Making the Jump from Stock to Custom

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Photography is used for storytelling, and when done well, it can send a powerful message. When you think of Nike, you think of intense athletes. Vogue evokes fashion and style. National Geographic captures epic and vibrant nature images. Rather than restricting themselves to stock photography, these companies use custom photography to tell their brand story in ways that are impactful, unique and authentic.

With that in mind, think about your organization. What story is your brand telling right now? Is it the story you want to be telling? If there’s a clear disconnect between your brand and the stock photos at your disposal, then it’s time to make the switch to custom photography.

Here’s how to do it:

   1. Create a mood board

A mood board is a great way to establish the look and feel you want with your custom photography. Collect photos from all over — the Internet, magazines, brochures — that look similar to how you imagine your photography working. But don’t go overboard. Only hold on to the photos that really stand out and work well with each other.

   2. Add a photography section to your style guide

Once you start to get a feeling for the kinds of photos you want, start looking for patterns and add them to your style guide. Consider what kinds of content you want in the photos: lifestyle, community service, products, local pride or nature? How will the photos be edited? What are key do’s and don’ts? Having a go-to guide for all things custom photography will help your brand stay consistent.

   3. Map out a shoot-day game plan

There’s a lot that goes into a photo shoot, so it’s important that you’re prepared. Treat it similar to a TV commercial or radio spot by storyboarding the scenes and casting for the right look. Some things to think about as you prepare for your shoot:

  • Who is your target audience? Do the subjects of your images align with this demo?
  • Can you use any of your staff or existing members as talent?
  • What are the key elements you want to promote? These should align with your calls to action (see How to Dominate with Inbound Marketing blog post).
  • What type of photography are you after? Find a photographer who matches your desired style.
   4. Tell a story

When you begin to look through the photos, ask yourself some important questions. “Which photos make me feel something when I look at them? What draws me to them? Is there a story attached?” Select the photos that are more than a simple space filler. Instead, aim for selecting images that bring your message and design to a new level.

   5. Use strong photos

Now that you’ve asked some questions about the feeling of the photos, it’s time to look at things stylistically. Evaluate them the same way you would a design and ensure that they have strong visual principles such as lighting, contrast, coloration, composition and authenticity. By holding your photos to a higher standard, they will be stronger.

   6. Be consistent

As time goes on, don’t abandon your mood board and style guide but allow it to evolve to stay relevant. Continue to tell the stories you’ve associated with your brand and use photos that fit. Over time, your brand will begin to become cemented in the minds of consumers and your audience. That’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it?