Can Stock Images Compete with Personal Brand Photography?

I work with business owners to help them enrich their online presence with personal brand photography and from time to time, potential clients will ask me: What do you think about using Stock Photography to hold me over for awhile?

I have some opinions on the matter of opting for stock imagery over personal brand photography– and my guess is that you do too, even if you haven’t realized it before now. For a moment, just think about what happens when you land on a website that is clearly using stock imagery. What initial reaction do you have? Be honest.

Do you click away? Do you internally grimace? Or do you think, “wow– what gorgeous, personalized images this website is using!”

Let me start by saying that recently, a client was looking to use a popular stock photo platform (that shall remain nameless) and she reached out to me for help.

“My stock imagery isn’t cutting it,” she admitted. ” I have tried and tried and I still don’t know how to make it work together. What do you recommend?”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard those words.

For starters, stock photography websites are rather overwhelming. There are countless options, crops, and colors available in any given theme or subject matter. You can easily spend hours scrolling through imagery, looking for just one or two images that speak *somewhat* to what you are looking for ‒ and that you HOPE will also blend in with the other images you source or already have.

But then, even after wasting a frustrating amount of looking for just the right one (imagine scrolling Pinterest but with your business feeling like it’s on the line here)‒ something still seems….off. So, you head back to the drawing board and start the search again.

The thing is, when it comes to your brand imagery, stock photography only gets you so far. 

You might be asking, “what is stock photography?”

Stock photography produces licensed photos that can be used for a specific purpose, used often for digital marketing and advertising. More and more, I see stock imagery used in place of personal brand photography.

Stock images, that are captured and created to serve the masses, can be purchased and downloaded from a number of websites. Often you can find a single stock photo for as little as 49 cents and some sites even give you access to countless choices for a monthly membership fee.  

Two reasons brands initially desire to use stock photography:

When you dig into it, there are two classic reasons people source stock photography:

  1. To Save Time

It seems fast and easy to find an image that works, pay, and click ‘download.’ – that is if you don’t account for how much time you’ll waste trying to find the “right” ones – only to end up settling for “good enough.”

  1. To Save Money

They’re cheap, like really cheap, and shot by professionals with high-quality cameras so you trust that they won’t look blurry or distorted on your website. It seems like a good deal..until you realize how much it’s costing you by turning away potential clients on sight. 

Speak to some people who’ve tried their luck at stock photography, please ask them about their experience with it. Did it get them great results? Save them time? Resonate with their target clients and help them make the sale?

All this to say: If you’ve ever been tempted by the idea of slapping up some cheap stock photography to get you by, you’re far from alone

But realizing the limitations of stock photography is a part of your growth as a brand. And growth is always, always something to get excited about.

Let’s dig into the differences between buying stock photography and investing in strategic brand photography.

You’ll want to kick your stock images to the curb. 

Stock Photography vs Brand Photography: The Real Difference

Both stock and brand photography are both types of professional photography for businesses. But the similarities end there.

While stock images may be cheap and easy to get, the ones you get often either stick out from the rest of your imagery or don’t quite capture your brand the way they should. As my client told me, “Something just feels off.” 

A few reasons why your brand deserves better than generic stock photography:

  • Lack of continuity – Hodgepodging stock images together makes it impossible to match your Instagram feed aesthetic or create continuity on your website.
  • Lack of intention – Stock images are created for the generic masses. Brand photography, on the other hand, is created with your unique value proposition and your ideal client in mind. 
  • Lack of authenticity – However sneaky you think you might be using them, stock images stick out like a sore thumb. People can tell. This can cause potential clients and customers to question your skill or the quality of your product.
  • Lack of your “it” factor – Most importantly, stock images can never help humanize you. People want to see you. Stock images may work in a pinch, but they can never replace the real deal: YOU. 

Think I’m just trying to make you feel good? I have science on my side. 

Using eye-tracking technology, studies have shown that people skip over stock images and ignore stock photos of generic people. Why? Because they want to see real photos of real people  ‒ you know, the ones who actually work for a companythe people they’re actually buying from or looking to work with.

Bottom line: they want to see YOU. 

You’re “it” for them. The special potion. The secret sauce. The spark that ignites a fire under your ideal customers and clients. 

The unmistakable sound of the heartbeat of your business. 

How To Prepare To Invest In Brand Photography

Investing in brand photography means more than creating continuity across your brand, it means building your “like, know, trust” factor and humanizing your brand, so that your ideal client or customer has little to no hesitations working with or purchasing from you. 

When I work with clients, we not only look to create cohesion across your brand and website imagery, but we also try to better tell your story, convey your true value, and we also plan for things like personalized stock photography specifically for your field and goals.

When choosing the best photographer for your brand, you can follow these simple steps:

  1. Browse their body of work. As you go through it, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
    1. Is this photographer specialized in personal brand photography? Brand Photography requires a certain expertise, skills, expertise and experience needed to deliver?
    2. Does their body of work speak to me? Do I like the images?
    3. Am I drawn to the composition and editing style?
    4. Would this photographer’s style suit my needs? 
    5. What does this photographer seem to value? Does it align with my own values?
  2. Look for differences. In the various shoots, do each brand’s qualities jump out? While a photographer will bring their style to each session, brand photography requires collaboration. There should be some style consistencies in the body of work, but there should also be discernible differences among the brands featured.
  3. Talk to the photographer before you hire them. Brand photography is quite personal and your photographer will need details from you to best serve you. For this reason, I require consultations before every booking. It’s important that everyone knows what to expect before entering into a contractual agreement. 
  4. Listen to your gut. Does the photographer give you the feeling that your photo session is just an opportunity to “beef up their own portfolio?” Politely pass if so and find a different brand photographer who is interested in serving you and meeting your brand’s goals.
  5. Ask about the experience. Do you need a high-touch personal brand photo experience where someone will hold your hand and take the reigns for you? Or are you fine with figuring out all the things on your own? Make sure your photographer offers the experience you need (and deserve) from start to finish. If you’re in the Austin, Texas area, be sure to check out the heartfelt brand experience

It’s important to note that stock images are necessary and helpful for most businesses. But intentional and branded stock photography is what you should be after.

This can be part of your personal brand photography experience when you hire the right person and get clear on your goals upfront.

You can see several examples of branded stock imagery above that I created for my clients during their Signature Personal Brand Photography Experience here in Austin, TX. Stock photography should be more than a placeholder. You benefit most when it is thought out and intentional and ties effortlessly into the rest of your visual presence, creating a seamless feel and helping you set yourself apart online by furthering your brand credibility.

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