Years ago, if you needed a shot of a man at his desk, or a mom interacting with her children, you’d hire models and a professional photographer and budget for a half- or full-day shoot, or buy the rights to existing images from a photographer’s portfolio at a hefty price for a limited usage period. Digital cameras and the Internet have changed all that. Now, quality stock photography is available online for as little as $1 an image, making it possible for designers to tell a better visual story in their print and web work than ever before.
A great solution—until you find out the guy down the street is telling the same story with the same photos.
Cases in point: Two competing hospitals in the Detroit area are running billboard ads featuring photos of the same “patients.” Oops. And in two different brochures for travel destinations, I saw the same kid-in-sunglasses-buried-in-sand shot.
What’s an advertiser who wants to be unique to do? Spend your dollars on original photography if you can, says Holly Henderson of Jim Powell Photography. “For the last several years, advertisers were using stock for everything, but I’m seeing that trend shift. Now, marketers are interested in custom images, especially in lifestyle categories, because it’s brand-specific and can’t possibly be duplicated,” she says. “When you shoot custom images, you create a brand consistency that can only be achieved by working with one photographer and their vision. And if you make a product, you will always have to photograph it. You can’t get away with stock photography ever.”
Does stock photography still have its place? Absolutely, says Henderson, who says Powell Photography sells stock images online every day, especially for travel and tourism creative. “When you cannot shoot custom images because of budget, time or logistic constraints, stock is a great solution.” She also suggests asking photographers for custom stock photography. “These are images in a photographer’s archives that have not been licensed to anyone before and have never been used publicly. Or, ask us to shoot images on spec. There are great options out there to achieve originality in photography so that your piece stands out from the crowd. Creatives just need to get creative.”
When we began work on a new promotional brochure for Kalamazoo Communities in Schools Foundation, we knew we had to tell real stories of kids and families being changed as a result of the good work of the KCISF. We could have gone to the stock photography well and found happy shots of beautiful people grinning at the camera. But there are no stories in those faces—not real ones, anyway. So we hired our favorite photographer, Jim Powell, to help us tell real KCISF stories. The piece now has credibility. The people in the photos really live in Kalamazoo. The people pictured really were impacted by KCISF. The development director can now visit with a donor, point to a photo and say, “We helped this mom and her son.” As a donor, I can give to that kind of a cause because the stories are true.
R. Stanley’s, the hip new restaurant that relocated from Three Rivers to Kalamazoo’s Milwood area, asked us to help launch their new place. Again, the brand—R. Stanley himself--had a story to tell, so we knew we would need original photos of him. But the food also had a story to tell, and there was no way stock photography would do it justice. Plus, we didn’t want his materials to look like every other restaurant, so off we went with Jim Powell for some original shots of food, weaving in jazz posters in the background and colors from the new restaurant to help convey the feeling you get at R. Stanley’s. It works.
Jim Powell Photography.