How Stock Photos Can Ruin Your Brand & What You Can Use Instead

At this point, I'm pretty sure we've all used some stock photos once or twice. Maybe we were in a hurry and didn't have time to devote to organizing a mini-photoshoot or maybe we just aren't confident in our photography skills. No matter the reason, studies are coming out now that show how our quick use of stock photography can actually be quite harmful to our brands. 


+ If more than one brand uses that same photo, it immediately loses all recognition or power. For example, let's say on Pinterest, you are scrolling through and see a photo of a babe with hot pink nails typing on her laptop, which her coffee and flowers are posed just so. It's a beautiful photo and the description of the pin says something about "finding the perfect schedule for the freelancer's life". You give it a click and read through an awesome article. 
Then, a little while later, you're scrolling through and see the exact same photo, and you scroll right passed it because you assume it's the exact same article you already read. Wrong. It's actually an article that you really, really need to read about the easiest tips for getting yourself ready for this quarter's taxes. But because both articles used the same stock photo, you couldn't tell the difference and any / all brand recognition was completely lost. 
Similarly here's a mock-example of something we've all seen: an article about Squarespace vs. Wordpress, an article on Taxes for Bloggers & then a third article that you're not sure what it covers. All three use the same photo and all three look like they could reasonably be from the same website. You see how that might be detrimental to your brand? | how stock images can ruin your brand & what to use instead

+ Even more frightening: the enormous grey area surrounding the rules of using any photo that is not your own and the slippery slope that can lead to possible legal action. For example, that photo we already talked about may have been on a free stock photography site and may be completely legal for you to use, yay! However, most of those sites have little rules on how you credit the photographer or the site. Sometimes, the rules are really straightforward and simple like "feel free to use this WITHOUT credit, :) " --- which is awesome! But sometimes, there are more complex rules like " feel free to use but if you have X AMOUNT of readers, you have to do ______; and if you have XX AMOUNT of readers it's ______."  It can get even more complicated from there. And this of course is an example if the image was found on a free stock photography site. That's not even kind of the same kind of scary that can happen with finding the perfect image in a Google search... You've heard the horror stories about bloggers getting sued for using photos even WITH credit!!! 

SO WHAT CAN WE USE INSTEAD? | how stock photos can ruin your brand and what you can use instead

+ TAKE YOUR OWN PHOTOSThis is most likely the simplest method. Get familiar with your camera of choice.  You don't have to go out and buy a really expensive DSLR or anything like that. I personally end up using my iPhone 5 for everything-- it's quick, easy & I just never have my big camera with me, ever. ALSO: don't stress if they're not PERFECT. If you're not a professional  photographer, that's ok! You can still use your own photos :) (see above photo of an example of my not-nearly-perfect snapshots heh) 
And if you can't afford to (or don't want to) take classes on photo-styling or how to use the camera itself, study brands you love. What do they do that you love? Are their photos bright, minimal and mono-colored? Do they use fun backgrounds, bright colors and have hand illustrated elements in their photos? Take note of what exactly draws you to their work and figure out how you can incorporate similar elements into your own work. 
Helpful tip: The best lighting is natural daylight. I'm sorry, I know that's not what everyone wants to hear. Especially when we live in homes without a lot of natural light or work day jobs where we can't really get to the natural light. I tried for years to fight and find alternatives--  reading so many articles, trying to find some hidden trick or app to fix it all. There's not one. (We'll talk more soon on ways you can work around your schedule & natural light!) 
Note: If you're a mother, my friend has offered Zie Darling readers a coupon for her class, A Mom's Guide to Better Photos, which is super rad! Just use 'ziedarling' at checkout. And no, this isn't sponsored, she's just a darling former student of mine and I want to spread the love! <3 

related reading: how to use the party, party! app for building your brand

+ GET CREATIVE WITH IT! Ok, ok sometimes we just don't feel confident in our photography or just don't want to do it. That's totally fine! So get creative.

> 1. Make your own text graphics! Use Photoshop or Illustrator if you have those. If not, use apps like PicLab or Word Swag. So many folks have done this in different ways and made it work for them, so don't feel like you have to have photos! Below are a few examples from Elle & Co.-- who does a masterful job at using text graphics vs. photos to boost her brand. 

> 2. Use your own handwriting or illustrations! No way can anyone have the same photos as you if they're YOUR handwriting or YOUR doodles! For my own photos, I use Photoshop + my tablet to add my handwriting & Illustrator + my tablet for illustrations. But you can always use any of the dozens of apps for iPadBelow are two examples of me using my own handwriting + further reading on how to add text to your photos on the go

> 3. Create collages! Or any other way you personally feel creative. Do you embroider? Do that. Paint? Do that. Design patterns? Do that. Whatever you do, do you. The more unique and personal you make your photos / graphics, the better you are at propelling your brand into its own happy universe of recognition and glitter. 

> 4. Combine any two or three of the elements above! I use my snapshots and my handwriting, but you might use collages and your handwriting. Or illustrations and text. Or glitter and magic unicorn hairs. Whatever. Rock it. 

The point is, we all have personal brands whether we are actively thinking about it or not, and we want to set ourselves up for success. No one wants to put all of this hard work in, only to be skipped because a photo we used was used on 13 other blogs or websites as well. So take some time, experiment with different mediums and options, play and have fun! 

What are some other ways you could replace stock photos in your work? 

And if you're feeling a little overwhelmed on the personal branding front, you can either hire me or join the Personal Branding for Creatives, Bloggers & Babes in Business class that's starting soon! I would love to help you propel your brand into awesome glitter-land <3