The Dark Side of Stock Imagery

If you’ve been hanging around the ad agency echelons of Twitter, you’d have seen this thread:

Unfortunately for Shubnum, although the photographer’s since taken her images off their website, as her images already exist on various stock imagery databases it’s unlikely she’d ever be able to regain control of them completely without an expensive exercise in litigation. And while large websites like istockphoto are clear about what can be used in advertising and what cannot, Shubnum’s plight reminds us in the industry not only to be more conscious of how we use stock imagery, but why we’re using it.

LOL Stock

There’s a definite stigma about using stock imagery in advertising and design, but the fact is not many clients can afford a photographer. It’s our preference that they use one, naturally — and we maintain a number of contacts with some highly talented photographers and videographers whom we love to work with — but for clients working on a lower budget, well-chosen stock imagery can work in a pinch. Not as well as unique, art-directed photography especially taken for their brand, but in the end, it’s a client’s commercial decision.

Unique photography that’s carefully art-directed and shot by a professional can add a huge visual boost to your brand, particularly in industries that sell a consumable product. Doesn’t have to be food and drinks: great photographs, in our opinion, are a huge part of selling any product, even stuff like car oil. When you can’t afford unique photography, edited stock imagery can be a good substitute — if your agency’s been strategic and ethical about it.

Where the stock image involves people, can you be sure whether using it is OK? Some quick rules:

  • What are you using it for? If it’s on possibly controversial topics like politics, don’t use stock if possible. The person in the image might not support your message or candidate and it’s possible to come off as inauthentic, in an industry where authenticity is given more and more value each year.
  • Check the licenses carefully.
  • The type of stock image can hint at what it’s meant to be used for. Bunch of business people doing business things? Using it for business purposes is likely OK.
  • Take down the image if the person within it complains. They might not have meant for their image to be used for such a purpose.

Any questions? Check in with us.

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