Neuroscientists at MIT have discovered that the human brain can identify images seen for as few as 13 milliseconds. In the growing scramble for digital eyeballs and attention minutes, this instant recognition phenomenon makes photography an essential part of your content marketing strategy.

This year alone, 70 percent of marketers plan to increase their use of original visual content. And the reason is clear: Content with imagery just plain performs well. It also makes content more shareable. For example, tweets with images receive 18 percent more clicks, 89 percent more favorites, and 150 percent more retweets.

To take advantage of visual content in your content marketing, you should consider three approaches:

  • Stock photography
  • Assignment photography
  • Custom photo shoots

These approaches vary greatly in cost, time and quality, so you must assess your needs and requirements for visual content. Do you need it fast and on a tight budget? Or are you working on a focused creative identity where every detail is important?

Let’s run through each option.

Stock Photography

Creative stock photos get a bad rap. It’s not entirely undeserved, either – there’s a reason Vince Vaughn parodied them for his latest comedy.

But there are tons of amazingly talented photographers currently shooting creative stock images.  Just take Getty’s Lean In collection, which captures contemporary women, girls and families.

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Photo Courtesy of the Lean In collection on Getty Images


Simply put, it’s the least expensive and most scalable way to visualize your content.

If you need to produce a lot of content quickly with a small budget, you’ll definitely want to tap into stock photography. For example, if you’re creating a travel listicle about the top 10 most kid-friendly cities in the US, stock libraries can be your new best friend.

Things To Consider

While stock libraries are highly accessible, it can be tricky to find the right image for your content. Great images are often jumbled side-by-side with cheesy and overly-literal images.

Stock can also be too general for highly-specific content. For example, finding stock to go with your watermelon mint sangria recipe may be an impossible challenge.

On a similar note, royalty-free or rights-managed stock photography isn’t exclusive, so you may see the same image across many publishers and sites.

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Photo Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Lastly, product integration is a no-go with stock photography.  If your marketing content needs to have a specific product featured, this just isn’t possible.

Assignment Photography

Assignment photography is generated by a freelance or staff photographer without a full production staff. A creative director or photo editor will communicate the art direction, the content specification and a deadline.  The photographer then uses his or her own resources (models, locations and props) to bring those directions to life.  Also, the client is not on set, so many decisions are left up to the photographer.

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Photo Courtesy of eHow


Assignment photography is faster than creating imagery via a fully produced photo shoot.  Depending on the budget and scope of the project, you can send out assignments to photographers and get your images within a few days or weeks.

Assignment photography is also a great fit for mid-sized budgets. You’ll get unique images without spending location fees, permits, production assistants, etc…

Also, assignment photographers can incorporate your product, but you will need to cover shipping costs. If you have an easy product to transport, such as clothes, food, or portable technology, then this is a great solution for featured product photography.

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Photo Courtesy of Demand Media

Things To Consider

Because photographers create assignment photos independently, there is a level of detail you can’t control. For example, they may shoot beautiful images of your clothing, only to find that the selected models don’t represent your brand.

Also, while the photographer may have followed your creative direction perfectly, taste and preference can be subjective.  You have to accept that elements won’t always turn out exactly how you envision.

Finally, if your products are big (i.e. TVs, furniture) or if your brand is location-based (i.e. a restaurant chain), assignment photography is not a good option. In these cases, it’s best to choose a more high-touch photography solution.

Custom Photo Shoot

Custom photo shoots aren’t one size fits all.  They don’t even have to be big budget, depending on what’s important to your content needs. Though full of moving parts, the flexibility of custom photos shoots is also what makes it an attractive option.

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Photo Courtesy of Samsung Tech Life

The Benefits

Custom photo shoots are limitless because there’s nothing you can’t do with enough time, budget, and equipment.  You can create stunning imagery that features your products. You can even dive into the pre-production process with a creative director.

You also have the final say on every detail, from casting to locations. You’ll even be able to collaborate with the art director and photographer, allowing you to modify and finalize images in real time. Don’t like the red sweater the model is wearing?  Just ask the wardrobe stylist to change it.  And if you don’t require too much retouching, your final shots can be ready to publish before the crew even breaks down the strobe lights.

Things To Consider

Producing a custom photo shoot can be time-consuming.  Countless options mean countless decisions: Casting, locations, mood boards, props, you name it.

Also consider that you’ll need time out of your schedule to be on set.  If you’re shooting in St. Croix, this may sound ideal. But it could also be a five-day shoot in Chicago during the dead of winter.

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Photo Courtesy of LiveSTRONG

Cost is another factor that may prevent you from choosing custom imagery. While the budget varies on the details of the project, you get what you pay for in the end.  The cost of high quality and control can add up.

Also, custom photography isn’t scalable.  When you want a high-touch level of execution, it takes time.  I recommend budgeting at least a month for creative brief, pre-production and execution.