So, here’s how this works. I ran across this very fetching lizard, knew that he needed a moment in the spotlight (or more accurately, that I wanted to use him in a story), and so I am building a blog post around him. Frankly, he seems a little suspicious about the whole endeavor; that is some serious side-eye. He will serve as our guide to a discussion on stock photography and how to use it most effectively for your business.
The Good, The Bad, and the Downright Bizarre
What does this handsome spokes-lizard have to do with websites and marketing your business? He represents stock photography (he lives not in a glass aquarium, but on Getty Images). Stock photography is a necessary part of online marketing, whether it is social posts or filling in the visuals on portions of your website. As a result, I spend a lot of time looking at stock photography. It ranges the full spectrum from wretched to meh to pretty good. While custom photography is almost always the best-case scenario, it isn’t always feasible with limited resources (budget, talent and time) for a small business. Sometimes, you just need some pretty pictures without paying a pretty penny—in comes stock photography.
Just for fun, I want to share a few of the weirdest images I’ve run across recently. I mean, really. What conceivable use would these images serve?
For some extra fun, check out this Bored Panda article featuring some biting commentary of ridiculous stock images. It is absolutely worth the 5 minutes. I would not lead you astray. Well, actually, that article is by definition astray, but it’s the fun kind.
Examples of Effective Stock Photography
(and not so much)
Stock photography can be a great resource to businesses, but as we just learned, it can also be incredibly cheesy and bad. Choosing the right stock photo can increase the efficiency of your marketing, but choosing the wrong one can distract from your message. Let’s look at some examples of good and bad stock photography choices:
#1: A law firm wants to add some visual interest to the “Schedule a Consultation” section of its website.
Try to avoid the stereotypical staged photos of business people in suits. These kinds of photos can look cold and unwelcoming. Not to mention, who are these people?
A better route, if you don’t have images of your own people, is to use a stock image and then do some customization–make it yours. In this example, we show a stock image that had a blank wall in it where you could add your firm’s logo to that wall, giving you a chance to add your branding to the image.
#2: A dermatologist is running an ad to promote botox injections.
The idea of a needle at my eye is truly unnerving. This is a bad choice for your botox ad because, well, it’s scary. Also, this model is clearly a model and not even remotely in need of Botox to begin with. You are much better off with someone that feels more real.
It’s not necessary to have a literal depiction of your product or service. A photo of a giant needle is not going to make people line up for botox injections. Instead think about the emotions you want to convey or the results your client will get from your service. This photo of a happy, smiling woman with smooth skin is perfect for a botox ad. And the empty space on the right would be a great spot to add some text or a call to action!
#3: A real estate company is writing a blog on finding the ideal home for your family.
Is that a hologram? When did we invent that technology? Not only is this photo cheesy, it’s also completely impersonal and does not speak to the needs of your customers at all.
Always choose a photo that is relevant to your content. A stock photo should never seem like it was randomly inserted into your marketing just to fill up space. So choose photos that compliment and strengthen your message.
Your Ideal Mix
We find, in many cases, that the right balance is a combination of your own photographs with some carefully selected supporting stock shots.
In the example above (created for a client), we see the client’s product picture made more interesting and relatable with a stock dog added to the chair. Throw in a text overlay that brings home your message (it’s comfy), and you’ve used stock photography in the most effective way.
One thing that can really help is to approach everything you do week-to-week with a photography-oriented mindset. Ask yourself, as you move through your work, if you can use a shot of the thing you are doing, the place you are visiting, the people you are meeting, or the products you are selling. Go ahead and snap a picture. You never know when you might use it. This is also a great way to build up a bank of possible social media posts.
Take pictures. Then, take more pictures.
How to Use Stock Photography Effectively
When you do find yourself in need of stock photography, here are some tips to get the most out of it.
- Stock is great for filler or texture or background.
- Try to customize the stock images when possible. Change the colors to match your brand, use a blank space to add your own message or logo, or extract a portion of the stock image and combine it with your own photography to create something uniquely yours (like the chair + dog example above).
- Try to limit use of stock photography that features obviously fake people. They often scream “I’M STOCK!” You and your business aren’t fake, so make it as personal as possible. When people are involved, try to capture your own people. If you can’t do that, try to capture a mood or a message that feels authentic to your company and brand.
- Support local photographers. If you need a skyline shot of your location, try to find a local photographer that is already taking amazing images of your city and reach out to them for permission and pricing to use their work. They will usually be thrilled for the support and exposure. Their pricing is typically very affordable, you’ve helped out a neighbor, and you don’t run the risk of choosing that stock skyline that appears on 20 other sites around town.
- Special tip for law firms: Do not use the following: a gavel, the scales of justice, or a handshake. You’ll be tempted—resist.
There are thousands of stock photos available online for any given subject: some of them are bound to be weird. But good stock photos are out there and, when used sparingly and appropriately, they can be a great resource for your business.