Bespoke photography vs. stock imagery: our surprising winner

Bespoke vs Stock photography

Scott West

Studio Manager

Posted on December 21, 2015

Images are powerful communication tools. They bypass distraction and disinterest, storming through our brain’s processing systems 60,000 times faster than text. Get it right and you could tell a story about your brand, or sum up an emotion, fact or message in one attention-grabbing glance.

We’ve talked about the usefulness of financial infographics previously on our blog, but chances are, it is photographic image use that’s most likely to form part of your day-to-day work. Text without a picture just looks dull and impenetrable, so almost every time we produce a piece of content, we’re left with the need for a photo.

Every designer and marketer is used to the routine of scrolling through libraries of images trying to find or manipulate the right one. How successful they are depends on a number of things, not least the effort of the designer – we all know an “I ran out of time and picked the first vaguely appropriate image” stock photo job when we see one.

Are stock photos really our best option? On the other hand, could broadening out our image use into bespoke photography provide a genuinely viable alternative?

Let’s put them head to head.

Using stock imagery – pitfalls and opportunities

Stock imagery is quick to get hold of, accessible, hugely varied and if you need to keep a handle on your budget, you only ever need to pay for exactly what you need. It is also, however, often awful, inducing the kind of eye rolling that is never good for a brand’s image.

There’s no getting away from it – you get what you pay for with stock imagery. Cheap, readily available options are often clichéd and generic, more just a space-filler than communicating anything of meaning.

They also rely on a discerning purchaser. It’s not enough to let someone loose on a stock photography site and hope for the best – you need to put the searching and purchasing decisions in the hands of someone who knows what’s they’re doing and who knows what to avoid.

Buy a photo that’s too small, and if you try to enlarge it, you’ll be left with a poor quality, grainy image. You also need to know your way round conditions of use. Even I’ve had the disheartening experience of finally finding a perfect image and then realising we can’t use it or edit it for the purpose our clients intended.

What’s more, the good stuff doesn’t come cheap. To buy a high quality, large image that’s unusual, a good match for your brand, and not likely to be used by your competitors, you’re going to have to be prepared to pay for it.

Bespoke photography – an unexplored alternative?

The glaringly obvious benefit to bespoke imagery is that you’re guaranteed a unique photograph, which will stand out and communicate something meaningful and creative – even exciting. With good direction, you can create a whole portfolio of images that perfectly matches your message, controlling colour, themes, locations, and the people in them. And you’ll be left with images that are yours, and that you can use however many times and for whatever purpose you wish.

The bad news is you’ll mostly likely have to hire someone to produce these kind of images for you, and pay them appropriately to do so.

But is that the end of the argument? We don’t think it is.

Two underappreciated benefits of using bespoke photography are that it is, surprisingly, often a cheaper option than using stock, and secondly, you may not always need to hire someone to do it.

If you require an image for prominent placement, then hiring a freelancer for the day to capture the shots you need, especially if you want to reflect a particular location, may well work out cheaper, or, at least, no more expensive than the quality stock equivalent. You could end up with dozens of themed images that you can use creatively rather than paying for just one, restricted-use photograph.

Even for day-to-day use, bespoke photography may offer potential. By purchasing a decent camera for your office and commandeering someone in your team with good amateur photography and editing skills, you may be surprised how many useful images you can produce in-house.

Our choice

We take the attitude at Talisman that if we can’t do something, we should learn how, so we’ve invested in developing our photographic capacity, building up our skill and purchasing lighting and a few backdrops and tools. This has proved brilliantly valuable for our own use but also increasingly for our clients’. We’ve been able to shoot personnel for websites and produced pack shots for our literature, and we’re aiming to expand this in the future.

So, in conclusion, yes, clicking through to a stock site, especially if you know how to use them well, is often likely to prove unbeatable for speed and ease. But always bear in mind that it’s not the only option.

Could your organisation look to grow their bespoke photography capabilities?

Who knows – maybe with some learning and development, we could finally see an end to anonymous suits shaking hands on our computer screens, and generic cityscapes illustrating our financial products.

I think we’d all agree that would be a relief.