Stock Photography: To Use or Not to Use?

September 30, 2019

On the surface, stock photography seems like a win-win. A virtually limitless library of images that can convey any mood in any situation, all available just a click away. Seemingly, it’s the perfect arrangement for a marketer.

Or is it?

For all its benefits, stock photography isn’t perfect. In fact, in some cases, stock photography can completely undermine a brand’s reputation. Let’s take a look at the dos and don’ts of stock photography.

The Appropriateness of Stock Photography

In short, stock photography is acceptable for use in cases where the image doesn’t define the company. This means it’s okay to use stock photography for website images, social media posts, white papers, and emails. However, it’s not a good idea to use stock photography in widespread ad campaigns or commercials. Why? Because if people see that same image someplace else, they’ll be very confused — and they’ll wonder why you’re using a stock image to portray something they considered to be uniquely tied to your brand.

Another factor to consider is when and where an image should be used. It should go without saying that using a stock photo just for the sake of having an image in your promotional materials is a bad idea. However, this happens every day in businesses around the world. If you stick to simply using the right stock image in the right media at the right time, you’ll find that stock photography can be quite useful.

Stock Photography: To Use or Not to Use? | Blog | Commit Agency

The Stock Photography Landscape

One major problem in using stock photography is that there are many, many options for advertisers to use. Most of these options are blatantly stock images and are useless to businesses that want to retain their authenticity. That leaves a limited amount of relevant images to pick from. But how does a business even sort through the bad stuff to get to the good content? This takes time, expertise and a unique understanding of what the business wants to convey in their marketing.

That raises another issue — even the best stock photos were taken with the goal of appealing to as many people as possible. That means that a company’s brand, ethics, and attitudes will never be part of any stock photos. It’s up to the company and their marketing agency to decide if any stock photo will work in a brand’s marketing communications.

Finding the Client’s Style

Ideally, a business would be able to submit their own high-quality images and include only those in their marketing content. However, for a business that’s just starting out, or one that doesn’t quite understand its identity yet, that might not be possible. That’s where stock photography comes into play.

When used correctly, stock photography can be a nice bridge between where a company begins and where it wants to be. There’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from what’s already out there. At the end of the day, stock photography can save time and money, especially for a business that’s trying to figure out its niche. We all know that images add tremendous value to white papers, social media posts, and emails. Including a stock image is better than nothing — provided the image is appropriate for the content, of course.