Why Original Photography is Better than Stock

This month, we look at how (and why) to create amazing photography using real people.

Sure, there are billions of royalty-free photos out there, and now you can AI generate ‘photographs’ too. But do you really want your brand to have the type-casted ‘diverse group of colleagues high-fiving in a boardroom’ feel?

In a world full of fakes, authenticity matters.

Every purchase is emotional. It represents time researching, shopping, and a decision on where to spend hard-earned (or tightly budgeted) money. Customers want to know you understand their problem, and are equipped to solve it. They’re looking to you to tell them what you have on offer, and how it’s going to make them feel.

For many businesses, the smarts and training of their employees are the central ‘product’. Professionals like lawyers, accountants, architects, and financial advisors are selling relationships as much as they are technical expertise, and seeing the faces behind the business establishes a personal connection. And in the age of bespoke everything, delivered to your door as specified, human connection and customer care is a major selling feature and emotional differentiator in the sales and marketing of everything from software to clothing to consumables.

While taking original photography of your business and product in action is an investment, it’s one that is more than worthwhile. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding between stock and original photos or video:

  • Uniqueness: Only you have your team, your location, and your space. Don’t underestimate all the subtle cues this conveys about your business to potential customers. Or how much a stock image that’s been seen before can dilute your brand.
  • Approachability: ‘Real’ people convey warmth that models do not. Especially when you shoot them in groups; interactions are more natural, and that comes across.
  • Creative Control: You can get the perfect shot, not the ‘almost’ perfect one. Capturing what sets you apart is a lot easier when you create an image from scratch.
  • Brand Awareness: You can choose an aesthetic that works well with your brand. Whether in-house or in-studio, you have control of the lighting, background, styling, and poses.
  • Credibility: In a world that’s trained us to treat every website and email with a healthy dose of skepticism, you can build trust with potential customers by demonstrating you’re actually a ‘real’ business, staffed by ‘real’ people, and not someone sitting in a basement somewhere, waiting to grab credit card details.

The partners at GGFL joined us for an in-studio session that truly captures their personalities and gives potential clients a sense that these are not your stereotypical accountants. Credit: Rémi Thériault, House of Common Studio.

5 tips for real, fantastic portraits

So how do you get great shots from ‘real’ people? We partner with some of the best in the business to capture our clients at their best. Here is our collective advice on what works.

  1. Give your subjects plenty of prep time We create a pre-shoot document so our subjects know what’s happening when. This helps the shoot go smoothly for everyone and means fewer people arriving on set in a sweaty rush.

  2. Offer tips on how (and how not to) dress. Being comfortable and feeling confident is a huge part of relaxing in front of the camera. We encourage subjects to choose what makes them feel good. This isn’t the time to bust out a fuchsia pinstripe, however. Patterns don’t work well in digital, and can be really distracting.

  3. Provide a stylist for makeup and hair. It’s not diva behaviour to want to look your best. We’re not advocating for full war paint and a blowout here, but a little fine tuning can go a long way for a polished end product, and help your subjects pose more confidently. Plus, a great stylist helps our subjects relax with some light banter. Subjects arrive on set calm and feeling fabulous.

  4. Have someone other than the photographer off camera. Especially with video, a person chatting with the subject just to the left or right allows the subject to appear as though they’re speaking to camera (very hard to do) naturally. A natural conversation that can be edited down later is the best way to get authentic content.

  5. Cast more people than you think you’ll need. If you’re investing in a shoot, make it a good one. The greater the variety of shots and the more people, the better. A structured schedule on shoot day will make it easy for people to ‘sign up’ to take part. A few alternative locations will help add to the variety – a row of desks can get repetitive – your front lobby, outside your building, meeting rooms, and even the place you all grab coffee are ways to show off personality. And if you’ve got manufacturing/work spaces, all the better. The result is a great set of shots you can use many ways— on a website, in ad campaigns, on reports, and in social.

“Be yourself. I love to chat, and it’s important for me to establish a relationship with the subject. I schedule some chatting time into my portraits schedule, and I usually have some general conversation topics at hand— travel, favourite restaurant or meal, or superheroes."

—Rémi Thériault, House of Common Studio

These fierce young women tell the story of what makes Elmwood a fantastic community that sets its students up for what’s ahead.
These fierce young women tell the story of what makes Elmwood a fantastic community that sets its students up for what’s ahead. Credit: John Kealey

“Dad jokes never fail. Seriously though, it’s a combination of aesthetics and comfort. Wherever we’re shooting needs to look good, so we take the time needed to scout locations and pre-light the location or studio so no one is waiting around on shoot day and we can focus on helping them relax and capturing a great shot.”

—John Kealey, No Hands

“Keep the camera rolling a little bit before and after the actual takes. You end up getting these fun little behind-the-scenes moments that add a lot of personality in the final edit.”

— Ben Gelfand, i/o Studio