Things to Consider When Using Stock Photography



by Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, president

A picture is worth a thousand words. We’ve all heard and probably used this adage. In many cases, this is absolutely true. Photos can communicate messages and feelings in a way that words can’t. I can sit here all day and describe a sunset to you, but with one well-shot photo, you immediately see what I’ve been yammering on about.

However, I’m also here to point out that some photos aren’t even worth a single word, and in some cases, they aren’t worth the change you find in your couch cushions. A stock image of disembodied hands shaking or puzzle pieces coming together fall into this category for me.

With that admittedly rambling introduction, we’d like to share our thoughts and a few tips for using photography on your site. In most cases, we recommend that you have a professional take real photos of your real staff so when people visit your site or pick up your brochure they see a proper representation of your firm. It is nearly always the best way to go. But in some cases, quality stock photography can be a good second option. It’s readily available and a well-phrased search can turn up nearly any photo you might want. As veterans of marketing, we have a few tips that might just help you make the impression you want and communicate the right 1000 words worth of information.

Staring Emu Stock Photography

Since we could have used any standard licensed, royalty-free photo for this post, we decided a staring emu was best.

You get what you pay for. Yes, there are quite a few free stock photography websites out there and some of their images aren’t bad. There are even more reasonably priced sites that have more selection and higher quality images. Then there are the really great sites that have incredibly composed images taken by photographers that really know their stuff. There is a time and a place for all of these options. For something like a blog post, the free or inexpensive photos are a great option. The shelf life of a blog post is typically fairly short and you don’t necessarily want to spend a good deal of your budget or time looking for images for that purpose. For your website or other online communications, we recommend you stick to the mid or high range of images. You don’t want to have the same image as your competitor down the street or the billboard selling Viagra, and I’ve seen both happen. Finally, for anything that will be printed, go with higher quality images and make sure you purchase them in a size that will reproduce properly. Photos that are too small or simply not well composed will cheapen a printed piece and your firm at the same time.

Know the language and the rules. It’s tempting to just run an image search on Google to find the right photo for your website. But not so fast! Many of the images that you’d like to use for your marketing often have restrictions on where and how often they can be used. It’s not as simple as just “purchasing” an image, either. When selecting images, make sure to check the licensing agreements associated with it, as licensing may be different from one image to the next and different across stock photography sites. Is the license standard or extended? Is the image approved for commercial use or editorial only? Is it a public domain, royalty free or one time use image (rights managed)?

Be honest. This is where I think it pays to hire a professional to take some shots. I would be willing to bet that the people in your office aren’t a perfectly groomed, culturally diverse mix of people walking down a hall or sitting around a glass conference table. Why not have photos taken of your real staff? They might not be as pretty as the stock models, but when clients come to your office, they will know what to expect. Same thing goes for your office space. If you work in a suburban market and your office building looks more like a town home than a glass sky rise, don’t use a photo of super-modern building on your contact page. The main point is to remember that photos do communicate and make an impression on visitors, so they should be as honest as possible to avoid confusion and the impression that you are trying to be something you are not.

I could go on, but I would like to hear from you. What have you seen work? What are your personal pet peeves? Any photos that you think should be permanently retired to stock photo purgatory?

6 comments on “Things to Consider When Using Stock Photography

  1. Jennifer B. Jacobs on

    Ugh, the hands shaking is one of the worst offenders. I had a project years ago where the client instructed me to use one of those and several stock images of people in suits they had already purchased…it at least worked better for their type of company rather than a smaller firm, but still. And then there’s the images of people looking sad – like the “before” in an infomercial.

    There is actually an Awkward Stock Photos website – hilarious to skim through! I think I should start using this guy in Saran wrap on my site to show how doing your own marketing makes you feel trapped!

  2. Bonnie on

    I debated between calling out the puzzle pieces or hands shaking, Jennifer, so thanks for taking care of that for me. And shame on you for sending Awkward Stock Photos. I see much wasted time in my near future. 🙂

  3. Stephen Jones on

    Nothing connects your brand & your staff quite like professional photography. When a client walks in and sees the people from the website working there, it tells them that your business is ‘from the heart’ and that you have nothing to hide. Secondly, if there are any unique aspects of your place of business, a good professional photographer will incorporate that into the images, giving your website a unique ‘flavor’ that is yours alone. The additional cost of the professional photographer will be offset by your unique position within the market.


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