We live in a fast paced world. I’m sure this isn’t new information to you. We process what we need to and the rest falls by the wayside. Because so much can be said with the right photo, we often rely on photography to get the point across at a speed that words just can’t. This is, inherently, the reason for the popularity of Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, and why Facebook has put such an emphasis on photos as well.

When selecting imagery for a project, you only have a few choices: you can shop for stock photography, you can take your own photos, or you can hire a professional photographer. You should not, under any circumstances, do an image search at Google for suitable imagery, but that’s an entirely different article on copyright law and licensing.

If you are, yourself, a professional photographer, you probably aren’t reading this article. You likely know why professional photography is fantastic and are rarely going to seek out stock artwork. There are, however, still times when stock just makes sense. For the sake of this article, let’s assume you need to make a decision between stock photography and hiring a professional photographer.

When To Use Stock Photography

Stock photography is great. The intent of this article is not to sway you into dogmatically deciding that you should always hire a professional photographer.

The Benefits

Some benefits to using stock photography include:

  • the ability to gather photos from multiple locations
  • possibly stick to a lower budget
  • find a diverse collection of people in a variety of different ages, genders, and nationalities

When choosing stock photography for your project, consider the style of your photos and their intended uses. Multiple sizes are generally available for any given photo, so make sure to purchase a size that will work for your current need and any future uses.

The one benefit that a professional shoot just can’t offer is instant gratification. There will always be times when you just can’t afford to wait for a professional shoot. In that case, you are left without a choice and should use stock photography.

The Pitfalls

While there are a seemingly endless number of photos to choose from across stock photography sites, there are generally a handful – for any theme – that are the best of the best. Unfortunately, these can often be seen on any number of websites across the web and print pieces in the real world. Make sure to look at download statistics (and your competitors’ projects) to see whether you, too, are just one of many using the same photos.

As with anything else, stock photography can quickly become obsolete. Selecting photos with people in period-specific clothes, or with a outdated hairstyle, can quickly render the photo useless.

In general, stock photography can be great, but it can also look forced. Use stock photography to enhance the content around it and not as the centerpiece to your brand or message. Stock imagery might be cheaper, but you have to ask yourself “is that the impression you want to leave about your brand?

When to Hire a Professional Photographer

Always. Not really. As promised, the intent isn’t to persuade you to always hire a photographer, but there are many reasons why you should.

The Benefits

Hiring a photographer for a professional shoot has many benefits. First and foremost, you’re in control. You can set the scene, determine the mood, accurately represent your brand, and shoot the photos that match your projects, not bend the project to fit the photograph you could find.

Good photography emits emotion. It also begets emotion. Stock photography, in general, doesn’t deliver. When you hire a photographer, you can tell your story. You can be intentional and you can create a genuine experience.

In the end, hiring a photographer provides the opportunity to deliver a message through photography that a collection of stock images just can’t.

The Pitfalls

The single greatest hesitation we hear to hiring a photographer has to be the cost. In some cases, the associated costs can be a deal breaker, but there are so many great photographers available that there really is a professional for every budget. In addition, purchasing enough large photography from a stock website could be just as costly over the course of a project.

The only true downside to hiring a professional photographer – unless you’re willing to spend a few bucks – is the limitation on variety. A photo shoot at a location can really only portray that location and the people in it. The variety that stock photography offers can’t be matched (at the same cost) as a professional photo shoot. This might not always be a bad thing though, as a shoot on location still offers a great level of brand consistency.

The Final Call

Both purchasing stock photography and hiring a professional photographer have their benefits and pitfalls, but the bottom line is this: for the sake of your brand’s consistency, delivering a powerful and genuine message, and avoiding duplication (now or in the future) of a competitor’s artwork, you should always consider the possibility of hiring a professional photographer first.

In cases where the imagery needs to be obtained quickly, or only needs to be used as support for the content of the project, there are many great stock websites available that will deliver a variety of images at a reasonable cost.

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