I should begin by emphasizing that stock photography is a great resource. With beautiful, professional images now available from many affordable sources, including iStock (my go-to stock site, but far from the only one!), it’s possible to give your project a top-quality look pretty easily.
However, there are still pitfalls to watch out for, and I was intrigued recently to see a real-life example of one big one – someone else using your image!
Hey, let’s face it, you’re not the only one browsing those pics – they are available to anyone. And while that’s not usually a problem with countless thousands of images to choose from, sometimes it can come back to bite you. Like in this case. Here’s a billboard I saw one day recently:
It immediately made me think of a website I’d looked at not two days before, while researching a new web design project:
It’s actually possible that these are not the exact same image… but they might as well have been, they’re so close.
You really want to avoid this if possible, and there are a couple of ways to do so.
First off, most stock photo sites offer a choice between “rights managed” vs. “royalty-free” images. In a nutshell, the difference between them is that “rights managed” images have a more restrictive policy on use and re-use, so you get a certain level of exclusivity. But, as you might expect, that comes at a price. And it can be substantially higher than the more freely-usable royalty-free images. That’s why rights-managed pics are typically only used for large companies and big campaigns.
But fear not – if you don’t have a massive budget, you can still stand out without risking looking like a copycat.
The best way of course, is to use original photography. This doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think. But unless you’re a professional photographer yourself, it’s best to use one. Even though everyone now has a great camera on their smartphone, there’s simply no substitute for the trained eye, professional equipment, and years of experience that a pro brings to the job.
But there’s an alternative that might have helped in the above example: avoid cliche. The hand-forming-a-heart image is clever and appealing, but it seems it’s also pretty popular.
Ultimately, the best image to use is the one that communicates the message you want to send – about what makes you unique, about the mood or feeling you want to convey, about the benefits of what you’re offering, but in an original way. Be open to ideas that are a little out-of-the-box or that come at a familiar idea from a slightly different angle. This is exactly what I try to do when building an identity or crafting a message for my own clients.
With a unique visual approach, people won’t be wondering “where did I see that before?” – they’ll just be appreciating your message.