Apr 04/17
By Kerri Benecke

Dear Kerri

Dear Kerri: I just can’t decide. Should I use stock or invest in original photography? Which do you recommend?

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Great question! They’re both great choices, but let’s discover which might work best for you. It comes down to your brand, timing and what’s most important to you. Do you care if your competitors use the same stock image (it happens a lot)? Do you need to publish quickly and maybe don’t have time for a shoot? Or maybe, your industry is very specific and stock photos just won’t cut it. These are questions to ask yourself as you consider.

Now, to help you get started, let’s consider these pros and cons:
 
Stock photography
Stock can be a great choice. You get lots of options and your images will come ready for immediate use. Stock images typically fall into two categories—royalty-free (RF) and rights-managed (RM). RF gets you unlimited use across multiple applications, so if you’re wanting to use the same image on your website, marketing collateral and a print ad, it’s a lot of bang for your buck, but you won’t have exclusive rights. That’s right, other brands (even competitors) could use the same image in their marketing efforts.

RM on the other hand has enforces stricter usage, giving your brand more exclusive rights, and because of that, the cost is considerably higher. Pricing for RM will depend on where the image will be used, your industry, if you want to use it globally or regionally, etc. There are a lot of variables to consider and while the costs for RM is significantly higher, some prefer to have more control over the images they choose to represent their brand.
 
Pros:

  • Endless options – between all the stock sites, there is a seemingly bottomless pool of photos to choose from
  • Cost effective – generally stock images are a more budget friendly solution
  • Ready-to-use – once you find your perfect image, all you need to do is purchase and download
  • Forever yours – if you go with RF, the images you purchase can be used forever. RM images typically expire after a pre-determined amount of time so make sure you look at your usage rights closely

Cons:

  • Endless options – yes, it’s also a pro, but the shear number of options can be overwhelming. It’s not always a quick and easy task to find the perfect photo and in the end, you may be settling for an image that’s not exactly what you hoped for
  • Generic in nature – images will not necessarily be specific to your business or brand
  • You don’t truly own your images – your competitors, and anyone else, could potentially use the same image and it’s very likely to happen, especially with RF.
  •  

Original photography
Photography is vital part of how your brand is expressed and there are some great reasons to consider a photo shoot: market specific, brand differentiation and ultimate control. Everything down to the location, props, model’s clothing, lighting techniques, angles, etc. can be customized to ensure the images perfectly align with your brand’s visual identity. However, getting exactly what you want doesn’t come cheap. In addition to the photographer’s time you will also pay a licensing fee for the rights to use the images but in the end your brand will have a library of unique and proprietary images that will help your brand stand out from your competition.

Pros:

  • Unique to your brand – original photos that are specific to you and your brand
  • More control – customization of every detail ensures the final shots are exactly what you need
  • Exclusivity – once you have your images, you’ll have them forever…exclusively.

Cons:

  • Cost prohibitive – photo shoots can be pricey and may not make sense for every project
  • Takes time – planning and executing a photo shoot can add weeks to your schedule

At the end of the day, there are pros and cons to both stock and original photography. You’ll want to look at your brand, your goals and what you’d like to accomplish as you consider which direction is right for you. And keep in mind that sometimes the best solution is a combination of the two. Good luck!


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