You’ve seen the image: A white-haired couple walking along the beach, holding hands, and laughing. They look vaguely familiar — not enough that you can identify them, but just enough to conjure a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. Are you buying it? Me neither.
Why isn’t that image giving us the warm, fuzzy feelings it’s intended to? It’s because those types of stock images have oversaturated the market. They’re intentionally generic, and they’re designed for the masses — and nowadays customers can spot them a mile away. Bad stock images — and there are a lot of them — have become the subjects of memes, snarky blogs and gifs. It’s not surprising then that these images are failing to connect with customers.
Stock Images can be overused
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s one case study that tested two versions of a custom photo against a stock image on a website. The custom images led to 45% more leads than the stock photo. Here’s another test where a company received a 34.7% lower clickthrough rate when using a stock image.
But website performance isn’t the only issue. When you use stock photography, you’re trying to match your unique brand to someone else’s vision. I can’t count how many times I finally found a stock image only to have to nix it because one element wasn’t right. Was it good enough? Maybe. But my goal isn’t “good enough.”
Every client has a style that their brand needs to follow — a personality they want to communicate to their audience. So when I do a custom shoot for a client, I’m looking at every detail from hair and makeup to props and lighting and tone. Even a fly-away hair has the potential to send a message a client may or may not want.
I find it helpful to create a mood board, a guide to make sure the photographer, stylists, and lighting techs that I’ve carefully commissioned know the goals of the shoot and what the photos must accomplish. Then during the session, I have the photographer linked to a laptop so we can see the images in real time and make the adjustments necessary to get what we need. That’s the kind of detail you can demand with custom photography that’s missing in a stock image.
And here’s the other thing about custom photography: it’s cost-effective. Sure a photo shoot itself is more expensive than a single stock image. But taken over time — one photo shoot can generate enough images to cover many instances when you would otherwise buy stock — the incremental costs diminishes, and the payoff is huge.
So at the end of the day, is stock to be avoided at all costs? Not necessarily. It just needs to be used sparingly and with caution. The photos you use send a message to potential customers — and you want that message to be that they can trust you with the details.