You have a very sophisticated visual mind. You can spot a phony, stock image a mile away. You know what I’m talking about, right? The still of that really handsome guy in this mid-thirties, wearing a light blue button down shirt – sleeves slightly rolled up – standing at a white board that’s covered with C++ code stubs? He’s smiling with perfectly white teeth and looking right into the camera. Yeah that guy. He’s a model. He has no idea what any of the writing on the white board means. His major in college was Communications. He withdrew from a basic HTML class because it had too much math.

Phone ManBut you see this guy and attractive women everywhere on websites, in ads, and brochures and the thing is… it’s really inauthentic, but it’s certainly cheap. Royalty free, stock images costs as little as a couple of dollars and as much as about $10 per image depending upon how they’re purchased, (blocks of credits vs. unlimited monthly or annual subscriptions) providing the buyer with a nearly limitless collection of media.

tock is not just stills, either. There are stock illustrations created with Illustrator and others, 2 and 3D animations created in programs like After Effects and Cinema 4D, video clips and music. The stock media world is oversaturated with every type of contrivance and mimicry imaginable. Need a shot of a farmer milking a cow? Done. How about a happy factory worker holding a hoist control? Yes. How about a suited tech in a clean room examining a wafer of components? Several choices. But is it prudent to use stock media? It depends.

There are actually two basic types of stock: royalty-free and editorial. Royalty free stock is what we’ve been talking about for this entire post; it’s often very generic and inexpensive and in most cases once you’ve paid to use it you can keep using it forever and anywhere (advertising, promotional, informational, educational) you’d like. Royalty free media is usually created by artists to be used specifically as stock media. Thorough artists have models and locations owners sign releases to waive their rights to the images. In turn the photographers, visual artists, filmmakers, and others who created them, own their work. There is a lot of duplication in this market and because the images look generic, prices are usually quite low.

Then there are editorial images. Editorial means that they have newsworthy value. In other words, a photograph of a political figure or a celebrity milking that cow is going to be a lot more interesting than a photo of that generic farmer. Photos of actual news events: press conferences, war-related, club-hopping celebrities, indicted criminals walking into court, etc. are considered editorial. And, that means that they’re going to cost substantially more than their royalty-free counterparts – possibly hundreds or even thousands of dollars more, depending upon how they’re used. Often, these media may only be licensed for one-time use or one-time plus one-place use.

It sounds like royalty free stock is a waste of time, doesn’t it? Not entirely. If you have the time to search carefully, you can actually find some stock images that look real and spontaneous. Another way to use royalty free stock is as a placeholder to temporarily stand in for what you will ultimately use, a custom image or clip. Placeholders offer various stakeholders the opportunity to view a work-in-progress with a pretty good idea of how it’s ultimately going to come out.

Stock images will save time and expense, but will cost you in terms of authenticity. Most of the time, they’re simply too fake and generic looking. It’s usually always best to go with the real deal.fig2 - software engineer

Actual software engineer.