Stock photos. You know you hate them. And it’s easy to see why – people in stock photos are too happy (particularly about things they are looking at together on their computer), too pretty, too stylish, and the sun always seems to be shining directly AT the camera.
But as much as we may hate stock photos – and with a search for “why stock photos are bad,” yielding 21,500,000 results, we appear to be in agreement on this – they are also not going away anytime soon, because they are affordable, easily accessible and plentiful.
While it’s tempting to tell you that you must use original photos all the time, that is just not budgetarily realistic. I’m also not sure it’s always worth it, particularly when you have an original photo taken that looks like stock. Take, for example, these two photos on the Citizen Bank website. One would assume they have the budget for custom photography – but are these photos custom? Are these real customers sitting on couches or are they models? Or are they photos bought from a stock service?
And most importantly – Can you tell?
So, instead of fighting stock photography, let’s instead explore ways to utilize it better.
Find your style
Consider the light quality, the depth of focus, the positioning of people and other factors to determine your photo style. Services such as iStockPhoto allow you to create and share virtual lightboxes to bookmark and share photos before purchasing. It’s a great way to both define and maintain your style, as well as build a library of stock images for future use.
Make it real
Consider what your customers look like, including how they dress. While fedoras are adorable, how many people actually wear them? Consider the same for businesses – while most sites are rich with photos of coffee houses and bicycle shops – is that a type of business you work with regularly? (Do, however, keep in mind, the need to show diversity of age, gender and race – which stock photography makes easy to do).
Are you headquartered in a city? The suburbs? Rural communities? Make sure the settings match your community to avoid dissonance.
Mix it up
Of course, we do want to use original photography whenever we can – particularly for testimonials and community-specific communications. Working with your photographer to establish a photo style will make it easier to supplement with similar-style stock photos. The photo style guide will also ensure all future photos are taken with the same style.
Used thoughtfully and strategically, stock photos can be a powerful tool to enhance and support your marketing.