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Portland photography for local shops | 4 Reasons Why Stock Photos Don’t Help Your Small Business

You might have a hard time justifying the cost of professional photos for your business, at first. It’s true that it is an investment, and you might also think, “why pay for a photoshoot, when I can just spend a few bucks on stock photography from one of those stock photo web sites?” Thing is, there are actually some good reasons for why you shouldn’t buy stock photos to represent your work.

Stock photography doesn’t communicate what you do.

Kine Fischler performs a Moxa treatment

Translating what you do into a visual isn’t always the easiest thing. You’re a small business owner, you like to provide something unique, and maybe you’re even giving each client a boutique-level experience, with a lot of communication and thoughtfulness. Drilling that down into a photo is something that a personalized photoshoot can do, where a stock photo might not.

It’s especially tough when you provide a service, because you might provide something so unique that appropriate stock photos don’t exist yet! I previously photographed naturopath and acupuncturist Kiné Fischler doing a Moxa treatment, and I didn’t even know what Moxa entailed, before seeing her perform the treatment, so it was pretty eye-opening to see it happen, and we were able to capture in an authentic setting by shooting in her own treatment room.

Stock photos lack authenticity.

Speaking of authentic settings, authenticity is easily one of the most important aspects of your branding. If you’re using a photo on your web site, on a business card, in a brochure, it needs to communicate what your business is about. If you’re a small and locally-run business, you probably take a lot of pride in building a personal relationship with each person you work with, and investing your own time in addressing your clients’ concerns, one-on-one. You might say, in other words, that you give great customer service.

Authentic? Eh, not so much.

With that in mind, does the idea of a phone bank, manned by dozens of perfectly-coiffed people on high-tech headsets, waiting for customers to call in with their questions sound like the right type of photo to represent what you do, or how you serve your clients? No, of course not. And, yet, that’s the kind of photo that’s likely to come up, when you search for “customer service” on a stock photo site. And really, what are the first descriptors that come to your mind, when you look at a photo like that one? I’m pretty sure, “authentic,” isn’t one of them.

Stock photos may not tell the right story.

You know the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and well, it’s true: photos aren’t just placeholders or decorative trappings for your web site! They tell a story. Photos have a way of creating a feeling, communicating an experience, defining a style or philosophy, in a way that no number of words can.

The story of you and your work is unique, and a personalized photoshoot can help you tell that story. When you invest in your own photos, you also buy yourself the opportunity to tell your story completely, and capture your audience and your clients. You can even recreate real situations that show more about what you do! With stock photos, however, you’re stuck sorting through millions of shots for a not-so-great approximation of that.

Who else is using the same stock photo?

The advantage of investing in your own business photos is that, once the photos are shot and delivered to you, they belong to exactly two people: you, and (sometimes) the photographer. You know that nobody else will be using the same photos to promote themselves. With stock photography, you don’t have that kind of control, because stock photos are available for anyone to buy, and you have no way of knowing who else bought the same photo.

That leaves room for some decidedly un-good issues. Maybe someone else in your market, or even one of your direct competitors, is using the same photo. Maybe you’ve chosen one of the most popular photos, and that same photo is being used by all kinds of companies who have nothing to do with what you do. Or, even worse, that photo could be used by someone whose practices you don’t agree with or don’t want to be associated with. If someone comes to your web site and sees a stock photo that they’ve seen somewhere else, you lose out on authenticity points, and you might leave your potential customers questioning who you are and what you’re really about.

Choose the right photographer to capture what your business is about, and you win! The initial investment will be higher than a stock photo, but the quality, the authenticity, and the uniqueness you get with those photos are all invaluable and absolutely worth it. Contact me about your small business photography needs, and I’ll hook you up with awesome images that are perfect for you.

4 Comments

  1. I’ve noticed this frequently with Groupon and similar services. It seems like every time there is an offer for a massage, it’s either the stones-on-the-back photo or the hands-holding-a-flower photo. It makes me less interested in the company.

    Good post. Very practical advice.

    • I’ve noticed it there, too, and it definitely takes away from the impression the company makes with their offer.

  2. I stuggle with finding the right image. I want to use images to dress up my blog post, yet they can be expensive and it is hard to find good one. Any advice?

    • It’s definitely a challenge to find appropriate photos for things like blog posts–I run into that problem when I blog about web issues! I don’t think it’s quite as critical to have original images for blog posts (unless you’re a photographer like I am), but for your main web site, it’s definitely worth investing in your own photography.

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