June 9, 2017
Taking Stock of Stock
By Adam Schneider
The age of the stock photo site has created quite a conundrum for designers. While these images are readily available and can be had for a decent price, they are often gimmicky or just plain wrong and not at all what the creative had in mind. That’s an aside to the fact that the same photo could be used by any number of people—including competitors.
I was once involved in a project for a major consumer credit card company. We were working with them on rebranding their print materials, which was a long and deliberate process. At one point during a competitive audit, I remember sitting in a large conference room with direct mail pieces and brochures that had been pinned to the walls. All the major bankcards were represented, but you could hardly tell the difference from one brand to the next. This was largely because all the photos looked alike. Sometimes the exact same photo was used for two different brands. Imagine lots of shiny, happy people enjoying life to the fullest as they look at their laptop screens, or use their credit card in bright, but vaguely European retail environments. Sample cheesy eyecandy included for your enjoyment.
Even so, stock photography has come a long way over the years in terms of quality, and the sheer number of images that are available. Like any tool or resource, stock photos can be used for good or bad.
As we continue to strive to deliver the best for our clients, we typically use stock photography as an aid in the creative process. Stock images play a role in helping us mock-up the visuals that give form to a concept. In doing so, we invariably end up compositing multiple images, along with a lot of editing. These visuals are rarely ready for prime time, but go a long way to explaining visual direction or creating a mood. These mock-ups are meant to be a catalyst for the conversation and not the final solution to the problem.
It is imperative when it comes to work produced in the commercial space that the creative is original and unique to the creator. Creative that is unique to a client and/or project allows for more freedom to clearly communicate your brand’s message with a style you can own. And isn’t that what it’s all about? We want brands to stand apart from each other and be unique in their offerings. So once an idea is accepted, it’s ideal to illustrate, design, photograph and create without the limitations of canned images. The work will take on a personality of its own and the brand will be better off for it.