Stock vs Custom Photography


Look around your world and see for yourself. Good photos do matter. In an age of information overload, the images you use on your website, in your brochures, flyers and ad campaigns or even on your business cards do three critical things:

Photos Brand You Fast and Deep

Because photos are dynamic, colourful and personal, many customers remember images in a visceral, almost emotional way. Yet many businesses trust a generic stock photo to represent who they are rather than hire someone to capture the most important aspects of their brand- their visual image. Weigh the pros and cons carefully before you do the same.

Photos Grab and Hold the Attention of Potential Clients and Customers

In a world of thousands of businesses all clamouring for attention, the photographs that stand out, are unique, unusual and special are the ones that catch a consumer’s attention. Are people taking a second look at your photos?

CMBlaw cutom photo

Great shot taken for Crawley Mackewn Brush LLP’s website.

Photos Can Create an Emotional Anchor People Remember and Refer to Forever

If you don’t believe it, think about some of the most memorable images of your lifetime. Most will be news photos because they are unique, memorable and powerful images, but there will images from friends, movies, vacations, other brand campaigns and advertising that you will carry forever.

Photography Sources

There are two main sources of photographs licensed for business use: stock photos and hired photographers. Stock photos are generic photos of people, places and things licensed for commercial use and available to anyone who wants to use them. Hired photographers shoot unique photos that personalize a client’s brand, business and projects.

Benefits of Stock Photography

There’s no doubt about it, stock photos are appealing to many small businesses because they fit tight budgets, are available fast if you’re on a tight timeline, and they’re great for references. But they have a dark side and some serious cons.

Cons of Stock Photography

Reputations and Brand Ruined                                                       

Stock photos aren’t such a great option when your competitor is using the same photos. If you’re searching for stock photos using key words like “happy customer,” or “satisfied clients,” chances are your competitor is too.

Bell and Gateway computers found out the hard way. They bought the same stock image to brand their ad campaign and ended up being ridiculed and humiliated on the internet. See what I mean here. Remember everyone; the internet is forever. The woman from the stock photo is known online as “The Everywhere Girl” just type that into google you’ll quickly see why! She’s even in the Urban Dictionary.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.36.28 AM

“The Everywhere Girl”

False Value                                                                                                

You may save by using stock photography; but then you end up spending those savings on having your designer, spend hours in front of a computer, trying to design around available stock photos that don’t fit the vision, the message or the brand. You can save money and lose value when you only look at the bottom line or the dollar sign. True value is the value your customers see because you’ve invested your money wisely.

Compromised Creativity                                                                               

When you hire a designer based on their portfolio, style and vision, you hire them because you trust them to visually interpret your message and brand. They can’t do that if they’re limited by using stock photography.

  • You wouldn’t hire a chef and limit them to leftovers and week old vegetables and expect the best meal they were capable of producing.
  • You wouldn’t hire a massage therapist and limit the number of techniques they could use to relieve your pain.
  • Don’t hire a designer and limit them to using stock photos.

Sending Mixed Messages?                                                                               

Does any of your marketing copy say ‘customized’, ‘unique’, ‘trustworthy, ‘relationship’? These are some of the power words businesses use to describe their relationship with their clients. How then will these values be translated when you pepper your website with canned stock photography? If you give your clients customized service with unique products, why not treat yourself as well?

Stock Photos are Generic                                                                             

Professional stock photographers try to reach the greatest number of buyers, not to create the best or most unique photo for any given individual.

Stock photographers:

  • Make their money by creating and shooting photos that appeal to the greatest number of buyers. The more popular their photo, the more people buy it and the greater the saturation of that photo in the market.
  • Want to ensure their designs are not unique or one-of-a-kind. One-of-a-kind photos don’t sell. By being as generic and non-descript as possible they appeal to the most business because they “fit” a cliché, mood or message those businesses with tight budgets and no interest in branding want.

