Why Every Content Marketing Team Should Create Its Own In-House Stock Library

Stock library photos.

You either love them or you hate them.

If you’re looking for some free pictures to throw into things like Medium blogs, then Pexels is pretty good. I’ve used a lot of photos from their talented creatives and try to send a few images back too.

Within the corporate world, or simply among those happy to pay licensing fees for images, Shutterstock has long been the dominant name. Although increasingly its dominance is being challenged by players like Stock Unlimited, Adobe Stock, and others.

The problem with even good stock imagery is that … well, it’s still stock imagery.

Often, there’s something vaguely impersonal about it. It tends to look scripted. The talent a little too good-looking to be credible. The smiles a little too-beaming. And of course, you don’t gain exclusive rights to use it — for the monetization structure to work from the photographer’s perspective, they have to be able to sell recurring rights to it.

It’s absolutely possible that your competitors or everybody else in your industry is using the same few pics. You could, in inadvertently, have just suggested that the face of your brand is the same as another brand the reader is familiar with.

This (below) is a nice composition (it’s from Pexels). But it still has that very stock-y vibe going on.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

But there’s another compelling reason why you might want to think about using your own stock images (I’ll explain what I mean by that later).

Often, they… well, look fake. I’ve often heard Content Marketing Managers contend that they know that users are able to sniff out what’s stock and what’s “real,” although if there’s been UX research done on this point, I couldn’t locate it when I published this blog.

That being said, I think that developing your own stock image library is actually an enormously satisfying endeavor.

I’m not necessarily talking about cost savings — you could, for instance, pay a professional photographer to take photographs that you arrange.

I’m talking about creating photographs that you take which you know might be required down the line for some of your content marketing assets, but which you don’t have an immediate requirement for.

Here’s all you need to get organized.

Prerequisites For Building Your Proprietary Corporate Stock Image Library

It should go without saying … but here it is anyway.

You’re obviously going to need a camera and whatever else you think might spruce up your images.

Of course, the quality of your gear is going to make a difference to the final stock images you produce.

You could get away with shooting stock clips on your phone. But you’re very unlikely to replicate the results you could obtain with a mirrorless or DSLR camera.

Task 1: Get Organizing and Describing Your Photos

The key to developing a good stock image library is … developing a very keyword-rich taxonomy that you can search through when you later have an actual need to recall these images.

Organizing images into folders is great too — they pretty much all do this. But sometimes the easiest way to just create data that can be searched through is by adding tags and descriptions. When you begin storing hundreds or thousands of images you’ll really appreciate the time-saving involved.

This is where good old elbow grease comes into its own. Although AI has slowly been moving into this space (for instance, to automatically add ‘alt’ tags for the vision-impaired), if you’re just starting out, then you probably can’t go wrong with writing the descriptions by hand.

Editing a batch of photos using Darktable for Ubuntu Linux 20.04 LTS. Screenshot: Author
Creating a new tag for assigning images to using DigiKam. Screenshot: author
Adding image metadata in Darktable for Ubuntu Linux. Screenshot: author

I’m a Linux user, so the photo organization software that I’m familiar with is unlikely to ring much of a bell among those on Windows or Mac. But Adobe Lightroom, DigiKam, and PhotoDirector (more beginner friendly) are all well-known names in this product category.

If you want to go more lightweight, then simply look for a tool that edits the EXIF metadata. Typically, cloud-based photo storage solutions will be able to read and import that metadata alongside the images themselves. So once you have this added to every image in your library, you’ll be able to use these for a variety of purposes.

Photo organizers tend to bring a few core functionalities together:

  • They allow you to add descriptions to photographs and mark up other meta properties
  • They allow you to apply edits in bulk so that you don’t need to edit every photograph one by one
  • Frequently, there’s also a cloud upload functionality so that you can quickly upload your photos to a cloud photo organizer

Should My Stock Library Be Hosted Locally Or In The Cloud?

To again state the obvious:

Whenever you’re moving data to the cloud (simple translation: somebody else’s computer!) you typically have to pay for the privilege of using up storage that you can maintain access to.

After all, somebody needs to provision the storage space that you can store your photos on.

Photo storage websites that also include some organizing functionalities include:

  • Flickr
  • Google Photos

You can also use any filesystem-based cloud storage tool.

These typically include desktop clients with synchronization functionalities — so you can add your photos to a local folder and they will quickly be replicated on the cloud:

  • Google Drive
  • Spider Oak
  • Picture Life

The benefit of storing photos in the cloud: anybody can access them, wherever they are in the world.

In most cases, this option makes much more sense for businesses.

Can I Do This For Free?

If you’re looking for a quick and easy solution to just get rolling with this project with minimal hassle, then Google Photos is a really simple solution.

If you have a Google or Google Workspace account, then this should be rolling out of the box.

After shooting some photographs, you can organize them on your local computer and then upload to Google Photos. Or you can do all the work there.

If you’re going down the Google route, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the differences between high quality and original quality images.

Google’s compression algorithm is pretty good. So if you want to conserve on space, you can choose this method to store more at less data overhead. The blog linked above is worth checking out — it shows that it’s very hard to tell the difference even at high levels of zoom.

Two things you’ll want to add if you’re working within the browser:

  • The location where the photo was taken
  • A description. This is where you can populate keywords to help you retrieve the photograph later
Adding some data fields to a Google Photos photo. Photo: author.
Using Google Photos, you can also bundle photos into albums — like I did here for an article I wrote about setting up a home load balancing router. But if you populate the image info fields, you’ll be able to add more info that will make search retrieval much faster. Photo: author.

Developing your own proprietary/in-house stock image library can be a great way to regain a sense of ownership over the visual imagery that accompanies your marketing collateral — whether blog posts, white papers, or other assets.

Shoot photos whenever the opportunity presents itself, organize them meticulously, and store them in a system that your whole content-producing team has access to.

You may find that you never need to buy a commercial stock image again.

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Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com

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Daniel Rosehill

Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com

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