BY MATTHEW BIRCHARD

Businesses wanting to maximize their marketing spend often opt to cut out a photography budget in favor of stock photos.  But this ends up being a penny wise and a dollar foolish.

Our agency used to have good working relationships with a number of photographers and would routinely manage photo shoots for our clients.  Everything from in-studio product shots to staged locations with hired talent.  Design often needs photos and the old adage that a “picture is worth a thousand words” still holds true.  However, what has happened is now the pictures often tend to be low-cost stock photos purchased online.

Stock photography has been available for a long time, and can be very useful if you need something like a photo of the Eiffel Tower and don’t have the budget to fly to Paris to photograph it.  But the advent of low-cost, royalty-free stock photography from sources like istockphoto.com, shutterstock.com and bigstockphoto.com has changed design and marketing.  What once cost several thousand dollars and would take days of planning and execution was quickly reduced to a downloadable image for ten bucks or less.  Granted the stock photo isn’t exclusively yours and often isn’t perfect, but the cost and time savings outweigh even the most ardent pro-photo shoot arguments.  The result is a nice marketing piece that may have great overall design, concise copy and be on-strategy, but has been executed using a stock image.

With their wide spread use, consumers have become well-trained at spotting stereotypical stock photos in marketing materials.

By and large stock photos look disingenuous, fake and staged.  You can tell subconsciously that they’re stock because real photos you see every day don’t have the same feel.

And some stock photographers have become so successful and prolific that the same model appears in countless hundreds or thousands of images.

You’ve see this guy so often that you probably already recognize him.

And that’s the fundamental problem with stock photos – they don’t differentiate your business’ product or service from your competitors.

By using stock photos you save some money up front, but the effectiveness of your marketing will be impacted.  Potential customers will gloss over your marketing because it looks “salesy” with the overt use of stock photos.  Differentiating yourself with bespoke photography is a valuable way to get your customers to stop and take notice.  Your images don’t have to be just photos either, we use a consistent illustration style for all of the main images that appear in this blog allowing us to stand out while reinforcing our branding over time.

So, if you’re looking to differentiate your marketing, consider budgeting for photography or custom illustration.  This is one of the smartest investments you can make to help your business stand out.