Stock Photos. You can smell ‘em a mile away. You know the ones I’m talking about, the universal headset lady ready to provide amazing customer service, the high powered executives shaking hands to celebrate their recent success, the lady basking in the glory of a meadow on a fresh summer day. They’re easy to find, cheap to purchase and a simple way to fill a few holes in your communications collateral. But what do they really cost?
While a typical ‘microstock’ image can range from free to $50, or maybe a little more depending on the stock house you’re purchasing from, the cost of using them may appease bargain hunters looking for a cheap fix, but the real cost is in the damage it could do to your brand. What kind of damage am I referring to? Credibility. Authenticity. Trust.
Microstock is almost always sold as ‘Royalty Free’, meaning you can purchase the image once and use it in perpetuity on your collateral without paying ongoing royalties or licensing fees to the photographer. It also means that the rights to the image are ‘unmanaged’ and anyone is allowed to purchase and use it in their collateral, even your competitors!
Imagine for a moment, you’ve invested in a printed collateral piece and had 1000 glossy brochures produced by your agency. 2 months later you discover a competitor using the same exact image in an ad in a trade publication. This is usually the point where companies self discover the risks of stock photography and realize that should a customer come across both images on both pieces, the credibility for both companies is compromised.
Consumers are smart folks, and if they spot a ‘fake’, it instantly sits in their gut and their perception changes. Ultimately, it can leave lingering doubts about a company, and shift their trust level in a negative way.
Perhaps more importantly is that using stock photos as a cheap fix means a missed opportunity to create a compelling image that is 100% unique to your brand. You know the saying, ’a picture is worth a thousand words’? Well in many cases the right picture could be worth thousands to your brand value. When faced with a creative assignment, the best process is typically to start with a creative brief and focus squarely on the story you’re trying to tell and build up words and visuals around that story. In some cases the image tells the story, in others it provides context or offers an opportunity to differentiate the value of your product or service in a way that only the right photo can. It’s an opportunity to add interest, sex appeal, emotion or character to your piece. It’s an opportunity to be authentic.
Here are a few examples of some very compelling imagery shot by local photographer, Ewan Nicholson:
Shot by Ewan Nicholson for: Moore Equine
Shot by Ewan Nicholson for: Moore Equine
Shot by Ewan Nicholson for: Michelle Cerderberg
No problem, I have a really good camera!
Problem. Good cameras don’t take great photos, great photographers do. While there is a chance you’ll land exactly in the right place at the right time, and snap the shutter in the perfect moment with ideal lighting, it’s a rarity for any amateur. I know this because I am one. Even with good gear, seasoned creative skills, and a creative brief in hand, it’s still a craft that I could only hope to hone the way most seasoned pro’s have mastered. Like a perfect illustration or beautiful page layout and typography, it really does require someone with the professional background, critical eye and technical skills to make sure the moment is properly captured and the image is truly special.
You can fix it in photoshop right?
Well, in some cases it’s possible to ‘composite’ interesting scenes and fix poorly shot photos, but of course there is a cost to that as well. An agencies shop rate for this is typically the same as what it might have cost to have a photographer go out and get the shot you needed in the first place. This can however work for creating images with impossible circumstances (we once had to make a grain silo appear to launch into outer space) but is a solution often best left to highly conceptual pieces. And even then, you may still need a custom photo or 2 for the composite. A pure, honest photograph is often tough to beat.
Photographers are expensive!
Well, yes and no. In the sense that a professional’s day rate can seem vastly more expensive than $50 stock image, then yes, but the value argument is clear. Capturing the right image or series for your campaign or collateral can have a lasting impact on the success of your material, both in financial and general brand equity. Further to this, some photographers are now equipped to shoot HD video should the client need this as well. Ewan Nicholson, a well known Calgary professional has expanded his business by offering video production services to his repertoire and given his experience with capturing stills, seems a natural fit. This can save valuable time and money on bundling services and projects together, and create amazing continuity in the creative assets.
Oh, and one more thing,… iPhones.
We all know the hype that smartphone manufacturers build around their products specs and the ‘amazing detail’ that you can capture with your phone’s built-in camera right? The truth is, there is no place at all in your collateral to use an image captured by your phone. Let your phone do what it does best, and use it to call a really great photographer, you won’t regret it.