Visual Brand Identity: Stock, Royalty Free, or Custom Photos?

I hate saying it, but I see business owners using low-quality, cheesy, repetitive photos in their marketing endeavors.  I'm sure entrepreneurs want to use amazing photos for their business, but the don’t really want to pay for it.  I might be biased since I’m a photographer, but photos are a vital component to branding your online visual identity.  It’s easy for business owners to simply use stock or royalty free photos, but having a photo shoot entirely for your business is far more beneficial.

But before we get there, here’s a brief explanation of the differences between stock and royalty free photos, so you know how to use them if that’s your only option.

    • You pay a fee based on usage
    • The fee is determined on where the photo will be used and for how long
    • Stock photos are often more expensive because the photographer only sells that image a limited amount of times (which means there's less likelihood of it being on your competitors website or promotional materials).
    • When you buy a stock photo, you can only use it for defined useage
      • So let's say you decide to use it elsewhere later (print ad → website), you must renegotiate the fee and pay for more usage rights
    • You pay a flat fee and you can use that photo as much as you’d like
    • Difference in price is usually based on size/resolution
      • Web only use is less expensive than royalty fees for photos that'll be used in print and web
    • Once you pay for the image, you can use it anywhere

The downside to stock and royalty free photos is they can be used by other businesses. That means that there’s a chance your competitor can use the same photo you are…and that may look tacky!

This is why I'm a HUGE proponent of hiring a photographer to shoot custom photos for your business.  And I believe there's a photographer for every budget.

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If you are hiring a photographer to shoot images for your business, here are a few tips to ensure you’re the same page and the shoot is everything you want.  When you email the photographer, be sure to:

  1. State your budget from the outset
  2. List how many people will be a part of the shoot
  3. Itemize how many photos will you need and how will they be used
  4. Share where will the shoot take place
  5. Outline vibe/theme of the shoot
  6. Create a list of detail photos you can use for accent photos on the website
    1. These types of photos are details photos relating to your business
    2. For example: if your company sells bikes, a detail photo could be of the bike seat, a basket on the handle bars, and/or a close-up photo of the tires
  7. State if you’ll be needing a headshot/bio photo
    1. What type of photo: corporate/casual/lifestyle
  8. Ask if the photographer previous experience with the type of shoot you need


When it comes to visual brand identity, I feel pretty strongly about having a cache of images that represent your business in a way that is totally yours.  I can't wait to see how you create a photo shoot for your business that helps take it to the next level!