Tuesday, May 17, 2011

When should you use stock images?

First, let me just start by saying that stock imagery and proliferation of technically great photographs has changed the photography industry. Some say for better, some say for worse. I’m a big of a pragmatist. It is here, and we all need to learn make the most effective use for it. There are large stock imagery houses like Getty (higher end) and micro-stock distributors like iStock Photo and Dreamstime (lower end). Getty now owns iStock which should give you a sense of where the larger stock houses believe the market is moving. Regardless, they all basically do the same thing. They take images that are already produced and resell them which varying rights packages. The can be sold for as little as $1 dollar at the low end and several hundred to $1000+ at the higher end depending on rights purchased for the image.
As you can see, the costs to acquire an image can be very inexpensive when compared to a custom shoot. 
You might ask... “Why shouldn’t all our images come from stock houses?”
There are a few reasons...
  • Stock images are resold to many sometimes, hundreds, sometimes thousands of people to use. The most popular images are all over advertisements, marketing material, folder covers, etc.
  • There is a “stock look” photographers shoot for. This gives the images a “sameness” in similar shots.
  • Stock images don’t convey the uniqueness of your company. 
So, is there any time that stock can and should be used to keep costs under control? Absolutely! Graphic designers should use them when creating materials that are not unique to your company and blend both stock and custom work together to make a new look and feel for your company.
  • Backgrounds and textures from images have a more organic feel than vector or computer graphics. Use stock for sand, metals, water, or other interesting backgrounds
  • Objects such as food, sporting equipment, crowds, iconic buildings, etc. can often be found in stock.
  • Components to create a unique feel for an ad piece.
One caveat to the above though. If you are selling a product, shoot your own product. Your milk should be your milk. Your basketball should be your basketball. Your wiz-bang widget should be your widget. You get the idea.
In short, stock is a valuable addition to a designers toolkit, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. Use stock where generic images can ad to the piece. Don’t use exclusively to represent your ad or business or you will look exactly like the other hundreds of businesses using similar images trying to create similar ads and brands. 
Your business is unique and you should show it by smart blending of stock and custom imagery.

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