Tailor-made vs. Off-the-rack: The Pros and Cons of Stock Photography

The use and availability of stock photography have exploded over the last 30 years. Today, with a plethora of stock-image sites, you’ll find an infinite selection of images and illustrations. And every industry from cottage to corporate has taken to stocking up on stock photography as a viable way to tell their story and show off the goods.

Having said that, we thought we’d throw out a few pros and cons on using pre-fab photos, as well as expose some classic shots that will no doubt make you shutter.

The Pros of Using Stock Photography

It’s fast: In the time it takes for a photographer to set up the lights, you could already have the shots you need. If you need to whip up a website or build a brochure in a flash, you have a bazillion choices—ready to go and right at your fingertips. Just pick a site (like istockphoto, shutterstock, dreamstime or getty images just to name a few), pick your shot and download. Boo-yah, you’re done.

It’s cheap: OK, it sounds like we’re ragging on the professional photographer, but still…if you’re on a budget, stock is a great option, especially if you buy in bulk. And depending on the site, most images start as low as $10 a pop.

The quantity: From crappy clip art to Polynesian palm trees, there is literally no limit to the selections of stock images. Go on, pick a subject, any subject. Then look it up. We promise you’ll not only find it, but about 20 variations of it as well.

The quality: Most sites are pretty picky when it comes to their pics—and require that each pass a certain standard on color, lighting, resolution and more. Whatever your selection, odds are it’ll be up to snuff.

The Cons of Stock Photography

The restrictions: While there are limitless choices, there are limits to what you can do with ‘em. Some are strictly for editorial use, and not for advertising. Some can be used in print but not in broadcast. And obviously, using a photo as an example of buyable merchandise is frowned upon. Bottom line? Most images are either royalty-free—or a royal pain.

Lack of exclusivity: The fact that you can find it and buy it means so can everyone else. And while you can purchase a rights-managed license in your market, the same photo in another market is still up for grabs. So if you’re looking to be unique, do your homework first, otherwise, people will wonder how that same “doctor” in Philly can work for another clinic in Spokane.

Lack of originality: Stock photo websites stock their website with images that’ll be used by the largest number of people. Which means a LOT of shots are generic and clichéd. If you need to illustrate a big concept, you’re golden. If you want individuality, you’re sunk.

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