A Short Course in Marketing Photography
by Chad Rueffert

Some of the best advertising ideas are never used because the concept requires a photograph that doesn't exist.  In my personal experience, I can remember killing ideas that required a dog in a prom dress, a tank in a townhome garage, and even a boy hugging a goldfish.  The problem is, custom photography is expensive, and despite the millions of stock photos available to purchase, very rarely do they match exactly with your concept.

Photography and marketing go hand in hand.  Unless you choose to advertise exclusively on radio, you'll use photography in brochures, print ads, websites, television commercials, direct mail, tradeshows, and every other marketing tool in your plan.  For those of you who find radio just isn't enough, there are four basic ways to obtain photography for marketing, each with its advantages and drawbacks.

Shoot It Yourself 

The biggest advantage of do-it-yourself photography is price.  A good digital camera and you can drop a photo right onto your website in a matter of minutes, with no cost but the camera.  But no matter what you think of your amateur photography skills, most of your photos, when it comes to marketing, aren't worth the paper they are printed on.  Good photography takes professional staging, lighting, equipment and an artist's eye.  Your customers can tell the difference.

Purchase Royalty Free Stock Photography

Today, companies like Comstock (www.Comstock.com) and Getty (www.gettyimages.com) have comprehensive websites and catalogs where you can search thousands of photos and download them immediately or have them delivered on disc.  Most of these companies also offer photo collections on specific subjects like weddings, business, real estate, kids, etc. for companies who need multiple photos to use over long periods of time.  For specific subjects or regional shots, you can call local photographers who often have stock libraries of their own.

Royalty-free photography is relatively inexpensive, usually under $200 for single, high-resolution images, and under $500 to purchase photo collections of as many as 100 photos.  Plus, because they are "royalty-free", you can use them in virtually every aspect of your marketing, as often as you want, for as long as you want.  The drawback to this type of photo is that there is nothing stopping your competition, or anyone else, from using the same photo you just printed on the front of your catalog.  You don't own the photo, you just own the right to use it.  It's hard to create an identity for your company when your photography is seen all over town in other people's ads.

Purchase Rights-Managed or Right's-Protected Photography

As always, its seems that most of the really good photography falls into the category of "Right's Protected."  Wile there is a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo that goes along with this term, it basically means that you can purchase the rights to use a specific image, in a specific way, for a specific amount of time.  With right's protected photography, you also often have the option of purchasing "competing use protection" that prohibits the photographer or agency from allowing a competing company to use the same image.  What you pay for the photo depends entirely upon how you plan to use it.  A recent search on Getty Images website showed that a single color photo used for advertising ten times in a publication like The Gazette, would cost over $2000. 

Hire A Professional

Professional photographers have all the tools to turn your concept into reality.  From studios and sets to lighting and lenses, a good photographer can make your shot into a work of art.  But like a work of art, it's going to cost you. 

"In Colorado Springs, most photographers charge $100 to $175 per hour, plus the costs for film or digital captures.  Plan on a minimum of 2-3 hours for a studio shot and at least half a day for a location shot," says Don Jones of Don Jones Photography (www.donjonesphotography.com). 

Depending upon the complexity of your project, you may also have fees for assistants, hair and make-up stylists, props and set design.  Plus, unless specifically transferred, the photographer retains copyright of the work, and you may have usage fees or a buyout fee.  "In big markets, you can expect to pay relatively large usage fees," says Jones.  "But in Colorado Springs, most photographers will offer a buyout for a few hundred dollars, allowing unlimited use."  If these fees sound high, consider that a professional quality digital camera costs around $15,000, not to mention the lights, lenses and studio.  Plus, you'll get exactly what you want, and the cost can often be less than a rights-managed stock photo.

Models are another issue to consider when creating your own professional photography.  Hiring your son-in-law, your receptionist or your wife's cute friend may sound like a cost saving idea, but often results in lesser quality photography and longer photo shoots.  Hiring professional models results in better photography, but often comes with usage rights similar to rights-managed photography. 

However you choose to approach your photography needs, you should understand that it's the same old story you've heard before:  you get what you pay for.  Original, high quality photography simply costs more and comes with more restrictions than generic stock photos and do-it-yourself photos.  Is it worth it?  If you have a great creative concept that really tells your story and custom photography is the only way to accomplish it, then I say, "Yes."