| Design Basics, Design Trends, Startups

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Our typical design client at Visible Logic is a small business. This could be a one-person operation (such as Cream & Sugar Bakery) or a regional bank (such as Androscoggin Bank). We don’t have any Fortune 500 clients, and we’re OK with that. We love working closely with the leadership team or owner of a small business and helping them to understand and harness the power of effective web design, branding and print marketing.

Small businesses are the majority of businesses in the U.S. and any service-based business has to learn how to work with small business owners.

Today I was thinking about the fact that there are so many business owners who have a budget-conscious, do-it-themselves mentality. This has led to the fact that we pretty much exclusively use royalty-free photos these days.

When I started in design, the idea of royalty-free photos didn’t exist. If you didn’t hire a photographer for a custom shoot, you used what was called stock photography. [Read this, if you’re not sure about the difference between stock and royalty free photos.] But now, the pendulum has fully swung to the royalty-free photo side of things.

There are still times you need custom photography (you need to shoot your own location, your own product, your own people, or need something very unique). But the reality is that my clients are demanding royalty-free photos, for the following reasons:

Two reasons small business owners demand royalty-free photos

  1. Known product. With a custom shoot you can minimize risk by working with talent you trust, art directing and showing similar photo styles, layouts, etc. but the truth is that you do not know 100% what you’ll get from any shoot. With a royalty-free photo, you can see the image in place, in the layout, before buying the photo.
  2. Fixed costs. With royalty-free photos you buy the photo rights once and you can use it for anything. With both stock and custom work, usage rights are negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

It’s hard to argue with the two benefit listed above. However, there is a vast range of photographic talent and quality to be purchased using the royalty-free model.

Today, there are thousands of new businesses who want marketing materials, web sites and blogs, but don’t have an understanding or the money for anything but royalty-free photography. In the old days, the only people buying photos were businesses with a marketing department and budget. They were staffed by professionals who understood the risks of a custom shoot, but understood the benefits, too. Or, they were prepared for the costs of purchasing stock photo rights. These days every business needs a web site to compete and adding photos to a web site is a desirable thing to add meaning, graphic interest, etc.

Royalty-free, OK. But, let’s find some quality images

What bothers me is that there is such little value placed on purchasing the photography. Not only have business owners accepted that they’ll only purchase royalty-free photos, they only seem to accept the most cheaply purchased photos.

The stock agencies have tried to respond by moving more stock photos into the royalty-free category. This allows flexibility with usage. But business owners need to accept that photos are one of those things that you get what you pay for. It’s a good idea to look beyond the cheapest-of-the-cheap if you want to create a professional and unique brand image for your company.


If you are a business owner, what do you expect to pay for photography?


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