In 2000, iStockphoto launched. A brand-new concept, it was a website that contained a range of royalty-free photography that anyone could download from the comfort of their own computer and use for free.
For the first time, people could access a huge variety of images from all around the world, saving them the time and money of having to arrange a bespoke shoot, or using low-quality shots taken in-house.
Understandably, it became very popular and 19 years later it’s safe to say that stock websites have revolutionised the way we create and consume photographs. Especially for us marketers working in a brand identity and design agency – where generic images of specific things are needed, it’s invaluable.
As stock photography has grown in ubiquity, we increasingly find it can be a limiting choice.
It only took a quick Google search to uncover some stock screamers that demonstrate what we mean.
Two different brands, side by side in a paper, using exactly the same stock image. Both brands were totally unaware of what else would appear in the paper they bought space in, and that can cause problems: when you use stock you can’t create anything truly ownable.
As a result, both brands look unimaginative and a bit clueless. Furthermore, the two identical ads are going to confuse readers who will likely think, at first glance, that both ads are from the same brand.
DON’T FOLLOW THE CROWD
Even if no other business out there has used the same stock as you, that still doesn’t necessarily make it the best choice. More often that not, using a cookie-cutter image isn’t the way to create something that’s unique and fits your brand. Though it isn’t always the case, stock tends to follow stereotypes and emotions sometimes aren’t portrayed genuinely.
Someone even set up a Tumblr blog dedicated to the deluge of hilariously bad stock photos of women smiling at salads, which went viral. This is testamant to how stale and disingenuine some stock photography can be.
Sure, it may be easier to use stock photography. But, as a brand identity and design agency, we know that campaigns don’t bring results because they are easy to produce, they bring results if they’re great and memorable.
Moreover, if you need a large number of photographs – for example in brochures – you’re likely to rack up quite a high bill with stock anyway. Knowing the right local contacts and planning ahead means that a bespoke shoot really needn’t be expensive.
The same goes for your brand’s videos. As you’re probably aware, content is king, and we’re finding ourselves increasingly creating video content for our clients. But relying entirely on stock footage might not produce the best results.
You can often spot a video that’s been made entirely with stock. You see, it’s difficult to find the clips that exactly reflect your narrative. Therefore, a compromise has to be made.
Your narrative might suffer to fit the stock available, or the narrative remains the same but the accompanying video footage might look incongruous or off-brand. And in the process of stitching them all together, a disjointed effect can spoil the smooth progression you can ensure when you organise your own shoot.
If you are set on stock, for reasons of budget and speed-to-market, all is certainly not lost.
Some stock can be really beautiful and tell a story. It all starts with involving a damn good agency early on. From concept development onwards, their art directors and designers will ensure that ideas can be done justice with stock. They’ll also steer clear of clichés and visit more diverse stock databases, such as Unsplash.com, to curate images that reflect your theme or message.
Stock will always have its place and can be a very useful tool when you need to depict straightforward items or scenarios. But just remember to choose carefully, don’t over-use, and to be realistic about finding images that exactly fit the vision your business has.
If you’d like to see some of the magic we’ve worked with stock photography, the magic we’ve created with bespoke imagery, or discuss anything you’ve read in this blog, we’re just a call away.