04 Nov The Great Debate: Stock vs Original Photos
It’s the age old question — what kind of photos do you use when building your local Baha’i website? Beautiful stock photos, which may or may not look authentic to your community, or original photos, which don’t look quite as snappy but show the real people and places in your community. Due to the importance of the question, I thought I’d invite both Original Photo and Stock Photo (they’re distant relations) in to the studio to have it out with each other.
Right on time, as always, Stock opens the door and glides in from the hallway. He’s a well-groomed, put-together looking guy, and he looks like he knows his business. He glances around expectantly, waiting for the debate to begin. Unfortunately, his opponent in today’s debate is nowhere to be seen. He coughs a couple of times, then looks at me for permission to begin anyway. I ask him to start by introducing himself.
“Thanks for asking me to be part of this debate today. So I’m Stock Photo. Without bragging about it, you have to admit, I look great. I’m taken by professional photographers, the lighting’s usually perfect, the people in the photographs look happy to be there and photogenic, and I can give you pictures of almost any subject matter you want. Need a shot of the Baha’i Terraces in Haifa? Done. Need a picture of diverse people to advertise the oneness of mankind? Done. Heck, if you need shots of your city, my generic city photos will probably do in a pinch. I’m not saying I’m cheap, necessarily. Some of my photos are just a couple of bucks, and others are a couple of hundred. But unless you have a professional photographer in your local Baha’i community who enjoys working for free, I can be a real bargain. Lastly, I’m easy to find. I like to hang out in popular places on the internet like istockphoto.com, shutterstock.com, and a few speciality sites like lightstock.com. Occasionally you’ll find me over at Flickr if the terms are right.”
Right about then, we heard a sudden clattering in the doors across the studio. We craned our necks over right in time to see Original Photo stumble through and make her way over to the debate table. I tell her that it’s good to see her, and ask her to introduce herself to the audience.
“Hey guys, sorry I’m late! As you both know, I can be pretty hard to get ahold of sometimes. I’m Original Photo, and let’s face it, I can be a little hit or miss. Some days I look amazing, and other days there’s not a whole lot of difference between me and a wet rat. But one thing is for sure: I’m authentic. I show the truth of what your local Baha’i community looks like. Sometimes you look a-mazing — it’s a diverse crowd at the devotional gathering, everyone is having fun, and the lighting is just right. Other times, not so much. There’s just a couple of people in attendance, no one’s in a good mood, and any photos look dark or drab. I mean, what can you do?
I’m also hard to get ahold of. Did I mention that already? You can find my cousin across the table practically everywhere (How is he so available, anyway?), but if you want me, you have to make an effort to go out and take pictures yourself or hire someone to do so. I can’t tell you how many times someone had contacted me to get some great photos of their local Baha’i community and neighborhood, but decided it was too much trouble and called up Stock over there instead for a generic photo of the House of Worship instead, even though they live in Miami.”
I thanked Original for her energetic opening and prepared to open up a new line of questioning for the participants. I decided to throw them both a little off guard and ask them to comment honestly on their challenges. Stock volunteered to begin.
“If I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that I rely too heavily on recommending stock Baha’i images to my clients. Like Original was just saying, too many of my clients are really thinking about what they like to see on a website instead of what an outsider might like. There was one time a client in Florida asked for a picture of junior youth in a park, and the best I had was a shot that was clearly taken in a park somewhere near the Rocky Mountains. The trees were all pines and firs, and there were no palm trees, sand, or shorts to be seen. You wouldn’t believe how many of my clients in Georgia want pictures of the Holy Shrines in Israel when seekers in their community really just want to know what the local Baha’i community (and Baha’i center) look like so they know what to expect when they visit.”
I appreciated his sincerity. Next Original stood up, ready to give her understanding.
“I’m hard to find, potentially expensive (especially if you hire a professional photographer, which you probably should for something as important as a Baha’i website), and hmmm. Oh yeah, this is one of those issues that people don’t often think about — sometimes people in your community move away, and it looks a little weird to see them on the website or social media pages when they don’t really represent your local community anymore.”
“But I think an important thing here is that my cousin over there and I”, she pointed to Stock, “we have to work together”. Stock nodded. “Most local communities don’t aren’t big enough to have lots of photos yet, and you have to have something to fill in the gaps, so speak. Obviously, I am a big fan of original photography, but you have to realistic. Get stock photos that make sense for you when you don’t have a quality original equivalent.”
Intrigued, I asked Stock to explain what might make a good stock photo in such an occasion.
“First of all, it’s important to have a clear direction you want to go with when choosing a photo strategy. Make sure all of the photos you’re using are on message, whether it’s showcasing a children’s class or a study circle. That being said, make sure any stock photos you choose for the “gaps” in your original photo coverage feel natural. Don’t choose photos that have any supermodels in them (unless your Baha’i community really is full of supermodels), and photos that have a crowd of people that no one can easily identify are better than ones where individuals are easily singled out (and can be identified as not people in the local community).
Obviously, this advice was great. I asked if either of them had any closing remarks.
Stock deferred towards Original with a nod of his head. She looked thoughtful for a second, and then answered: “Mostly, just get pictures of happy people and local places in your city that have meaning for everyone”.
The debate was over. We all shook hands, and Original and Stock walked out of the studio chatting together. They clearly had a lot of catching up to do.