Stock Photography Can Be a Bad Idea

I was reading an article on the pitfalls of using stock photography recently. Basically a Chicago based online pet business bought a stock photo of a pet to use on their website only to discover:

I bought a stock photo of a dog for my website and it has become our unofficial mascot. Recently, I discovered that another pet site is using the same photo. Can I stop the site from using it?

Unfortunately unless you have an exclusive license or have contracted a photographer to take the photo for you you have no exclusivity to it and anyone can use it. And therein lies the rub. What may seem like a cheap option (stock photos can be bought from as little as $1) can end up being an expensive lesson.

More and more businesses, including large corporates, are going down the stock photography path and are being embarrassed by finding images they’ve used in campaigns being used by competitors, making it difficult for consumers to tell brands apart.

When using photographs in your website or marketing materials it often pays to spend a little money and have them done by a professional photographer. Not only will they look better, you are guaranteed that all the hard work you’ve spent in building and promoting your brand can’t be undone by a competitor simply buying the same image/s and muddying the water.

Uniqueness is important in business – don’t drop the ball by making it easy for others to copy you.

5 thoughts on “Stock Photography Can Be a Bad Idea”

  1. Ello

    We use it in almost all our sites although never in a place where it might be confused as a logo or mascot and I feel that the context matters more then the actual photo itself.
    My favorite would have to be a little girl with a pondering look when a search returns no results, things like that are priceless and really add to the polish of a site and really could only be done with stock photography.
    We use exclusive photography when it is a more personal kind of shot for example a shop front or maybe of the staff etc where they are distinct parts of a business and the logo should always be the most prominent of all the images (which is hard to balance sometimes).

  2. Good points Michael. There are definitely uses for stock photography and I too have used them in client sites. Sometimes simply because their budget does now allow for anything more.

    In the example I gave I’d always prefer to use an exclusive image – purely to ensure the client’s brand can’t be confused with someone else’s who uses the same photo. Most stock photo libraries offer a rights managed options which can also be a good solution.

  3. I`ve been doing some research looking at context, position of images, branding etc and can definately see more where your comming from.
    This has kept me thinking most of the day Sophie so thanks! it’s not often I do much other then be a happy little code monkey.

  4. There is no one size fits all solution for any type of image. while a royalty free stock image may work fine for a newsletter, a rights managed piece may be a better option for a key photo on a web site. Even commissioned work has specific right which you negotiate with your photographer. If you want exclusive use of the image be sure to ask for it, and remember with stock as with everything else in life you get what you pay for. If it only costs a couple of dollars, there’s probably a reason why.

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