Full disclosure: there are a number or photographers in my family including my parents and my sister, famed canine photographer Amanda Jones. But even if that weren’t true, as a designer I would still be writing this post. I have been wanting to write this for a very long time.

The imp
Westie puppies by Amanda Jones

Photography and Imagery: Put them in the Budget!

Photography should always be included as part of your marketing budget. Many of my clients complain of having to paying for photography, and usually ignore the possibility of doing a photo shoot altogether. One example is a fashion designer who attempted to photograph her products on her own. Against a patterned background. Using poor lighting, with the clothing hanging off a wire mannequin. Not even a 3D mannequin. Sigh. Inevitably, I would end up spending hours cleaning up the photos as best I could for use on their website, so that the product she was selling (her design!) would look halfway decent. What??! I understand being on a tight budget, but you aren’t going to make ANY money if: a) the customer cannot see what the product actually looks like; and/or b) the imagery looks unprofessional. Not to mention damage to the perception of quality in your brand. Hiring a professional to do your photography will be better for business and brand in the long run.

How Much?

The amount of budget depends on your marketing/outreach strategy. I recommend pulling together an image library at the beginning of the year (or project, or campaign) that shows the direction we will go with the imagery. You don’t have to purchase them at this point, but we will get a sense of the cost for one, five, or all of them. The images will be purchased at the first point of use. I’m talking about stock photography here, of course. But there’s also the delicious possibility of doing a photo shoot, which brings us to…

Photo Shoot vs. Stock Photography

Getty Image
Royalty-free hot air balloon, courtesy Getty Images

There’s a big difference between stock photography and doing a photo shoot. When you hire a photographer to do a photo shoot, depending on the license agreement you make, you will have original images to use at your discretion. If the rights are exclusive (usually more expensive), you’ll have a set of images that no other entity can use. Such an original approach will create a unique and authentic feel for your brand. The style of photography will match across these images, which is also key to building your visual identity. The best thing about a photo shoot, especially for an art director, is that the images will look exactly as we want them to look. No settling for a half-right right model or location. You’d be smart to make such an investment in your brand.

Stock photography has its benefits. It is definitely faster to get your hands on stock photos and use them right away — no scheduling, shooting, editing, waiting. It may be cheaper as well — especially if you purchase royalty-free images. But stock has it’s drawbacks too. It looks like….stock photography. You have limited choices. You may not get the exact right expression on the correct age and gender of model in the exact right position in a relevant setting. You might have to settle for not-quite-right. More importantly: this can make your brand look generic. Another major drawback of stock is that if you don’t purchase exclusive rights to an image, there’s no guarantee your customer hasn’t seen that particular image on another brochure. Hopefully it won’t be for a competitor!

In short, a photo shoot will give you better images — more relevant, quality guaranteed, exclusive use. And a photo shoot is not necessarily more expensive. If you need a lot of images, it might actually be less expensive overall to hire a photographer to do all of them rather than purchasing one by one from a stock website.

Stock Photography: Royalty-Free vs. Rights-Managed

When searching through any stock photography site, you might notice there are options for “Royalty-free images” (RF) and “Rights-managed images” (RM). RF images are less expensive because the photographer is not receiving royalty payments from the stock house for each use of the image, only from the first sale of the image. So you can use the image multiple times, the only restriction is placed by the stock house when you purchase it.

When you purchase an RM image, you’ll need to define how you will use the image — what type of use (advertising, publication, etc.), for how long (6 months, 1 year, 10 years), exclusive or not, multiple uses, how many copies if it’s being printed, etc. The image is (hopefully) of higher quality, or more specific to your needs than an RF image. If it’s not, find an RF alternative. The price of an RM image is usually more expensive, and you can only use the image as it’s been defined by the licensing agreement. I’m predicting RM will go away for the most part, except for the most unique photography. The ubiquity and cheapness of quality RF images is on the rise, so be smart about where you spend. If you’re spending on an RM image, it might be better to do the photoshoot.