Photography: Shoot or Shop?

Shooting or shopping? A question you’ve probably asked and definitely something you’ll want to consider carefully. Initially you might think it is a question of cost. But there are a lot of other things to consider before you head to one of the stock photography sites or call your photographer.

When you’re buying stock photos you don’t know who else has bought them before or who might buy them in the future. 20 years ago Jennifer Anderson modeled for some stock photography. This was when companies would receive stock photography in CD-ROMs. Within a few years Jennifer’s image was the face for countless “back to school” campaigns. Most notoriously in 2004 when competitors Dell and Gateway computers both used Jennifer’s image on their material. But things have changed since then right?

Not much as you might think. There’s still some models dominating the stock industry. Ariana is the most ubiquitous of stock models. I’ll admit I’ve used her image before. Once you start to recognize her, you’ll begin to see her on everything. You’ll start to realize just how prevalent she really is. And how easily you might fall into the same trap as Dell and Gateway.

You probably have a very clear sense of what your brand looks like. What style of photography you want to use.  Unfortunately your stakeholders might not understand as well as you. They might want highly stylized fantasy worlds when you know, for example, your brand is all about real unposed shots. If you can tightly control the imagery then you are more likely to get your stakeholder to buy into one look. In a large company having a creative director control the look of photography is important and becomes a much harder (though not impossible) task to keep your photography ‘on brand’ if your people, globally, are buying stock.

If you control the shoot then you have the chance to not only pick your own talent — you also pick how they pose. This could be holding or using your product. You also get to use the same models meaning you get that consistency across collateral. Not just in terms of photography style but also in terms of faces. We took this one step further in a shoot I worked on where we had models all wearing block color t-shirts.

You also need to consider who controls the imagery? Who owns it? What is the risk of sharing source files? Whether you shoot or buy you have to be mindful of what you’re actually paying for. Then you have to make sure that when you’re distributing those images for others to repurpose you’ve got the rights to. Shooting your own photography allows you to not only own exclusive worldwide rights it can also mean you know you’re going to be able to use them on any future collateral.

Your only factor shouldn’t be cost – but of course cost can play a huge role. To shoot your own photography you’ll want to hire a professional photographer, you’ll need to take the time to get the shoots, location scout, casting etc.

Ultimately it’s about balance. If you’re shooting or if you are shopping then it is about remembering what the purpose of the image is. What it’s trying to convey. What it adds to the collateral and what it says about the brand.

What’s your favorite stock photography? When have you used shot photography successfully? Let me know in the comments below.