The highs and lows of stock imagery

2 minutes read / Branding

Talk to most design, marketing or advertising professionals about stock imagery, and you’ll see that they’re never particularly enthusiastic. That’s because most stock imagery conjures thoughts of over-edited city skyline shots, or businesspeople pulling a variety of semi-emotive expressions in a badly fitting suit.

But is that really the extent of stock photography? Well, no. You can find some great stock photography, taken by a decent photographer before being submitted to a stock company to be licensed – you just have to know where to look. And know when’s the right time to use it.

When it comes to the pros and cons of stock imagery, the key consideration for many people is that you won’t be the only person using that image. Think of it as the latest trendy jumper from your favourite high street brand – and then think about how many people you see wearing it in the weeks after. That’s stock photography.

But sometimes getting caught in the same jumper as someone else isn’t a total fashion faux pas. Sometimes, it just means you both have great taste. Here, we’ve rounded up some of the good, bad and ugly bits of stock photography for you to keep in mind.

A budget-friendly option

For brands or agencies without a huge budget, stock photography can be a godsend. Sure, custom photo shoots in beautiful locations will always sound like the best option, but it can get very expensive very quickly – particularly if you’re hiring models, photographers, props and locations. Plus, it’s often pretty time consuming too. If you’re on a budget or need to get something out of the door quickly, stock imagery can be a knight in shining armour; even if it’s armour someone else might wear too.

Going custom

The number one argument against the use of stock photography is often its lack of customisation. Each and every company is unique, with its own messages and thoughts and emotions it wants to evoke. Unfortunately, stock photography is just never going to be able to capture that uniqueness. Original, custom photography tells a brand new story – a story that no one has ever seen before. This can make your website or other brand touchpoints way more memorable, and help to create an instantly recognisable brand aesthetic.

Quick and easy mockups

Most of the time, we don’t jump straight to the finished product from the outset. Usually, there’s a whole load of iterations and drafts in between, where we’re trying new things, different approaches, or mixing up colourways. During this experimentation phase, you don’t want to be wasting time forking out for a new photoshoot each time you want to try something. Stock imagery gives you access to tons of different photos, of all shapes and sizes, ready for you to play around with and drop into whatever you’re drafting up. Plus, many stock libraries will let you download watermarked or low-res images for free, so you don’t have to fork out any budget until you’re set on the final design.

Avoid the cliches

As we mentioned at the beginning, one of the issues with stock image sites is that you’re bombarded by odd-looking people pulling lots of different faces, in increasingly weird settings – from a suited woman on a tightrope to a pineapple wearing sunglasses and headphones, or a whole load of people looking off longingly into the distance. There is a whole new world of stock photography out there, however. You just have to know where to look.

Invest a little more time and dig deeper into your favourite stock library to find some more unique options, or try lots of different phrases to see if you can mix it up. Alternatively, some of the more quirky stock libraries, like Gratisography and Unsplash, can be good places to look if you’re after something a bit more unique.

So, how do you feel about stock imagery now? If you want to chat about making sure that your imagery is working for your brand, then give us a shout. We love a chat.

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