Stock libraries are a great source of inexpensive photographs, with many millions of photographs to choose from, on almost any topic imaginable, and most of very good quality.
There are a few things that you need to keep in mind though:
You have to work in reverse
Designing with stock photographs is a bit backwards. Instead of coming up with a good concept, and creating images around that concept, you have to work in reverse. You start with an image, and then you have to see what you can do with it. This, of course, is not ideal.
Stock photographs are fake
Stock photographs look fake, because they are fake. It is not your people, not your products, and not your business. Used correctly, photographs can be a powerful tool for building trust. Marketers will tell you that when your photographs are perceived to be real, potential customers will see you and your business as more trustworthy. But when there is nothing in the photographs that directly relate to your particular business, people will know that the photographs are fake, and instead of building trust, you will only leave potential customers thinking: What else is not real?
A consistent “look” is an important part of building your corporate identity. If you use a stock photograph, then what are you going to do in future when need additional photographs? It is extremely unlikely that you will ever be able to use the original photographers, models and locations, even if you could find them. So building your brand around a stock photo could severely limit your future options.
Probably the biggest risk with using stock photographs is that more than one company could use the same photograph. One might think that with so many photographs to choose from, it cannot happen. But let me assure you, this happens all the time. And when discovered could be (and often is) a huge embarrassment.
Stock libraries will generally try to sell the same photograph as many times as possible – this, after all, is how they can sell those photographs so cheaply.
Take a look at the screenshot on the right. This company's web page features a photograph purchased from a stock library. The problem is that they did not obtain exclusive rights to this photograph, which means that any other company can purchase this same photo and use it for any other purpose. In this case hundreds of different businesses ended up building their brand around this same photograph.
This is what it looks like:
Not convinced? Scroll down for more…
Tip: When searching for images on a stock website it is advisable to skip the images that appear on the first few pages of the search results. You don't want these. Stock websites usually sort images in order of popularity, with the best selling images appearing first. This in turn only makes the best selling images sell more. You stand a much better chance of getting an image that has not been used by too many other companies by selecting an image further down the search results.
*Some stock libraries do offer the option of exclusive use (so called “rights managed”), but it is considerably more expensive, and makes using stock photography somewhat pointless.
As long as you are aware of the risks, stock photography libraries are a great place to purchase good quality photographs. Below are links to some good stock photography websites:
But please, don't do this to your company: