Marketing in 2015 is trending towards a greater focus on mobile and visual content. With all the popular social media applications driving and pivoting towards photo sharing platforms (think Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even Twitter to an extent) brands are going to have to produce more visual content to keep up with their consumers. This means spending more marketing budget on high quality imagery to compete for our attention with other brands and even their own consumers.

How much do organizations truly pay for imagery? This is a difficult question and individuals who handle buying images can have a tough time balancing the quality of images, of how much they pay organizations or people to procure content, and having the scale and flexibility of what they want photographed. Most of the time, people do not have a clear idea of what they should be paying for imagery.

The good news is with the sharing economy growing larger and larger, the average price to grab quality photography is steadily dropping while the overall quality is improving. Instagram and other photo sharing platforms have given birth to a generation of talent interested in learning how to take better photos, start being more enthusiastic about different styles of photography, and an endless stream of high quality content that these budding amateurs can compare their work to.


Instagram itself has given birth to a photography marketplace selling photography services and promotions through individual’s accounts to brands willing to pay fees. Today’s photographers are not being trained through traditional means, but learning as they go as they foster photographer communities helping one another. And with smartphone cameras as good as they are, this means anyone with a decent smartphone can become a photographer.

This means more photo content up for sale. While there have been stock photo giants like Shutterstock, Getty Images, and iStockphoto always in place, photo communities that sell stock photography like 500px have been popping up as well. More competition in the photography space has lead to an incredible increase in the quality of photos available and reduced the price.

While you are buying the picture and paying for the work that the photographers are doing, a lot of what imagery prices are for is buying the rights and licenses to use the images. The pricing often varies heavily with the duration of the license and where the placement is.

Stock Photography

Stock photography varies in price, but on average you are looking around upwards of $0.15 on a subscription model and $0.70 using credits per photo. Subscription models usually have a cap of a certain number of images per day, and credits tend to be expensive. However, stock photography is perhaps the cheapest method of procuring images and is used by a lot of small to medium sized businesses.


Being the cheapest option, it can be very attractive to look into stock photography for your images, but you end up with very impersonal and awkward imagery you can work with. A lot of the times in your mind you are looking for a specific image in mind but just can’t find the right one.

Frankly, using stock photography as a brand can be quite embarrassing. There are tools such as TinEye and Google reverse image search that will reveal that an embarrassing amount of people on the internet is going to be using the same image that you are. Stock images are easily identifiable by most of today’s audience who are so used to seeing so many images all the time.


Stock photography is a great solution to a very important problem. It fits the gaps where organizations may need photography, but do not have an adequate budget to allocate on spending money on pictures. However, medium to large sized companies focusing on their marketing should really consider solutions other than just using stock photography for all their imagery needs.

Commercial Photography Agencies

Bigger brands with bigger budgets can source images from five different types of content creators: internally, through agencies, user generated content (UGC), partners, and co-creation. Stock photography can sometimes yield gems, but it takes a trained eye and a ton of hours browsing and screening images that can be used for campaigns or content. Stock photography is generally very impersonal and does not resonate well with audience in the social world.


Brands can often have their internal or external agencies create imagery specific to their needs. However, when social channels move at such a rapid rate, it can be extremely expensive or inefficient to use agencies for all your imagery needs. Professional commercial photographers charges can vary depending on what the images are being used for. For most big brands, this can be anywhere upwards of $2000 for a couple of images. Any lower and commercial photographers may decline to work for pennies on the dollar that a brand would make off their images.

Custom Imagery Solutions

With the mobile and visual revolution, new businesses and companies have given rise to a variety of companies that aim to balance the price of imagery and the ability to custom tailor their content to their campaigns. One such company is FlashStock who create custom imagery based on what the brand needs for their campaigns. Useful for brands that need lots of imagery for a variety of subject matter, customization has given rise to more capabilities for brands to create more relevant and beautiful content that hits closer to the consumers. With the ability to acquire pictures globally within short times, brands can stay relevant and on-trend without breaking budget.


Alternatively, brands can source images internally, through their partners, or through UGC. These methods can also be costly and take an enormous time to do. In the case of UGC, it can seem like an idea that will yield a large amount of images that brands can use for the future. In reality, it is very difficult to attract buy-in and the levels of effort to amass enough UGC to have quality content. Often it is more time-consuming and expensive to run UGC campaigns that yield enough quality content to be published and used by brands.


A smart imagery strategy is one that sources the right imagery from the right places. While there may be little room for stock photography now for brands, the other methods of sourcing imagery has gotten cheap enough for brands to keep up with fast moving visual content platforms like Instagram and Facebook.