If you want your message to your customers to be, “We’re just like everybody else,” then stock photos will send that message.

Pros of Custom Photography

Custom photography is an investment and a reflection of how strongly you believe in your company. Some of the most compelling reasons for choosing customized photography over stock photos are:

Brand consistency                                                                                     

Your brand is the face of your business. Anything you attach to your brand, employees, design, photography and language creates a message about who you are and what you stand for. Custom photography will allow you to embody your message with visual images that are consistent with your values and something that you can truly say ‘that is soooo us! When it comes to your brand, there should be no compromises.


Another shot for CMB law’s website.


When your designer has a vision, there are technical specifications for photographs to ensure the design works. Those specifications include – composition, lighting, texture, color tone, etc. Custom photography gives your designer the tools and the freedom to show what your company, product or people are truly capable of.

One of a Kind                                                                                        

Exclusivity is guaranteed. By hiring a photographer you’ll be the only company with your unique image. Also with a proper usage agreement with the photographer, you can get exclusive perpetual license to use the image in various ways at a very reasonable cost.


Clients and customers are smarter than you think. When your small company hides behind a stock photo of a large team, they wonder what you’re hiding. If your company can boast about business, that’s all the more reason to photograph your staff, plant, office, personnel and show your clients what you’ve really got.

  • A photo of one-to-three real customers talking about, using or demonstrating your product tells a better story than all the stock photos in the world ever could.
  • Real people, places and situations in photos create more powerful word-of-mouth referrals than stock photos can.

Lasting First Impression                                                                             

You gain or lose potential clients in 1-3 clicks of a mouse. New clients always check out your website first. If the website photos and visuals on your homepage don’t invite them to stay and get comfortable, they won’t.

  • Custom photography hooks your client visually; the same way great copywriting hooks them when they read about you. If their interest and curiosity isn’t aroused within those first few seconds, they leave.
  • First impressions are a crucial time to visually engage them and to show them you share a common emotional connection.

Custom photo for CMB law’s website which features the lawyers that represent the firm.

Media Attention                                                                                       

Most businesses don’t realize it, but by using unique photos of your company, personnel and products your photos are more likely to be used in a news or feature article about your company. Magazines and newspapers won’t use stock photos when they write about you. They want real photos. They can’t always send a photographer out to take a news photo, so they will often ask if you have photos they can use instead.

  • When you can provide additional photos to help illustrate an article for a newsletter, news article or other publicity use you’re more likely to be selected or included in the media, including blogs, newspapers, business journals, magazines and even television.
  • By having a variety of photos of your staff as well as production photos or photos of your operation in action, you also increase public interest in your presentations, talks and speeches about your company.


By having a photographer shoot your photos you have the flexibility and freedom to decide what setting, what models, what mood, what colours, what atmosphere and what message you want to send.

  • Specialized photos give your copywriter more leeway for better copy.
  • Specialized photos give your designer more freedom to pursue the vision you both want.
  • You have more opportunities to include customers, spokespersons and real situations, products and events in your shooting-tying your business to your community and your followers, clients and customers.
Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.53.12 AM

Screen shot of Wal-Mart’s use of their employees in their ads.

Photos tell your story                                                                                

Photos tell your story, not everyone else’s story. Years ago, several of the most popular big-box retailers (Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target) began using their own employees in their product ads. They found that customers liked recognizing the staff, or knowing that the company showcased people who actually used and wore their products.

  • Your story is unique, shouldn’t the illustrations be too?
  • If you hit a hole-in-one, scored the winning goal or achieved some goal would you be happy with a stock photo illustrating your achievement? How is your business any less important?
  • We remember movies, stories and events through photos. If the photos are not unique, they’re not worth remembering or paying attention to.

There are many ways to place customized photography on your website or your next marketing brochure for maximum impact. To discuss ideas and see what we can do for you, schedule a free consultation here.

Stay tuned for future articles that will showcase different ways some of our past clients have used their custom photos.