Why You Should Never Use Stock Photography on Your Website

Grant Epstein

Why You Should Never Use Stock Photography on Your Website

When building your website, it is important to only select components that will positively impact the objectives of the website. One aspect of a website where this is especially true is photography. During a recent client meeting, I talked about the value that custom photography will bring to their new website and why the initial higher cost was well worth the investment in the long run. Below are the top five reasons why custom photography is preferable over using stock images.

1. Your vision versus someone else’s vision

No matter how professional the stock photo, it will always be someone else’s vision and someone else’s interpretation of the idea, concept, emotion, etc. that you are trying to convey. As the old adage goes, “a picture is worth a 1000 words.” When it comes to your website, why would you want those words to be someone else’s? With custom photography, you have control over what thoughts and emotions your website conveys. From a marketing perspective, that is HUGE. Regardless of whether it is a personal purchase decision or one for business, emotions and feelings always have an impact on decisions, even if it is a small impact.

For a company specializing in Medicare supplemental insurance, we wanted a photograph portraying an agent visiting a senior couple at their home. We also wanted prominent brand and car placement.  Where can you find a stock picture that could accomplish this?

Here is another way to think about it. Remember back to your last vacation. Think about the amazing experiences you had and the memories and emotions brought back by looking at the pictures you took. Are you there? Great, now do you think you would be reliving so those same experiences and emotions if you were looking at someone else’s pictures? No way, not happening. And that is why custom photography beats stock photography when it comes to evoking the right thoughts and emotions. Stock photography, for lack of a better term, is “someone else’s vacation photos.”

2. Original versus same-old, same-old

One of the greatest benefits of custom photography is that it presents you with the opportunity to show visitors something they have never seen before.  When potential customers visit your site for the first time, their immediate reaction should be “WOW.”  One sure-fire way to do that is with original photography that immediately shows them something they have never seen before, especially not at your competitions’ websites.  This will go a long way to helping establish your own, unique identity and promoting the image of your company that you want in visitors’ minds.  With stock photography, that is just not possible because stock photos are used over and over again.

When designing a website for artists, we could have certainly used any stock photography.  Instead, we secured permissions to shoot at Chicago's renowned House of Blues to produce original shots not to be found anywhere else.  Which do you think is more effective?  

3. Short-term cost versus long-term cost

Obviously, hiring a professional photographer will have larger initial costs than using stock photos. And yes, there are additional expenses such as models or having your employees away from their desk while participating in a photo shoot. But, there are also many indirect costs associated with stock photos that go beyond the licensing fee (which can be quite high depending on the quality of the image and how often you want to use it). You also have the time costs of scouring through hundreds, and potentially thousands, of photos to find the “perfect photos” for your website. Additionally, when you use custom photography, you build a library of images that you own and can use in perpetuity. With stock photography, there are often limitations on how you can use the image and for how long.

When designing a website for the Village of Glenview, we worked with a local photographer to produce breathtaking seasonal images that the Village can use the year-round, not only on the upcoming website, but on any other marketing materials.  Would generic stock photography offer the same benefits to the client?  

4. The Perfect Pictures versus “Good Enough”

Before you select your images, before you even start thinking about your vision for your new website, you have (or should have) done market research to identity the goals/objectives for your website, the messages and emotions you want to convey, and the actions you want visitors to take when on your website.

One of these pictures shows Intechnic's creative team…. well... being creative. Another is a generic stock photo. Can you tell which one is which?

With custom photography, you are ensured that you will have photos that are perfect for your website and your message. While the cost of going the custom route will be higher in the short-term, the benefits of a more impactful website that produces better results will far outweigh those costs in the long-term. In fact, a less impactful website will cost more as time progresses through lost opportunities and sales. Even if you find stock photos, they will only likely be “good enough” and not truly match your company and your message. With respect, in this regard “good enough” is neither. Not when it comes to your website and certainly not when it comes to the success of your business.

5. Immediate connection versus “Yeah right, pal”

Think about the last time you visited a website and clicked on “Customer Service,” “Contact Us,” or something similar. Was there a picture of a customer service agent? Did it look like the person actually worked for the company, or could you tell right away that it was a generic, stock photo? Think about how you would have felt if you had seen a picture of the person who was assisting you. How much better do you think you would feel about that experience if it was? One of the young ladies pictured below is presently the “Customer Service” representative on over 40,000 websites. I would bet that you have seen her on quite a few websites yourself. When I see her, or people in similar photos, my first thought is, “Right, I am so sure she works for this company.” While it is ultimately the responsibility of your team to establish that personal connection, actual photos of your team members versus generic photos like this certainly lays the groundwork for such a connection. Imagine the sense of trust and reliability that could have been established if these companies had used pictures of their actual employees, rather than a picture that bore no resemblance to their employees or their company?

One of these ladies is Kristina - Intechnic's own Project Manager. The other young lady is from a generic stock photo featured on countless websites. Can you tell which one is which?

So when building your new website, remember that small savings now could very well have a much greater cost down the road.  Using stock images over custom photography is one of those areas.  If you want to learn more about the cost of a new website and what to expect given your budget, we encourage you to read our recent blog, How Much Should a Website Cost? Free Consultation   We Design the World's Best Websites  & Solve Business Problems  Let's Discuss Your Project