July 12, 2010 Off

Stock Photography – A Designer’s Friend or Foe?

By in Design, Review

For art directors and designers, stock photography can either be a friend or foe. There are both upsides and downsides to stock photos, and designers usually have strong feelings towards them. Some ad agencies refuse to use them, and others rely on them completely. Either way, I believe stock photography can certainly be useful if you approach them with a sense of caution.

Stock photography can really help out a designer when time is of the essence. If you’re in a jam and you need a picture of a smiling real estate agent standing in front of a sold sign ASAP, then stock photos are your best bet. Finding a picture that works can be super fast, easy and convenient. Also for smaller ad agencies who don’t have the resources to have a photo shoot every time they’re producing an ad, using stock photos can help cut down on expenses and time.

On the other hand, some stock photography sites have recently raised their prices, so cost savings is no longer a clear cut matter. Agencies should start to wonder if these pictures are worth what they’re paying, and if it might be best to dish out a little extra money to shoot photos themselves. Sometimes stock photos just aren’t good enough, and if you have an important big name client you’re trying to impress, stock photography might not be the best way to it.

Firstly, stock photography that looks like stock photography is a problem. You don’t want to fill your agency’s portfolio with photos that all have a similar look and feel. Especially when that look and feel consists of a politically correct multi-racial group shot with fake smiling faces. Some stock photos are very cliché looking and I totally understand why a designer wouldn’t want to use them.

On top of the corny photos that designers must avoid, the fact is that stock photos are highly overused. This is where you have to be careful. A friend of mine told me about an ad they had mocked up for a client, having chosen the right stock photo and copy for it. They decided to place the ad in the next month’s issue of a publication. Then they saw that publication’s current issue and found that not only was that very stock photo in there, it was being used by their competition. And of course if their ad came after this one, they would’ve ended up looking like chumps.

To avoid the pitfalls of stock photography, you have to spend extra time searching. Don’t try to make your searches as fast as possible; take the extra time to find the right photo. Don’t forget that most designers will be using the photos found in the first batch, and the lesser used photos will be found later on.

When you’re searching, try to not think so literally. Instead of looking for a specific photo, try to think of related and more abstract concepts to search for. Also remember that you have the option of editing and playing with the photos so you can adapt them to your needs.

Even if your agency rarely shoots its own photos, venture out and do it from time to time. It helps your mind to stay fresh and inspired instead of rotting away in the land of stock photography. And when using stock photography is a must, try switching up where you get your pictures from. There is iStockphoto, DreamsTime, Shutterstock, Stockxpert, Japanese Streets, Fotolia, Gettyimages and more.

The important thing when using stock photography is that you don’t sacrifice your creative integrity too much just to save a little agency time and money.

About: Ian:
Hi, I'm Ian T. I'm a York grad and a copywriter for Eden Advertising. I'm the master of procrastinating. I like to use parentheses (sometimes). I love the LCBO because wine makes me happy. I don't blog, I capture moments in time.

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