Why stock images suck and how to make it better

It’s really hard for me to keep a serious face when someone tells me they spent ten hours looking for a stock image but custom photography is too expensive. I don’t know about you but ten hours of my time is worth at least a few thousand dollars.

A few months ago a person in a business group I belonged to asked for feedback on an image. The image sucked but beyond that I knew it from somewhere and my association wasn’t great. A few weeks later while watching Youtube with my kids the image was being used in a women’s bladder control commercial. It played every. single. time that popular show was on. Which has nothing to do with bladder control but that’s besides the point. Be careful when you choose your stock photos.

I want to give you a solid plan that I use with my own clients and myself on laying out your visual branding. The best way I’ve ever heard someone describe how to lay out your instagram feed is Jasmine Star who has a social media subscription service called – Social Curator – she’s a genius photographer turned social media business coach. I’ll use my own Instagram feed as an example for you.

Before you do anything you need to know who your client is.  My client is a modern women in her early 30’s to late 40’s, she can make her own financial decisions (be it in business or at home), she does things mindfully and has a lot on her plate. I could go and on but that would be boring.  One of my challenges in business is communicating that I photograph people – at home and at work. I know that when I post family stuff it could be polarizing to the women that follow who don’t have kids so if you read my captions you can see that I am mindful of that – my Instagram is written by Emily the photographer in most cases. Not Georgia and Evie’s bursting with pride Mom ;-).

So, with my ideal client in mind I (via my interpretation of Jasmine’s description  of how to do it) come up with ten categories on what my ideal client wants to know more about/see.

To keep things simple I’m going to give you four categories that I talked about this month – you can see my feed above:

  1. Myself – I’m an artist, a mother and I take time to enjoy my  life. 
  2. I really like people – genuinely love people and showing them in the best and most comfortable light
  3. What do I have going on this month that I want to talk about? 
  4. In my business I’m good at/enjoy 
    1. Branding – helping businesses crack the visual code in their business
    2. Taking headshots 
    3. Cozy Family Sessions

Now that I know what I want to talk about via my Instagram feed I need to create images that support that. The absolute simplest thing to do is take your list and write out three photo ideas you want to attach and hand the list to your photographer or do the work yourself and define it visually and then go and take the photo. Here is my feed.

  1. Myself – as you can see here my photos show a photo of me working, a session from our recent family photo session (because really if I don’t value hiring my favourite photographer how can I ask someone else to value it), a story about my little one doing crafts and a shot of her hands, and lastly our family skiing/ enjoying life
  2. I really like people – If you look closely at my feed you won’t find one image where anyone looks uncomfortable. That’s my number one hands down rule and would reflect poorly on me. In fact, many clients have told me they hire me because they think I’d be easy to work with – and I think it’s because this point is so important to me.
  3. Monthly Promotions, Events etc – this month I have very little going on. So, I’m focusing on getting hired to photograph people’s businesses – my big goal is to find ten female entrepreneurs and convince them that I can help them on a monthly basis and they will never have to worry about social media again. So, I am posting more business focused content – both the women themselves and products to show my range of services.

4. What I can do/what I’m good at – this month the images are the same as number three. I’m working hard to show the breadth of my work but making sure the look and feel are the same.  I want my clients to feel like my images capture their spirit beautifully and appropriately. Going back to my awkward point I want everyone of my images to reinforce what I’m good at  – beautiful composition AND natural expressions where everyone looks like they are genuinely enjoying themselves. Because, for some people, being photographed is hard and they put it off.

Before thinking about your photos ask yourself – who is my ideal client? What does their life look like? What do they care about?

Once you have the answers define your categories and then define what you want the photos to be. Whether you get a photographer to take the images or not it will at least cut down on a ton of time you spend hunting for stock images. And, remember understanding your client will help you position yourself in a way that makes sense.

If you have any questions or want some tips please do shoot me an email I could literally talk about this stuff all day.

If you want to learn more about building a distinctive brand my friend, Lesley at Swell Made Co just posted a great blog post here.

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