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Stock images vs real photography, and something in between.

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A picture is worth a thousand words.

We're all familiar with this expression, but if a picture, any picture, is worth a thousand words, then how many words is a high quality, bespoke picture worth?

That question, and it's answer is the crux of a seemingly never ending struggle when it comes to convincing clients of the value of good photography for their website.

No one in their right mind, unless it's for a very niche purpose, would want a website that is completely void of any imagery. And I'm not even going to open the can of worms that is internet image copyright restriction... You'd be surprised how many people still think it's ok to just download and use images from Google, it's definitely not!

So, realistically, there are three options:


Stock images.

By far the most common option for the majority of SME websites. Stock photo libraries give you access to an almost unlimited selection of high quality, professionally taken images. The images available are obviously not going to be of your specific business, products, people or services, but they may come very close. And depending on your industry, that might be enough.

In the past stock photography was a pretty exclusive option, and, if you are prepared to pay big bucks, still can be. More commonly though, with the huge variety of licensing options available now it can be a very cost effective way of sourcing high quality images for your site. But if it's a cheap option for you, it's also a cheap option for everyone else, including your competitors... So make sure you choose wisely.

Take the photos yourself.

This can be quite enticing, especially if you have specific requirements but only a very limited budget. But it's only going to work if you, or someone in your organisation, has a good quality camera and a decent understanding of how to use it. And that's just a minimum - It's a lot harder than you might think to take a decent shot, even harder to create a cohesive set of images which look technically and aesthetically the same. Lighting, composition and angle are just a few of the considerations before you go anywhere near that shutter button.

Professional photography.

The third option is to commission a professional photographer to create a bespoke set of images for you. This is the most pricey option, but like anything, you get what you pay for. Of course, not all photographers are the same, like any creatives they have their individual styles and specialities. So there will be some research to do to find the right fit for your business (a good web agency will be able to help with this). But once you've found the right person, not only will they have all the technical knowledge and equipment required, they will also be able to tell your story with the images they take (there are those 1000 + words!).

A good example of the merits of a professional photographer is wedding photography. I know when my wife and I were planning our wedding and it came to finding a photographer, my first thought was that they are eye-wateringly expenisive. But you only have to think about what they do and it's easy to see the value. They only have one chance to get things right, not strictly the same with commercial photography, but you'd be surprised how much planning still goes into that one or two day photoshoot. They are also removed from the subject, they can be objective and capture subtle things which you or your friends and family (colleagues) may not have thought of because they are too busy eating, drinking and being merry (running a successful business).

In short, professional photography is a way of presenting you, your colleagues and your business in their best possible light, to the people who matter most - your customers.

So what's the best option for you?

Like most things your final decision will most likely be made on cost, that's just the way things are. But there are always ways to maximise the budget: If you can't stretch to a full commercial shoot, maybe look at getting some professional portrait shots done of your team to go on your about page (these will also be great to use on Linked In profiles, brochures etc.) then ask your web agency to advise on some good quality stock photography for the rest of the site. If you have a lot of products, and/or your range is changing quite regularly, you could invest in some decent photography equipment and set up your own little studio.

Of course there are other imagery options which I've not mentioned here, illustrations and video are the two most obvious. But essentially the same thing applies to these as photography. There particular merits to video content on websites, which I may explore in a later blog post.

Whatever you decide to do, considering imagery as an integral part of your website, and not an afterthought is always a good idea. It will greatly enhance the overall look and feel of your online presence. And, if done well, it will allow you to tell your story in a far more engaging way than words ever could.

Note: Yes, I am aware there's a hint of irony in using stock photos to illustrate this article ;)

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