Posted in on February 1, 2017

Planning for Photography in 2017: Part II (Stock vs. Photo Shoot)

Last month in our post “Planning for Photography in 2017, Part I,” we addressed the fact that many organizations don’t (a) include photography costs in their budgeting process or (b) use photography to its greatest effect.

Two key points were Understanding Expectations (acknowledging the expectation of quality) and Getting Real (delivering emotion and authenticity) when using photography to reach mature consumers.

Let’s look now at the types of images that are effective for this market, and the pros and cons of stock vs. custom photography.

Images That Resonate with the 50+ Market

Mature consumers respond best to simple, bold imagery that is vibrant and evocative. There are both physical and psychological reasons for this.

First, older eyes are less acute and less sensitive to subtle color variations. Second, aging brains increasingly rely on visual messaging. Third, matures tend to be persuaded by emotional—as opposed to rational—messages.

Our Photo Finish survey of older adults explains these factors in more detail and reveals these useful insights:

  • Single-image ad designs beat those featuring a collage style
  • Vibrant pictures (brighter colors and an expressive model) trumped subdued (featuring a cooler color palette and a contemplative model)
  • Images in which the model was clearly identifiable were preferred to cropped
  • Lifestyle images were preferred over product
  • Product shots were preferred over product-in-use
  • Candid photos edged out posed

In short, the best approach to reaching this group is to use images that tell a story and take your audience on a journey that touches them in a personal way.

This advertisement for a 55+ housing developer was part of an integrated marketing campaign that won an award in 2016 from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). It meets many of the above criteria: a single, vibrant lifestyle image that shows the product (in this case, the kitchen of a new home) in use.


Stock Photography for Over-50 Marketing: Pros and Cons

Once you have an idea of the type of images you should be looking for, it’s time to start your search.

Budget will inevitably be a factor in determining where your search will begin: stock or custom imagery? In recent years, the cost gap between stock and professional custom photography has widened greatly as stock imagery has become ubiquitous. That has both positive and negative implications.

Beyond purchase cost, photography requires an investment in creative time and expertise that can be significant—an expense that is often not accounted for. Here are some pros and cons for stock photography:


Kickstarting the Creative Process

Searching for images on stock sites can help cut some corners when you are working without a specific creative concept.

Stock searches can give rise to great ideas, bubbling up themes and inspiring content where they are lacking. This is a good approach when time and budgets are tight: start with a powerful image and build a campaign around it.

Affordable & Accessible

Stock photography is very accessible and generally affordable.

There are LOTS of decent royalty-free (unrestricted use) stock images out there to choose from, particularly when your message is aspirational. For age-qualified communities, these would be images such as a relaxed social gathering, grandparents on the beach with their grandson, or folks out enjoying a dining or hiking excursion. All show a lifestyle that isn’t specific to time or place and is very relatable.


Limited Choices for the 50+ Market

Basing your photography decision only on low cost and ease of availability can be shortsighted, however.

Your competitors and others within the mature consumer market are likely trolling for and using the same stock images you are finding. That makes identifying photo—and even models—you haven’t seen before a real challenge. It may also be difficult to find subjects that are in the right setting (tan people in Florida instead of people wearing jackets in New England, for example).

In addition, finding images that represent diversity in this market can be difficult; we see the same three models in too many collections. (Is it really that hard to find models of different ethnic backgrounds who are over 50?)

Capturing What’s Unique

Chances are, there are unique characteristics about your product/service/community that couldn’t be represented in stock collections. A fabulous location, unique architectural features, or especially close-knit residents are assets that may only be captured in a photoshoot.

And, if your team is developing a campaign based on established messaging—a headline, copy, calls to action—finding an existing image that effectively supports that messaging can be daunting, if not impossible. The uniqueness of the content begs to be reflected in unique imagery.

Consider this: No amount of stock searching is going to uncover an image that captures your residents creating fine art in your fully equipped art studio, or replaces a beautifully framed portrait of your staff, or communicates how beautiful your property is at sunset. In that case, a photoshoot is well worth the investment.


Photo Credits (L to R): Nat Rea, Liz Ernest, Nat Rea

The Power of Custom Photography

It’s time to look at your options for custom photography. Should you hire a professional, or engage the amateur on your staff who is handy with a camera?

Here are some factors to consider before taking the next step:

  • Tools—In addition to a capable camera, an effective photographer needs a whole host of other tools, such as a light meter, appropriate lenses/filters, lighting and diffusers, backdrops, ladders, extra batteries, extension cords, makeup for models, and often a second set of hands to help set up the shots.

Note: While even amateur photographers can tease some great shots out of an iPhone, the image resolution is not going to be adequate for high-resolution printing, especially in large format (think displays, signage, banners, etc.).

  • Models—It’s not always possible to hire professional models, but it may be cheaper than you think, considering your total investment in a shoot.

Keep in mind that using non-professional subjects takes extra finesse and planning. Making people comfortable and looking their best takes someone who knows what they are doing, especially when the subjects are older and/or the conditions may be less than optimal.

A photographer must be able to manage the human element while juggling all the technical aspects of the shoot.

  • Location—It is important to understand/anticipate the limitations and challenges of a location ahead of time. Weather conditions, time of day and season (light conditions/shadow), crowds, and other factors that are beyond one’s control must be dealt with in a creative, professional manner.

There is no substitute for experience and training when dealing with unexpected circumstances.

  • Outcome—Finally, a shoot is only as good as what is actually delivered to you. Make sure you are getting images you can use immediately: images that are already retouched or color-corrected (as necessary).

Images should be provided in the specific format you require, whether small jpgs for web, or high-resolution images for print. Provide the photographer with the size and resolution you need.

Never accept raw images that need to be converted—the job isn’t done until you get a finished product. And agree ahead of time how many finished images you are expecting and whether or not you have unlimited use or if they are restricted by licensing.


We’ll pick it up from here in our next post, so keep your eyes out in February for Part III: “Tips and Techniques for Photo Shoots,” when we’ll address these and other issues:

  • Amateur photography–can it work?
  • Planning for and making the most of a professional photo shoot
  • Budgeting and managing costs of a photo shoot

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