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Stock Photography vs. Real Photos: Can’t We Use Both?

Stock photography is the supply of photographs. They are often licensed for specific uses.
Companies and brands use these images as they are often cheaper and faster than working with a professional photographer.
Downloading and acquiring a stock photography image can take minutes. It is then ready for sharing on social media, a website or used within company literature.
Finding a professional photographer, communicating the concept and waiting for the edited images could take weeks.
Stock photography does need effective search parameters. Depending on the concept, finding a related image could take days, if not longer.
Many photographers turn to stock photography agencies in addition to their photography business or freelance work. The right images can offer a steady flow of money.
You can check out our post on making money from selling stock photography here.
The sale of images can range from a few cents to hundreds of dollars. This depends on the content, the stock photography website and the demand for that particular image.
Stock photography, as a trend, became very popular in the last 10 or 15 years. Companies and brands saw the immediate benefit of cutting costs.
As of today, that bubble has burst. Many articles and studies show that stock photography can not compete with real photographic images.
We, as consumers, see past this immense influx of fake images. Many of which come across as being ridiculous and staged.
Generic stock photography images are generic
Don’t get me started with those that convey key words such as ‘business’, ‘team’ and ‘strategy’, the latter helped me find this classic image above.

Why Real Photographs Are Important

MDG Advertising

According to MDG Advertising, 67% of online consumers valued high quality images as being “very important” to their buying decision.
This was somewhat more than “product specific information”, “long descriptions”, and “reviews & ratings”.
Joann Peck & Suzanne B. Shu of UCLA published a study called “The Effect of Mere Touch on Perceived Ownership”.
Here, they found that the clear ownership of the product came from rich and thorough imagery.
Moreover, psychologists Kirsten Ruys & Diedrick Stapel of the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research found that imagery has the ability to affect a person’s mood.
This is true, even when they’re unaware it is happening. In their study, they flashed images across a screen in a way that made it impossible for members to be fully aware of what they were seeing.
Members were then tested on cognition, feelings & behaviour.
In the end they found that the mood of the members reflected the images they were subconsciously exposed to
stock photography images or real photography images are more important than text

Eye Tracking Study

This often quoted eye tracking study from NN also confirms that we spend extra time focused on pictures. This compares to text, when visiting a webpage.
When they tested an “About Us” page that contained thumbnail portraits of each of the members of the team, this is their finding:
“Here, the user spent 10% more time viewing the portrait photos than reading the biographies, even though the bios consumed 316% more space.
It’s obvious from the gaze plot that the user was in a hurry and just wanted to get a quick overview of the FreshBooks team, and looking at photos is indeed faster than reading full paragraphs.”
Eye-Tracking Study on Images By NN

Why You Should Avoid Stock Photography

The Everywhere Girl

Back in 1996, Jennifer Anderson posed for a stock photo shoot shortly after graduating college. This was a time where companies received their stock images on a CD-ROM.
Trouble was, the companies receiving the CDs didn’t have an easy way to verify who else was using the photo. The license for the images was not exclusive – anyone could use them.
Many companies were in fact using the same image. Jennifer became the face of the average college girl in virtually every marketing campaign. The most notorious faux pas was in 2004.
PC competitors Dell & Gateway used photos from the same photo shoot in their “Back to School” promotional material.
Jennifer's replicated stock photography image
It didn’t stop there. Many other companies ended up using Jenn’s photos. Samsung, Microsoft and a series of books about Christianity are just a few.
Online communities started cropping up, dedicated to reporting sightings of this stock photo model around the web.
Below is just a small sample of how frequently photos from this session were used.
Jennifer's replicated stock photography image

Picture Superiority Effect

This is a phenomenon in which pictures and images are more likely to be remembered than words. As it turns out, humans relate more to visuals rather than text.
 
This effect has been demonstrated in numerous experiments using different methods.
 
It is based on the notion that “human memory is extremely sensitive to the symbolic modality of presentation of event information”.
 
What this means is, photographs are very important when conveying your brand or company image. It matters less what you say, it’s more about your choice in imagery.
 
If your images come across as being fake and staged, what does that say about your brand or company or website. This is the first thing people use to connect to your service.

Images are more remembered than words which is important for your choice in stock photography

Better Stock Photography Usage

Step 1 – Complement Your Content

Stay away from those ridiculous images. You know which ones I’m talking about. Men in ties, strained into ‘having a laugh’ is a terrible, overused image.
Or a bunch of hands together in the centre of the image that bring conotations of corporate power rangers. Find something a little more down to Earth.
Stay away from ridiculous stock photography images

Step 2 – See Who Else Is Using That Stock Photo

A great way to check if others (they will) are using the same image is to reverse search an image.
Google uses this handy system. By going to the website or simply right clicking on an image and choosing “Search Google For Image”, you will find where the photo is also in use.
Alternatively, go to Tineye.com. I wanted to see how well this worked, so I conducted my own experiment.
I asked a colleague of mine to give me a generic image people might look for. ‘Cats being cats’ was her reply.
A quick trip to unsplash.com, and a search for ‘cats’ gave me this image:
A generic photograph of a cat can be used multiple times
This image has 200 likes on unsplash, and was maybe the 11th image from the top. A quick TinEye search gave me this:
Tineye reveals how many times this stock photography image has been used
A whopping 71 times, and it wasn’t the most liked image on the site, nor the first I came across.

Step 3 – Check to See if You Can Get a “Rights Managed” License

Rights-managed (RM) stock photography is more expensive. Here, you have a lot of fees to take into consideration.
Usage, media and exclusivity all affect the cost you pay. These images are often of higher quality.
Royalty-free (RF) stock photography is less expensive. These images are free of royalties and available to purchase for a one-time, fixed fee.
You can use an RF image multiple times, and there is no time limit. Royalty-free shots are generally not as well executed as RM shots.
The licensing you choose is important in how many times you can re use the same stock photography

Step 4 – Really Make the Stock Photo Your Own

Many people don’t realise this, but you can tweak free or paid stock photography. This means a coloured image can be converted into a monochrome, or, more effectively, cropping.
This enables you to use stock images, but create your own style. This way, no one uses the same exact image as you do.
Unless they realise it is a stock image and take it from your website.
Tweak your stock photography to create unique content

Conclusion

Basically, your reputation relies on your use of words and images. Familiarity breeds conversions, and users will buy into an idea or product if they believe it.
Generic images don’t sell the idea enough as consumers see through it. They want customised, unique and trustworthy content. These don’t come from stock photography.
We understand that hiring a photographer to create a specific image costs money and takes time. But there is a reason it does.
After a photography session you have a unique image, specific to your company and/or brand. It is something you can use forever, and it will stay unique.
It is bad for both businesses if two competing law firms use the same images. Both lose out on clients that do their research.
Also, it takes time to find those stock images that even come close to being relatable to your concept. They don’t embody your vision and they can also be pricey.
If you are going to use stock photography, use a mixture of both real and stock. Don’t just settle on the cheapest short term option.
The real photographs will help convey trust to the consumers, and the stock photography will save money and beef up your content.

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