When the stock photography well runs dry

Like any agency, we use a fair amount of stock photography. It's abundant, affordable and easily accessible—unfortunately, most of it's also crap. So, what do you do when you have a small budget, but the image you need either sucks or doesn't exist in the countless stock libraries? In our case, it's time for a ghetto photo shoot.

Now before you jump up and down and scream that we are contributing to the continued undermining of the art of commercial photography, let's be clear. This a "last resort" tactic.  We believe that nothing, we repeat, nothing is more valuable than quality custom photography that has been lovingly crafted by a professional who understands exposure, composition, framing, balance, lighting, contrast and technique. But today's economy means that setting up a professional photo shoot is just not always an option—thus, our industry's growing, yet reluctant dependency on stock imagery.

By it's nature, stock imagery is a lesson in compromise. A good photograph is a snowflake: No two are exactly alike. Which means there are an infinite number of possible photos—different characters, locations, props, expressions, modes of action, times of day, angles, etc. There is just no way for the stock companies to have every option available. And this is a problem when you're designing on a budget, you need as many options as possible. Far too often, the image you need just doesn't exist or if it does, the expense is too great (really great stock photography can cost as much as a photo shoot depending on the usage).

This happened to us recently while working for our client MasterImage 3D. We needed an image of a car jumping through the air all Dukes of Hazard style for a website feature graphic. (Yes, sometimes our jobs are really that awesome). We scoured the libraries of the various stock houses to no avail.  Finally we found an image that worked, but we couldn't use it for anything beyond editorial—damn those image rights. So, rather than compromise our creative vision, we decided to shoot it ourselves.

With no time or budget to hire a photographer – much less orchestrate the daunting and dangerous venture of actually jumping a car – we did what any low budget hollywood producer would do: we scaled down our vision — literally. With a creative staff come some interesting obsessions and hobbies. Conveniently, one of our art directors had a small collection of scale model muscle cars. 

Car 1

So with a little rigging, some impromptu lighting and a Cannon Powershot SD1200; we were in business.

Car 2

Since we work with a fair amount of stock photography, our team has gotten remarkably good at tweaking, compositing and retouching imagery to suit our demands.

Car 3

Compositing is as much a skill as actually composing and shooting a good photo.  In some cases it is a greater skill because of the raw material you are forced to work with.

Car 4

See kids, Photoshop is for so much more than just putting your friend's head on a T-rex body—though some of that still happens at Traction pretty regularly.

Car 5
Theo Fanning ECD

Theo is an illustrator and filmmaker by design, a designer and copywriter by necessity, and his office is living proof that vintage tin toys and crystal skulls can live harmoniously with deer heads and silver emulsion photo cells.