Original vs. Stock Photography

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“Do I really need to pay for original photography or can we just find some good stock photos?” 


Whether our team is working on new digital marketing graphics or planning out visuals for print material, we’ve lost count on how many times we’ve been asked this same question when it comes to photography use. Of course, original, custom imagery is always going to be our #1 recommendation, but what exactly is it that you’re missing out on when you choose to go the stock photo route and veer away from custom photos? Both will help get you to your end goal, but let’s break down what each option entails and how you can make it work for you and your brand.


Original Photography


When setting up original photography for your brand, your biggest advantage is a custom, intentional design experience. You have full control over what an image not only looks like, but also what it feels like. Things like colors, placement, open space, people, angles, dynamic and movement all come together perfectly orchestrated to fit your brand’s personality to convey what it is your brand is trying to say.


By doing so, you avoid “Frankenstein-ing” your photos (photoshopping this in, photoshopping that out) and being left with an image that takes a large chunk of editing time (likely money better spent taking a set of new, original images altogether) and still not giving you the end result you were looking for.


By spending a little extra time planning out the total look and feel of your photographs before a single shot is taken, you then allow magic to happen when the combined visions of your brand ambassadors and creative team work together. This leaves you with a library of images to work with in a variety of marketing materials moving forward. By specially curating what your visuals will look like, complemented with copy messaging and layout, these work together to create a cohesive, visual experience for your audience. Also, it’s often the only way to fully carry our your vision with both credibility and authenticity, something your audience can pick out easily and resonate with.


Stock Photography


Now, don’t get us wrong. While we love our share of directing a custom photoshoot to fit exactly what it is your brand needs to say, stock photos have their place. And we use them regularly, too! This is always a great option if you don’t have the budget or time to commit to full pre-shoot strategy sessions, single to multi-day shoots, and post-shoot editing. But, it does still take time to make it work for you.


When sourcing stock photography, it’s extremely important to spend some time looking through options. It’s easy to head to a site, type in a subject, and select and download an image from page one of your results. We encourage you to make sure you’re spending time on this to make sure you find what you’re looking for and ensure it fits your overall brand cohesively.


A lot of times, it’s easy to recognize stock photography on websites, too. You know the ones – bright shots with smiling faces, the guy at the computer holding a cup of coffee while writing something down and looking up at a leaned in coworker? Many of these photos focus on generic subject matter and end up looking over-polished and almost too professional. Take the time to dig for the good ones.


Another decision to consider: free or paid stock photos? Keep in mind that you do get what you pay for. While there are plenty of free, royalty-free stock photo sites that allow you to download and use their high resolution images (some of our faves are Pixabay, Pexels and Unsplash), remember that you’re not the only one with access to these. That photo you selected to showcase the culture of your team on your website? You might run into that same photo used on a billboard you pass every day to work or in an ad for a local attorney’s office.


Bottom Line


When it comes to your brand, first impressions are crucial. Think about what brand experience you want your audience to have and determine what those visuals look like. Are they something unique to what you’ve seen done before? Are they meant to instill the familiarity of stock photos? What’s that special element that makes them yours?


While we do think custom imagery is a vital marketing investment, one that can result in a library of images to be used in a variety of ways and materials, the truth is, total costs to plan and execute a curated photoshoot is not always attainable. If your business has the means to take on custom photography, we say go for it! If not, stock photography, when researched and selected carefully, will still help keep your marketing efforts looking sharp and ready to stand at the forefront of your brand.


Not sure which is the right option for you? Send us a note and let’s talk!

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