This article originally appeared on the Prime Design Solutions website.

Table of contents
Related articles
Have a question? Reach out!
Or, give us a call.

Stock photography offers undeniable advantages in price and convenience — but in the long run, custom photography is often a better investment for businesses.

Stock photography vs. custom photography has been an ongoing battle for ages, so today we are going to review some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

First, some definitions: stock photography is professionally-shot photography that anyone can purchase for commercial use. There are a wide variety of stock photography providers, and it’s easy to browse them online using keywords in order to find photos that might serve your purpose. You buy a one-time license to use a relevant photograph, so you can have professionally-shot photography available to you in just moments. Like all other marketing agencies, we use stock photography for a wide variety of clients and purposes when custom photography isn’t available, or doesn’t make sense. It’s an invaluable marketing tool for many purposes.

Custom photography is shot on-site at your business, specifically to serve the purposes of the project at hand. It requires an actual photo shoot, which can sometimes be challenging depending on what your business is, where it’s located, or even the time of year (if your business is seasonal or operates outside). Obviously, initial costs of obtaining custom photography are much higher than stock, but you’re not purchasing a one-time license to use one shot—instead, you can use all the photography from a custom shoot (which generally results in dozens of shots) over and over in many different projects.

Custom vs. Stock Photography

Connecting with your customers

Creating a connection with your potential and existing customers is one of the most important goals you should have to expand your brand awareness. Brands thrive off of relationships they build with their customers, and prioritizing your brand’s visuals through custom photography allows you to build connections that just aren’t possible using stock.

Building that connection is important for your brand and customer base, helping your brand to stay relevant and memorable in customers’ minds. Custom photography for organization helps captivate your audience, and can even give you an opportunity to connect your brand to the community around it. Even if some of your audience doesn’t realize it, showing your brand as a part of the community—showing your neighborhood, and recognizable landmarks—will resonate in their memory.

Downfalls of Stock Photography

One of the biggest negative consequences of using stock photography is the inability to present a relevant, engaging, and identifiable message that’s specific to your business. Stock photography has these disadvantages:

  1. The environment shown in the photos will not represent your actual business setting. This generates lower brand awareness, since your audience will not have any memories or connections with the surroundings shown, including recognizable landmarks and neighborhoods.
  2. The products/services that you have to offer will not be conveyed. Customers will not be able to see your actual product or service, but rather a generic representation of it.
  3. The people in the photos will not be your actual staff. This is particularly detrimental if your business is owner-operated, or dependent on personal connections.
  4. The images will not tell the true story of your brand. Stock photography is, by definition, generic. Stock photography providers make more money when more people purchase licenses, so stock shots are designed to be used for a wide range of purposes. Branding is ultimately the story that a business wants to tell about itself. Using stock photography means you’re missing out on a chance to show your company’s value and story.
  5. You have no control over who else uses stock images you choose. There are many different stock image providers, and hundreds of thousands of available images. But if a stock image is particularly effective in illustrating a certain type of business, a competitor might use the same image you’ve chosen in their marketing collateral—and because you only purchase the rights to use the photo, not the actual photo, there’s absolutely nothing either business can do about it. (This may seem improbable, but we’ve seen it happen on more than one occasion.)

Especially when your primary audience is in the neighborhood you serve, it is imperative to use photography in your branding that highlights the product or services you offer, your facility or workspace, and your neighborhood. Ultimately, employing custom photography that tells the story of your brand and region is a great way to make a connection with the surrounding community.

Long-term cost advantages of custom photography

People choose stock photography over hiring a professional photographer for two main reasons: price and convenience. Since many businesses don’t think about photos until they’re needed, the convenience alone often steals the spotlight. For some purposes, purchasing stock is a reasonable course of action. However, while using stock photography is cost-effective and convenient in the short term, you may pay for it through all the disadvantages outlined above. There are a few more angles that most people may not consider when thinking about if custom photography is a good fit for their business.

  1. Establishing shots of the company. We almost always use a drone to capture aerial shots of the business and the surrounding neighborhood. This translates to a strong point of reference to be used in promotional pieces, on the homepage of a website, or for social media posts. Drone shots are something that the average person will not be able to get, since flying for commercial use requires FAA Part 107 certification.
  2. Highlight what is special about your operation. Every company has something special about their equipment, employees, or methodology. This is something unique for every successful business that you will not find in stock photography. Scheduling a photoshoot specifically to pick out and capture these unique qualities of a business are another way to stand out in your marketing efforts and show what makes your business special.
  3. Artistic focus. Aside from the content and staging of the images, it is also about the composition. Good professional photographers also have an artistic eye for many variables to ensure the images coincide with the branding, message, and overall feel of a company. This can be things as simple as following cropping rules & color correcting and white balancing to adjusting depth of field and lighting manipulation.

Some businesses try to get inexpensive custom shots by taking snapshots of their own, sometimes using a cell phone or other simple camera. Unless you are a trained photographer, this is very unlikely to provide good results, and the quality of your finished project is directly dependent on the quality of your photography. When faced with the choice of professional stock photography vs. poor custom shots for a project, we almost always choose professional stock photography.

Hiring a professional photographer to capture images that are specific to your business, the area you serve, and the products or services you offer provides a multitude of benefits. You will have invested in a large pool of relevant, high-quality photos tailored directly to your needs, and you can use these for years to come.

Need custom photography services in the Pittsburgh–State College area?

Whether you need product shots, portraits or other custom images for your project, our photographer will work with you to capture a look that ideally fits your campaign. We can set, stage, light and capture scenes within your workplace, aerial photography of your business, products in motion and so much more.

View our online photography portfolio.