As someone who makes his entire living from photography, you might think that I would preach against all uses stock photography. However, I agree that there are definitely good uses as well as bad uses of stock imagery.
Great Uses of Stock Photography
1. Non-Business Specific Usage
Stock photography is very useful and economical when you are producing materials that are not specific to the product or service of your business.
For instance, lets say that you are producing an annual report and want to discuss the company’s finances. Unless the business is a financial institution and/or you are illustrating the people in charge of finances, it does make sense to use stock photography.
2. Mining Stock for Elements
When you need pieces of other images to create photo illustrations or artwork, stock photography is a good choice.
3. Time Machine
Until someone creates a time machine that would allow you to hire someone to go back in time to photograph a historical event, stock agencies are the best source for digging up historical photos.
4. Distant Locations
Using stock images of far away places (especially if they are non-specific to your business) is another great use.
For example, if you are putting on an event with a Parisian theme, you probably won’t have a budget to send a photographer to Paris to get original images for your advertising and decorations. Therefore, go ahead and save your money by purchasing stock photography. That said… just in case you are wondering… if you DO have the money, I would be willing and available to travel to Paris!
Pitfalls of Stock Photography
1. Over Usage
Because stock photography is so cheap and accessible, many other companies are using the same images. When people keep seeing the same image over and over again, they start questioning the authenticity of your entire website or marketing campaign. They will wonder what is really a representation of your company and what is not?
2. Generic Imagery
In order for stock photography to sell to a wide variety of businesses, it inherently needs to be generic. Micro-stock has a very distinctive look that the general public is starting to recognize and tire of. According to studies, when using stock photography potential customers are more likely to ignore your ad or website. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/02/study-shows-people-ignore-generic-photos-online/
While we know that many other companies are using the same images, the question then becomes “Who exactly are they?” It can be embarrassing if you use a photo that is also being used by a company that is a competitor… or worse yet, a company that represents an uncomplimentary product to yours. Don’t get caught with your pants down.
And there you have it. The good, the bad, and the in between…