Pros and Cons: Stock vs. Original Photography

By Katelyn Short
  • 12.04.19
  • 5 Min Read

Trying to get your marketing message across without supportive imagery is like trying to convince someone to jump out of a plane without a parachute. You can tell them they’ll be safe, but until they can see the life-saving contraption strapped to their body, they won’t fully believe you. Because as humans, we’re wired to notice, learn from and respond emotionally to visuals. The power of your marketing messaging lies in the effectiveness of your imagery.

That’s why photography plays such a big role in successful campaign communication. It’s the parachute-like piece of the puzzle that has the ability to bring together messaging and design, allowing your audience to safely land at the intended destination.

Knowing this puts a lot of pressure on your photography, and sometimes picking the perfect photo is the hardest part of the entire project. The images need to complement and support the messaging but be authentic to your brand at the same time.

How do you achieve this perfect balancing act? Should you go through the process of hiring a photographer? Will stock photos get the job done? Join us as we dive head-first (parachute included) into the pros and cons of stock and custom photography.


Example Stock Photos



Generally Affordable
Stock photos exist in a convenient digital library and can be bought and used by an infinite amount of people. You can download one photo at a time or an entire series of cohesive images for a relatively affordable price.

Easily Accessible
Stock photography sites grant you quick access to a virtually endless number of photos. Search, purchase, download and you have what you need. There are a wide range of images and pricing depending your stock source. But that accessibility comes at a cost.



While stock photography might seem like the best bang for your buck, it comes with a handful of potential complications.

To get the right photo, you’ll most likely spend hours searching through stock sites to find the exact image you’re looking for, “fixing” it in photoshop and adjusting layouts to make it work. After the time it takes to find and manipulate images, it might end up costing more than if you shot original photos instead.

Unintentionally Unoriginal
You don’t realize how small the world is until you use stock photos. Because any number of people have access to the images you do, you run the risk of coordinating campaign photos with other companies – or worse, your competitor – and leaving an inauthentic impression on your consumers. Worst case scenario, you launch a campaign with a lead subject that’s been seen everywhere.*

Searching Stock Photos

You may also run into a situation where you need multiple versions of a particular image for a project and it can be hard to find uniformity throughout different stock photos. This can create inconsistencies in the look and feel of your campaign and ultimately affect the goal of your messaging.

Ad Examples

*Let us introduce you to The Everywhere Girl. From modeling in rival campaigns (Gateway and Dell computers) to being featured in a series of Christian books, she seems to be able to do it all – and with a smile on her face while she’s at it. Way to go, Jennifer! But awkward for the brands using her to represent their companies.


Behind the Scenes



Flexibility and Control
Budget and accessibility are usually the main deciding factors when choosing what route to take for imagery, but with custom comes flexibility. Stock photos are easy to access but also come with a limited library to choose from – especially when you need to get super specific about a detail or setting (i.e. mom cooking with daughter vs. a middle-aged woman holding a knife cooking a specific product in a blue kitchen). Stock photography won’t achieve this for you, but original photography allows you to art direct and get that perfect shot. Because you have complete control over your photo – who’s in it, what they wear, their expression, what they’re doing, etc. With stock, you’re at the mercy of what’s available.

Unique Content
Custom photography can help represent your brand with originality, consistency of design standards and connectivity. You’ll have the ability to show your product, emotion and message exactly how you envisioned it because you can control the composition, setting, talent, etc.

Fancy Drink

Working with a photographer or artist allows you to establish a consistent tone for your brand that can be carried through all your images, and it lets your product/service and brand voice shine in a recognizable style that is uniquely your own.



Mo Money
Depending on the circumstance, custom photography can be more expensive than using stock photography. The shoot location, prep time, props, talent and more can add strain on the budget. Plus, the photos are created for a single client and are only sold to that client.


While a stock photo can be purchased and used instantly, custom photography takes more patience and planning to find locations, talent, props, equipment, etc. For some clients, a balance of both types of photography works best for urgent vs. planned needs.

Here at L&S, we strive to set our clients’ brands apart from the crowd, whether it’s with stock photography, original photos or a blend of both. Still not sure whether you should custom or stock? Contact us and our team can point you in the right direction.

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