Avoid the Stock Photography Trap: Authentic Branding with Original Photography

Shown in action, Kate Oakley, our social media manager and owner of Adorned Photography, who does all of our client photo shoots

Stock photography may appear to be a simple solution for your overall marketing strategy, but original photography goes a long way towards creating an authentic online presence for your brand development.

Finding the Perfect Photo for Your Marketing Campaign

Years ago I was writing a case study for a software development company. After the content was finalized, I went down ‘the stock photography rabbit hole’ to find an eye-catching feature image.

I logged on to a popular stock photography website and typed “IT + professional + office fun.” I expected the usual results: a beautiful group of strategically diverse young professionals in fresh-pressed office wear, laughing around a laptop at a conference table (they’re always laughing around a laptop at a conference table).

What I got, however, was this:

Not exactly what I had in mind.

Every marketing professional begins a stock photography search with a handful of keywords and prayer. It’s a guilt-laden process because we’re clicking through hundreds of photos to find one to use in your branding strategy that weren’t taken with your brand in mind, which is counterintuitive to everything we’re hired to do. I was being paid to search for a needle in a haystack and what I found was an elderly shirtless cowboy with a Sam Elliott mustache checking his email in a meadow.

The needle I was hoping to find was a photo that conveyed the professional yet fun office environment of the company I was working for. It wasn’t a Google bouncy-house in the breakroom kind of workplace, but it wasn’t a stark gray bullpen either.

My client was fun to work for and fun to work with. They were kind to their employees and their customers. They had fun hobbies and interests. Despite the seemingly dry product, they were interesting people.

As I scanned generic office image after generic office image, I found myself wishing that I had pictures of the company’s consultants — a bright, funny, energetic bunch — working with their customers and training staff on the product.

This particular dynamic between the consultants and their customers is what set them apart from their competitors in a saturated market, but these stock photos made them appear to be the same.

Sadly, what I ended up using after an hour or two of searching was a group shot of beautiful young professionals laughing around a laptop at a conference table.

This problem isn’t unique to software or tech. There are stock photography stereotypes for every industry:

Health and wellness? The woman laughing while eating a salad. 

social media photography, authentic branding, original photography

Children’s products? Kids running through a field with a yellow filter.

social media photography, authentic branding, original photography

Healthcare? The General Hospital group shot.

social media photography, authentic branding, original photography

All of these pictures are tagged with keywords and the most popular ones pop up first. This means it’s likely that your competitors are searching for and buying the same photos that you are when you’re shopping on a stock photography site.

Original Photography: How to Take Better Pictures

Did I want the company I was working for to shell out big bucks for a photoshoot worthy of Paris Fashion Week? Absolutely not. But it would have taken less time to polish a picture snapped on an iPhone than it would have to pour over hundreds upon hundreds of stock photos that didn’t quite fit. And that snapshot would have been 100% authentic and unique to their brand.

The images below were all taken on smartphones and then edited by a professional in Photoshop. Looking at the photos, each took roughly 15 minutes of work by a professional who is Photoshop literate:

How to Take Better Pictures, Smartphone, iPhone How to Take Better Pictures, Smartphone, iPhone How to Take Better Pictures, Smartphone, iPhone How to Take Better Pictures, Smartphone, iPhone

Give it a try. Once you’ve taken some pictures, create a job post for professional photo retouching. Expect to pay around $25/hour for an individual with basic-to-intermediate Photoshop skills.

If you’re shy about your camera skills and feel motivated enough to learn about camera angles and optimal lighting, you can search for free online tutorials on smartphone photography. A great place to start is petapixels.com for everything from nighttime shooting to tutorials on product photography.

How to Hire a Photographer for Product Photography

It sounds daunting and expensive, but in the right hands a professional photo shoot is worth every penny. Whether the photographer comes to a special event for your brand, shoots your staff hard at work in your office (or bonding at happy hour after a long day), or shoots models with your product — you can get a lot of mileage out of one well-planned shoot.

4 Considerations for a Professional Photoshoot:

1. How are you going to use these photos? Are they for your website, blog, social media, print, or all of the above?

2. Your marketing content calendar. If the photos are going to be used for social media, think about your content calendar. What topics are you going to cover on your blog for the next 3 months? Year? Do you have any seasonal promotions coming up? Events, conferences, or tradeshows where you’ll need print materials? Now consider what types of images you would like to have for these instances.

3. Create a great shot list. Your photographer will work with you to create a shot list describing the various images you need for your project, based on your input from your considerations for item 2 on this list. The process will go more smoothly if you bring a rough draft with you. Create a basic outline of the content you need images for and what those images should look like or where they would be taken. Feel free to show examples of images and styles you like so you and the photographer are on the same page.

4. Your budget. Research various photographer’s portfolios. Once you’ve found a few favorites, reach out with your shot list to get an idea of price and cut back or build up from there. See how much you can accomplish in one shoot, if you need to find models, or scout for locations. If your budget is tight, ask if you can provide location suggestions and volunteer family and friends as models for the shoot, saving time and therefore saving money.

While a photoshoot takes a lot of planning and coordination, the time that is spent going down the “stock photography rabbit hole” for every image on each page of your website, every blog post, or Facebook update adds up fast. Once your professional shoot is over you will have dozens of unique, polished images to choose from, amplifying all your marketing efforts and creating a brand image that is authentic to you and your customers.

Social Styles offers photo shoots for our portfolio of brands as one of our social media marketing services. For more information, visit our about us or pricing page or schedule a time to chat

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About us

We’re Not Your Average Health and Wellness Social Media Marketing Agency.


Social Styles is a health and wellness marketing agency that empowers socially conscious brands like yours to do great things. We get this industry and help wellness brands connect with relevant influencers and create valuable relationships with industry experts through stylized marketing that fits the image your brand has worked so hard to create.