang. Photo from Splash.