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Taking Stock


If you've been in this business as long as the Bs have, you probably remember those halcyon days of ... photo shoots. Yes, actual shoots with a photographer, models, sets, lighting equipment, lighting people, make-up, hair, wardrobe, and a nice buffet for the clients who had flown in from Virginia or Seattle or France. 

At B Direct, we have plenty of fond memories. Of course, things sometimes went wrong. Like the baby who wouldn't stop crying while we were setting up and then refused to cry on cue when the time came. Or the model whose headshot had clearly been taken in another decade (if not century). Or, the time that we were shooting a herd of bison in Western Mass and the Queen B, who was six months pregnant at the time, suddenly learned that herds of bison tend to charge if they feel they're in danger.

Yes, those were the days, my friend.

Now, like most agencies, we tend to use stock photography. It's faster, easier, and much (much, much) less expensive for our clients.

Of course, we still want every campaign that we work on to seem like a custom, targeted, one-of-a-kind piece of communication. So, here are a handful of tips that can help you take stock photography to the next level.

Before you begin your search:

Review your creative concept so you know the parameters of what you're looking for. Do you need an image that will take up the entire cover of a vertical brochure? Are you looking for multiple images of the same location or model? Make yourself a quick "punch list" so you can narrow in on the solutions that will seem custom-made (or custom-shot) for the idea you're executing.

Make sure you're clear on any brand guidelines you need to adhere to. For example, some of our clients don't like to use pictures that seem posed. They'd rather see a group of models working together than a single model smiling at the camera. Other clients have diversity and inclusion requirements for their photography. So, we always want to select images with models of different genders, races, and ages.

Think about how the photo you use will interact with other visual elements of your campaign. Do you want to highlight (or provide a nice contrast to) corporate colors? Will the image need to play nicely with a logo? Will there be type near or over the image?

Are you under budget constraints? Stock photography comes in different budgetary flavors. You can select an image that's "royalty free" or pay more for one that's "rights managed." It's good to know what you're looking for before you start ... well ... looking.

And, along those lines, check to see what the best deal is on the site you're looking at. Depending on how much art you need, many sites like iStock offer monthly and yearly subscription rates that will continue to bring your cost down.

While you search:

If the site you are searching in offers both "creative" and "editorial" imagery, always make sure to click off "editorial." This art can only be purchased for journalism use, and not for marketing.

Start with the most obvious keywords, then branch out. Use an online thesaurus or simply brainstorm other words that describe the image you're looking for. Then try adding details, like colors, shapes, and emotions.

When you feel like you're on the right track, try searching for other shots by the same photographer or see if the image you've found is part of a series. Sometimes the alt images are more interesting than the main one. 

Don't worry if you take a few detours or go down a rabbit hole or two. You may find the perfect photo where you'd least expect it.

And then, be sure to find more photos than you need. It's always nice to have a first choice and a couple of backups ready just in case.

Once you've found your photo:

Think about some way that you can make the photo uniquely your own. For example, we've added elements to pictures for some clients — a splash of color, a screened-back logo, an unexpected texture using ink or varnish.

Finally, when buying photography, always buy and download the largest (highest resolution) version of the file. Chances are good you may need the art again and if you have the largest size to begin with, you won't need to rebuy the same art all over again.

We all miss the days of photo shoots — except for the day with the bison; 'really don't want to revisit that one. But, just because our digital world makes stock photography a more cost-efficient choice doesn't mean you have to hang up your creative hat. Stock provides its own creative opportunities.

Find the best image that's out there and then do your best with it.

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