For years now, marketers have known that webpages with photos perform better; and it seems that marketers are also in agreement that social posts with images perform better, too.

But what about stock photography?

For more reasons than I can name (budget, timeline, unavailability of good product photos, etc.) we end up settling for stock photography as the solution for our brand’s website imagery. This approach is emblematic of a typical misunderstanding that many marketers (and agencies) have when it comes to imagery on websites.

The problem is that the statistics about photography performance are usually comparing pages/posts with photos to others without imagery and don’t take quality into account. So, if everyone has image-filled sites/social media (and most brands do nowadays), how do we as marketers stand out from the crowd? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not by adding more stock photography. High-quality custom photography is the simple – and only – solution.

A well-planned, art-directed, custom photo shoot will deliver benefits for the life of your brand. These include:


In a custom shoot you can create exactly the image you want. Not something that’s like an experience, situation or emotion you want to highlight; but the exact thing you want to show. For example, for Marriott Towneplace Suites we wanted to create a humorous situation where a businessman is checking in to the hotel with an inflatable flotation device, ready to hit the pool. Stock photography can give us something like what we wanted, while the custom photo has the exact tonestyle and setting (in the real hotel) that we wanted. Much more specific and therefore more impactful.


Everyone knows that authenticity is very important for brands these days. So filling your websites/social feeds with stock photos that aren’t the real product or real people in real situations does not feel authentic to people interacting with your brand. For example, we’re working on Anthology, an apartment brand on H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. We wanted to highlight the fun, active lifestyle of the neighborhood. We could use stock photos of people having fun in bars/restaurants; or we could get a local photographer with local models shot in the actual locations. And it’s clear to see, the custom photo has character and emotional content that the stock photo cannot.


One of the most important reasons to ditch the stock photos is that anyone can use them. That means that your brand will never be as distinctive as it could be. With a custom shoot you can create distinctive situations, styles, vibes and use models that are unique to you and your brand. Take a look at some more of the photos that we developed with April Greer Photography for the Anthology website…it’s unlike anything else that’s being done in the market, and will give our brand an advantage in connecting with the people that may choose to live in this neighborhood.

So, will a custom photo shoot make your brand more successful? If it’s done correctly, photography can create a “distinctive asset” for your brand. And in How Brands Grow Part 2,  “distinctive assets” have been shown to increase “mental availability” for the brand. And mental availability is the first step toward purchase.

So please, think long and hard before you decide to buy that stock image…it may be costing you more than the few bucks you’re paying for it.