3 things every marketer must know about stock photography

June 20, 2013
Advice for marketers about stock photography

Stock photography can be an incredibly useful and cost-effective resource in any marketer’s toolbox, but you must know these three things before you start relying on it.

Lesson 1: Someone else can and probably has used the same photo as you.

A designer once told me the story of an ad he created for a church that leveraged the stock photo of a lovely young woman. Soon after, a billboard using the very same stock photo appeared nearby...on a PSA for venereal disease. Sitcom-worthy, but true.

The worst part of stock photography is that people are often drawn to purchase the same great shots. The shot you select may be overused, used by a competitor, or worse.

The takeaway:

Weigh the risks of using stock imagery against the cost of hiring a photographer for your own custom shots. If a custom photo shoot isn’t in your cards, acknowledge the risk of using stock images and be okay with that risk.

Lesson 2: Stock photo quality and price varies greatly.

Photographers contribute their work to stock photography sites in exchange for a percentage of sales or royalty fees. Not everyone who contributes to these sites has a handle on the principles of good photography, so it should be no surprise that you often get what you pay for.

Free and low-cost sites tend to have assets of lower quality compared to the high-end sources. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an extremely poor quality shot from Getty Images, but you can pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for that privilege.

The takeaway:

To find a happy medium between quality and cost, avoid spending time searching the extremes of free sites or high-end/premium sites. Try a middle-of-the-road service like istockphoto.com or shutterstock.com. It's normal to pay $10 - $200 per photo, depending on what size or quality (high-res) you need.

Lesson 3: Make sure you or your designer purchased image rights.

An image search through a search engine is a great place to start to get good ideas, but don’t let one of those images make it into your final work without making sure you have the right to use it.

A Google image search will return stock photography results, but it isn’t always obvious that an image is stock. It can be tough to tell how and where to purchase what you’re looking at. Not paying for a stock image is viewed the same as downloading music or a movie illegally.

The takeaway:

Stock companies routinely scour the web for sites using their imagery without permission. Fines can be in the thousands - I've seen it happen personally. Ouch. Don’t let that happen to you.

The Recap: What must I know?

  • You might see a photo you purchased used someplace else. Be okay with it.
  • You get what you pay for. Find a balance between price range and quality that works for you.
  • Make sure you pay to use your image. Don’t risk letters from lawyers and hefty fines.

Related Links

[Image credit: USDAgov]

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