Stock vs commissioned photography | The gloves are off

What makes a successful brand image?

What makes a successful brand image?

We want to talk about using authentic images for your brand messaging. It’s sooooooooooo important to really think about the images that are representing your company. Let’s start off with this quick Vanity Fair video, featuring Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke’s newfound passion for workplace-stock photos, to give us a giggle and explain it from her point of view…


There is no doubt that stock shots are getting better. There is a huge selection online from a whole host of stock image sites and some of them free of charge, hosting good photos from benevolent amateur and professional photographers. We don’t want to condemn generic online-stock photography – it definitely has its place in the world of illustration but we’re increasingly noticing the irrelevant and thoughtless use of stock images on company websites.


Let me explain…


We, as customers are initially attracted to products, assets or services for a whole host of reasons, one of them being a company’s visual content: how the product looks or how the company presents itself to its customer via its marketing presence online and in print. Authenticity is key and in this time of fake news and the overwhelming social media barrage of photos, gifs and memes, we, the consumer, need reassurance that we are buying an authentic product or service. And, let’s face it, we buy with our eyes.


We create still and moving images for loads of companies, large and small. Regardless of size, we believe brand integrity is everything and if they are working with a commercial photographer like McAteer Photo, it means that they think so too.


So why do companies chose to use generic stock photography to represent their brand?

  • Cost – sometimes it can be cheap or even free;
  • Choice – there are gazillions of stock photographs available on the web;
  • Convenience – there it is online and suddenly there it is downloaded on your laptop. Bingo!


But on the flip side…

Cost – it can often be cheaper to commission than to buy stock (from the big-named libraries at least) and free is not always best value;

  • Choice – commissioning photography gives infinite possibilities;
    • Control – you have complete control of styling, lighting and how your image will look.  You can compose the people or objects in scene or frame the image in a particular way to allow for overlay copy text and logos or cropping to suit the shape of your collateral. You can manipulate the image during post-production and incorporate effects in keeping with your brand guidelines. You have control over how the image is used and where the image appears;
  • Convenience – having agreed in advance what it’s going to be used for, who is going to use it and for how long. So there is no need to worry about usage rights, how the image is allowed to be stored or shared or a whole host of other restrictions that accompany a stock photograph or video if you care to read and abide by the usage rules! Usage and copyright infringement is a very serious matter;
  • Future-proofing – your commissioned images will have a longer shelf-life than stock photography which often follow visual trends and can quickly look dated. In addition, it is much easier to add to or refresh content if what you are trying to match is peculiar to you in the first place;
  • Authenticity – your commissioned photo is unique to you.


Here is a tweet from Now This reporting on an example of inappropriate use of stock footage – by guess who?



Stock shots are easy to spot. That’s not always a bad thing but if the content or the look of the image doesn’t fit with a company’s brand guidelines that can be a real turn off for the consumer – even if they can’t quite place their finger on why an image doesn’t work, they will know it doesn’t quite ring true so brand integrity is questioned and trust could be lost.


Remember that unless you agree (and pay) for exclusivity you can never guarantee where a stock shot will appear so your lovely receptionist may also feature on 200 other company websites as their lovely receptionist or the elderly couple who you are using to portray a happy, positive message may well be featuring on a site that is relaying a sad, negative message. Using stock shots that you have no control over is always a gamble.


It may well be the case some or all of your staff don’t want to appear on your company website and that has to be respected. It doesn’t mean however that you have to abandon plans to commission your own photography. Casting and model agencies or even your personal contact book are great sources of potential stand-ins and you can choose ‘real’ people based on the make-up of your staff role or your client demographic to keep your images personal and credible. But do go and have another look at Emilia and Vanity Fair’s take on corporate stock photography styling ’cause that’s what you don’t want to be doing. 😊


To sum up, it’s common sense: accurately representing your brand with credible visual content will go a long way to starting that relationship with your customer on an authentic footing.


Here are some McAteer Photo shots that have proven successful for our clients: