Unstocking Your Photography - Radiant

The Radiant Blog

Posted by Andrew VanderPloeg

So you're looking for a design firm to help you generate that killer brand identity.

Of course, you start with that new logo. Or perhaps it's a revamp on an existing logo. Either way, the design firm does their due diligence, learns about your brand and then goes off to create rough comps of the new logo. After weeks, if not months, of hard work on the part of your team and the design firm, you arrive at the final logo. All aspects of that mark were thought through: you considered the shapes, the elements of the icon, the fonts on the text and the colors to use. Such a small thing required so much time and effort.

And then you used stock photography on your website and print materials.

If it wasn't already clear, there's definitely a deflated tone associated with that last sentence.

Before I get much further into this though, let me make sure that we all understand what stock photography is in the first place. The best definition I've found thus far is as follows: "[Stock photos] are professional photographs of common places, landmarks, nature, events or people that are bought and sold on a royalty-free basis and can be used and reused for commercial design purposes." (http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/S/stock_photo.html)

Let me be clear, stock photos can be absolutely breathtaking. They are shots that are often taken by absolutely outstanding photographers and as such, their quality can be outstanding. But, no matter how great the images are, at the end of the day, they are still just stock photos - pictures that you have had nothing to do with and likely have nothing to do with you. Yet, as you use them, they become a huge element of your visual brand. That's a challenge if you consider authenticity an important part of effective branding. More-and-more, audiences want to have a relationship with the brands they interact with and those relationships require authenticity.

Of course, many organizations simply can't afford to commission a photographer to shoot a collection of images specific to their organization. But as I say that, I also know that for many of those organizations, it could simply be a matter of never having appreciated the value of commissioned photography and therefore, never having created a budget for it. So what are the things to consider here that might make a budget line for photography worth considering?

1. Stock photos can be used by others. In our history as a brand and web development firm, we see this regularly. Often, one of us at the office will look at a website or a print piece that we come across and recognize portions of a stock photo that they have used or seen used in materials for another firm. That's not a great message for your audience to see. In fact, in some cases, it might even be better to have a lower grade photograph that is authentic, than to purchase a high-quality photo from a stock website that's also going to show up on materials from other organizations as well.

2. Stock photos have limited licenses. Sadly, this is often ignored. But if we were to respect the creative rights and intellectual property of photographers out there, we'd find that these limits can at times be, well, limiting.

3. Commissioned photos are as authentic as it gets. When you send a photographer to shoot images of your work, your product, your service, your people or your customers, you are building a repertoire of images that authentically communicate who you are. 

4. "Commissioned" is a great word because you can break it down to "Co" and "Mission", and really, when you hire a good photographer, that's how it ought to be! When you commission a photographer, you work with them to establish the ground rules of what you want shot and how. As a team, along with your design firm who can weigh in on what they need in order to work well with the images, you send the photographer out with all the tools they need in order to turn your mission into powerful images.

5. It's your story, tell it well!

To cement the idea that commissioned photography is valuable, here's a case study from our own client list:

Recently, we've had the opportunity to partner with Camino Global, a non-profit based in Dallas, Texas. In the last couple weeks, we've finalized their new logo and established the look-and-feel for their stationery. Our next steps are to commence the design of their website and print materials. As such, photography became a major issue to consider. After weighing the factors, Camino commissioned a photographer (Brittany Staddon) to go and capture photos of their work. Here's a sneak peek:

Camino Global Sample Image

I love this shot for a number of reasons. Non-profit work isn't always just about feeding the hungry or providing water to the poor. Kids still play and find ways to imagine as they do. This shot is visually powerful because of that. It gives us a glimpse into the life of a young child playing and imagining. The bright colors not only provide visual impact, but they are indicative of the culture the child is from, as is the sparseness of the walls.

Camino Global Sample 2

As you look at the subject of this photo, it genuinely feels like she's smiling at you. As a result, the shot is incredibly engaging. You don't just feel like you're viewing a picture, rather, you feel like you're being brought into her world for a moment - you connect.

Camino Global Sample 3

Good old black-and-white photography. Although we don't have the impact of color on this shot, the absence of it causes you to focus on other things. The use of depth-of-field to make you feel like you are standing just off the shoulder of the person on the left draws you into the image making you feel like you're there.

All those images were taken directly from places where Camino works. That's authentic and effective story-telling and in turn, effective brand-building.

Consider what commissioned photography would mean for your organization and next time you engage a design project, give yourself the best tools to tell your story to your audience.