how can we break our horrible stock photo habit?

If everyone hates stock photos, why do we see so many of them?

I see three reasons why “shiny, happy people” stock photos are so prevalent:

1. Because they solve a problem quickly.
You need a visual image that helps to communicate an idea, there seem to be mass quantities of them available, and if you ignore the time it takes to find the “right” one, they are a speedy way to complete your layout or web graphic. They are the fast-food of marketing; drive thru, order and pay at the window, consume without thinking about whether it is good for you.

2. Because they look good.
Usually too good, in fact. Packaged and polished people posing in what are supposed to be everyday interactions, in amazingly neat and tidy environments. Group shots that include enough combinations of women, men, ethnicities and ages that no one feels left out, yet they all have perfect teeth and great hair. It’s a beautiful, generic, non-offensive world they live in, and we should all be lucky they allow us to share it.

3. Because they’re cheap.
I’m referring to their cost, not the people that use them. Mostly.

In short, we all use them, no one likes them very much, but they exist because they fill a need. Well…then…how can we break our horrible stock photo habit?

Take away the photo and go graphic.

It’s the message that you need to communicate, and a good graphic designer can build off of your brand and colors. So can an illustrator. Either one can help you craft a unique image and look that becomes and integral part of your brand, and as long as you negotiate accordingly, no one else will ever be able to use it.

Spend the money on a cameraman that knows how to tell Your Story.

Photos and video of your members and your staff, on location and in your community, will do more for communicating your brand than you or your CEO can imagine. But you won’t get the quality you need by pulling out your cell phone. Line item it into your budget and hire a talented photographer with the right equipment, who knows what they are doing. Think strategically about your brand and marketing, about how you want to use the imagery, and be sure to discuss it with the photographer so they can get capture everything you need. Plan for it to take days (1-3) rather than minutes, and spend your time preparing, gathering and organizing the people and places.

Even better, hire a photographer that knows and believes in credit unions, if you want to showcase your credit union’s difference in a way that stock photos can’t. You may know Andy Janning as a leadership trainer/speaker that lives and breathes CUs, but he also has a very good eye behind a lens. (And no, he did not pay me to say that.)

Take advantage of events.

Community events where staff and members work together to accomplish something is a potential bonanza of images. If you do this on a regular basis, be sure to have a photographer on call. 

Unique projects such as rebranding is an especially great time to get these photos, since before you can move ahead with a new brand you first need to document who you are and what you do for your members. That discovery/research period is a great time to collect stories on video and take pictures with your staff and members, who will always much rather talk about how they have been able to help members than pose for the camera.

I know it won’t be easy, and it will impact your budget, but I can tell you that once you see the difference, you’ll never go back to the stock photo habit.


Kent Dicken

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