The Case for Custom Photography

In my last blog article I discussed stock photography and my love/hate relationship with it. Stock has it’s place, but if you need to communicate an idea with details that are specific to your company’s ad, catalog, brochure, etc., you need custom photography. The only way to get that perfect shot is with a professional photographer and photo art director. Let’s look at a couple examples.

Every two weeks the creative department hosts a show-and-tell session at BLU where we present things we’ve seen which inspire us. I came across an ad in a magazine for New Fruit of the Loom Tees which serves as a great example for custom photography.

Fruit of the Loom - The New Men's Tee AdThis ad serves as a example of what a great photo and photo art direction can convey for a brand. I would have loved to have been involved with the brainstorming meeting for this ad. Notice how the shot is set up, with all the elements pointing to the star of the ad – the plain white tee. You’ll see arrows and the construction worker pointing, eyes of the poster looking, the clock hands pointing, and the sunburst of the delivery truck all highlighting the New TEE (which is also the whitest and brightest object in the ad.) This didn’t just happen. You can’t just find this background on a stock photo site and superimpose the model wearing the white tee in place. It took a lot of planning and intentionality to create this ad. Think of all the location scouting to find a spot which had the clock and the large arrow pointing downward (or at least someplace which had the arrow so they could attach the clock themselves). Overall a great example of custom photography.

But what if your business doesn’t have the budget of a corporation like Fruit of the Loom? Is custom photography worth it. Often times the answer is yes. We do a lot of work for small business owners who provided us with photos to use in their various creative projects. The quality of those images varies depending on the skill of the person taking the photos, the camera settings used, the lighting, etc. In the end, the client wants their product to look it’s best and we do as well. So any time sub par images are provided, we try to spend the extra time to do the Photoshop work necessary to make them the best they can be. But this adds to the client’s overall expenses – many times adding up to be equal to or more than it would have been to have new shots professionally taken.

I’ll now use our very own agency as an example. We don’t have the budget of Fruit of the Loom, but we needed to use custom photography on a billboard we produced as self promotion. Now, being a creative company we do have some people handy with a camera so like many clients we thought “let’s take the photos we need ourselves.” It quickly became apparent we were never going to get the lighting perfect and the amount of photoshop work it would take to correct the images would take an enormous amount of time (increasing the cost). We opted instead to spend an hour with a professional photographer taking the portrait shots needed to create our billboard. I spent some time before the official shoot setting the lighting with the photographer to match the scene we were duplicating. Then each of us took our turn in front of the camera for the needed shots and an hour later we were done. It still took some time to adjust the images for color matching, but it was a fraction of the amount of time it would have taken if we had used our own photos. The professional lighting and high quality of the images from the photographer made the composite work and color matching go much more smoothly and quickly than if we had used our own photos. This translates into money saved which is good news for any client.

So if you are a small business owner and think you can’t afford a custom shot for your next ad, think again. Don’t toss a great idea out based on your perception that it will cost too much to get that perfect shot. You may be surprised in the end how cost effective it can be.