The proliferation of cheap, accessible stock photography has been an amazing boon over the years to content producers. However, it's also produced an unintended side effect: everyone's sites, posts and emails look the same. Worse yet, they look disingenuous.
Here are three ways to overcome the pitfalls of stock imagery overuse. Yes, they all cost money or time (see the Venn Diagram of Getting Sh!t Done), but in the long run, they're worth it.
While looking at other websites in a client's industry, one particular thing stood out: they almost all used stock photography. And they almost all looked the same because of it. Yes, we have somewhat of a jaded view on this type of thing, but seriously—the same (but slightly different) mix of "diverse business people" popped up on page after page. Our client said, "None of those are their people." It was pretty obvious, even though we didn't know their competitors.
Here are a few things you can do to phase out the overuse of stock photography or blend it better with your own imagery so there's not such a stark difference:
1. Budget for Ongoing Photography
You're probably not paying a lot for stock imagery, but take what you are spending on it (plus more, if needed) and hire a good photographer for a session in your workplace. Don't focus just on people, but get equipment, products, clients or customers. Make sure you capture wide shots that can be used on web, as well as close shots that can work for thumbnails.
Most photographers these days will sell you all of the imagery, or edit just the ones you want. Schedule a second shoot for later in the year to capture things that have changed or been added, including new staff. When you get the images, spend time organizing them in folders by type—you'll be grateful you did when you aren't searching for IMG-7081.jpg in 10,000 files someday.
2. Buy Places, Not Faces
Ok, maybe you can't get all new photography, but you do need things that represent your industry, or your message. If you're marketing a technology company, focus on small elements—colorful cabling that symbolizes connectivity, or an image of a piece of equipment your clients recognize as a part of your industry. Rather than having "Smiling Professional Business Woman #4827" be the intro to your business, create imagery that represents the industry/ies you serve.
Here's an example of a cool site that is in an industry absolutely rife with horrid stock imagery. Instead of using stock photography of people shaking hands or "business people at a conference table" (actual search terms on stock sites), we created web sliders that were interesting and added a little animation to make them more dynamic.
3. Mix it Up
Not ready to cancel your istock.com account? Ok, try this: when you have to use stock photography (say, for confidentiality reasons, that it doesn't make sense to photograph clients), try adding color tone, a filter or de-saturating the stock and your own photos so they work together. A "color wash" can equalize the stock and your own imagery, and make it look a little less obvious.
Stock photography has made life a lot easier for everyone, but using it makes you blend into a crowd. While the suggestions above can take time and money, we know from experience that they're worth it.
"What if an employee leaves and we have their picture on our website?"
Pretty simple: change it. And if it isn't that important, and the former employee is cool with it, you can leave it, as long as it isn't a primary image. (Reminder: always have everyone sign a release. Get one here.)
The Team Photo Quandary:
Team photos are really helpful when you are trying to convey your culture, the size of your team, etc. But they can quickly go out-of-date when someone leaves. Take the example of the de Novo team below. We shot these photos and then compiled them in "snapshots" so we could include our current intern, and then swap his or her photo out when the new intern starts. New photos can be edited to reflect the same coloring as the other photos, and easily be replaced.
Need some help?
de Novo offers imagery services that can help your company stand apart from your competition and better convey your own value and differentiation. Get in touch and let's create something that makes your audience take notice.