Pros and Cons of Using Real Photography in Graphic Design

Nicole Krosnowski

Senior Designer

Did you know that images increase a person's willingness to read a piece of content by 80%? That’s no small bones! Not only will a person be more interested in looking at your content, but also they will be 65% more likely to remember the information three days later if your image relates to the content. If you don’t include a relatable image, that same reader is likely to retain only 10% of the information.

Knowing how important images are to marketing, it’s no surprise that more marketers are taking the time to add a graphic to their articles and blog posts.

Oh, if only things were that easy, however.

Not all images are created equal. Just because you’re adding images to your blog posts does not mean that they are doing you any favors.

You’re probably thinking, “It’s stock photography that’s to blame, isn’t it?” Stock photography has gotten a bad rap over the years among graphic designers. And some of their concerns are warranted. There’s a whole lot of bad stock photography out there that can be spotted a mile away. And if they’re noticed, it makes the content look cheap right off the bat. But not all stock photography is the same, and it is possible to find meaningful, relevant, quality images.

The Cons

First, let’s discuss what graphic designers don’t like about stock photos.

We’ve all seen them before.

Stock photos aren’t custom, so there’s always a chance that they will be seen on another site. In fact, some stock photos are used across multiple sites in the same industry and have been used to the max. I know I’ve come across the same old woman and caregiver in many healthcare articles. They almost feel like family to me now.

There is a problem with this, however. When I visit a respite care provider that uses the same photos as another site I visited, I know that these people do not represent their care recipients or staff. This makes me feel disconnected from the company. It also makes me feel less trusting of them. If these aren’t real people in their photos, then what else is not real?

To avoid this from happening, some companies prefer not to use real people in their photos. They choose stock photography that is more generalized in nature, but this leads to another problem…

They’re overused and cliched.

Many of the stock photos available are cheesy and predictable. Want to discuss diversity, multiculturalism or business partnerships? Expect to see photos with ethnic flags and rainbows, globes and close-up handshakes. These photos do not accurately represent the brand and the features that make it unique. Instead, the marketing materials end up looking just like everyone else’s. What’s the fun in that? And while blending in is good in high school, it’s not in the marketing world. You need your marketing to stand out.

...And there’s license restrictions.

Not only is stock photography overused and sometimes lazy, but also there are license restrictions to think about. When you purchase a stock photo, you need to be aware of how you can use the photo. Each company has its own restrictions, so you may only be able to use the photo a certain number of times or only with certain marketing materials. Most stock photos cannot be used on merchandise or web templates available for purchase, for example. Always check out the fine print and make sure you are using the photo appropriately.

The Pros

There’s no doubt that there are many limitations to using stock photography, but there are plenty of benefits, too. They include:

  • Affordably priced. When you need an image quickly and for an affordable cost, stock imagery is a great option. You don’t have to pay for the cost of a photographer, models and equipment. And with so many stock photography sites, it’s easy to find a price point that fits your needs.

  • Fast. You don’t always have a lot of time to get your marketing campaign out there. Stock photography is a great choice if you’re working on a short timeline. The only time required is looking for the photo. Once you find the right one, purchase it and voila!

  • Variety. While it’s true that stock photos can be overused, there are millions and millions of photos out there. You can easily find something that fits your content and doesn’t have high visibility. The key is looking beyond the first obvious search results.

  • Quality. It’s possible to find high-quality stock imagery. You will pay more for these, but they do exist. In fact, many sites have high standards for their photos and ensure that they meet certain standards for color, lighting, resolution and more. Plus, you can always view the photo before you purchase it. No need to have buyer’s remorse.

Making Stock Photos Your Own

It’s also worth acknowledging the things you can do with a stock photo. Once you purchase it, it’s yours to do what you want with (within the license restrictions, of course). You should be able to give the photo an individualistic look by cropping it or adding a filter. By doing this, you may even be able to accomplish a fast and inexpensive way to have an image that aligns with your brand and keeps consistent with your other marketing materials.

Also, go beyond the immediate search results and explore alternate keywords and concepts to get a fresh variety of photos. This will require a bit more time on your part, but it will be well worth it. If you search under the same keywords that everyone is using, you’re going to end up with the same photos. And once it’s obvious that your photo is a stock one, visitors may lose trust in your brand.

So is stock photography something you should use or something you should run from?

It depends.

While it’s ideal to use custom images, there are going to be times when stock photos will be the more practical option. And that’s okay. You shouldn’t feel bad about it, but you should invest the time to find the right photo and do what you can to enhance it in a way that fits your brand.

About the Author: Nicole Krosnowski

Nicole is a Designer at SEMGeeks. She is a Jersey girl who loves to “go down the shore” and spend her time at the beach. Nicole is a creative thinker, fueled by iced coffee and innovation. She loves to stay up to date with the latest trends in fashion and technology and uses this as design inspiration. With experience in web design, digital design and advertising, she approaches each project with a designer’s careful eye and a marketer’s strategic thought process.

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