Being unmemorable is one of the worst crimes a company trying to establish its brand can commit.
Although stock images have their place in web design and content marketing, stock and other low-quality images are fast-tracks to genericness. Beyond subjecting your visitors to an ill-defined brand experience, there are a number of financial and creative reasons for obtaining original, professional photographs and assets.
Professional Photography = Quality, Consistency, and Artistry
Most of us are not professional photographers. Sure, we have iPhones equipped with high-quality cameras or expensive cameras with lenses and other accessories, but there simply isn't a substitute for the experience, training, and skill a professional can offer.
A photographer thinks about more than just capturing the subject; they're constantly thinking about and re-evaluating composition, light, angles, focus, exposure, color, saturation, distance, proximity, overall aesthetic, and other considerations you and I wouldn't even think of, let alone know how to address. Plus, professional photographers spend a lot of post-shoot hours editing and re-touching the images so they're perfect.
Photography is an Investment in Your Company's Future
Not only does commissioning high-quality professional photography help build your company's credibility, it gives you a well of high-resolution assets to turn to when you need imagery for new web pages and other image-driven marketing efforts. Investing in a one-time photo shoot could yield a catalog of assets that could last for years, and very likely save you time and money in the long run.
Strong, meaningful copy and content are powerful tools for informing, persuading, entertaining, and ultimately converting users, but they live in the now, in the present. Imagery, aesthetic, and visual brand identity live in the present, but they also live in the future and in the unconscious, where branding does its real work and ultimately yields its greatest ROIs.
Plus, original photography lets you get exactly what you want in terms of composition and style. The photo shoot and resulting images can be designed to match your company's visual branding and create cohesion within the larger brand experience.
People in Stock Photos Are Alienating
As The Atlantic pointed out, "life as told through the stock image is beautified and sanitized; it is posed; it is weird; it is fraught."
The world of stock photography—rife with cringeworthy images such as the infamous "Hide the Pain Harold”—can be tricky to navigate. Stock photos tend to be predictable, cliche, and generally uninspiring because images that are intended to be universally useful must, by definition, lack specificity, lack any real meaning or experience with which users can identify.
Think of all the times you've come across such cliches as Business Team Around Conference Table, Computer Hacker with Balaclava, or Smiling Headset-Wearing Call Center Employee. Think of all the oddly shiny-happy people you've seen in marketing and product design, such as on corporate websites or the covers of board-game boxes or in Facebook sidebar ads.
Did these obvious stock people enhance the experience in any way? Did they bolster the company's credibility or authenticity in your mind? Did they seem integrated with the design or branding? Did your eyes glaze over the obvious space-fillers and keep searching the page for information or experience you came for?
Website Photography Requires Strategy and Originality
Stock photography is a gamble and usually only works for companies that sell a product or service that’s generic enough to be found through a web search. If your company deals in products or services that aren’t consumer goods, commodity products, or common services, your chance of finding good stock photography plummets.
Even if you do find a representative stock photo, accuracy and realism are often your next challenges. Do the people look right? Is the scene or setting correct? Unlike the stock woman below who is going to burn off her fingers soldering a circuit board, is the person in your photo even doing the job correctly? Finally, will the photo suit your website’s needs? When your website requires landscape-oriented banner images, even the best portrait-oriented photo won’t look right.
Stock photography does have its place in website design for the abstract concepts and unusual scenes it can capture. It’s simply not always feasible to get a shot of someone climbing a mountain or performing heart surgery on most marketing budgets. Plus, professional photography isn’t always the most realistic or desirable option for day-to-day content such as blogs, articles, social posts, or re-targeting ads. Sometimes you’ll have to or want to use stock or non-professional photos in the interests of time, budget, messaging, and availability.
The key is knowing when to it’s appropriate to use stock (day-to-day content like blogs) and when to use high-quality professional photos (your company’s main site and landing pages). And when you do use stock or self-produced photos, ensure you’re being thoughtful and strategic about it and using sleek, high-quality images that capture and enhance the written message you’re trying to communicate. Imagery and photography visually represent your brand or product; they help illustrate and reify the story you’re trying to tell about your company.
And no company wants the public imagination to associate its brand with two very happy businessmen shaking hands, cupped hands holding water/a mound of dirt/an ambiguous orb of light, or women laughing alone with salad.