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When Stock Photography Goes Wrong

Posted: August 14th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Graphic Design | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Birmingham City?

These days many companies use stock photography for their website and print needs rather than spend a small fortune on having their own, unique photos taken by a professional. This can save you a lot of money, and allows graphic designers to be more innovative and creative within their design brief using their skills and knowledge of stock photography resources to create the best solution. Everyone’s happy.

Except, of course, if you use the wrong stock photo. Perhaps your tag line reads “Buy red roses this Valentines” and the photo is of a daisy – a flower for sure, but not a red rose. Or perhaps you made the same mistake as Birmingham City Council, and spent £15,000 sending out a flier to your residents thanking them for their recycling efforts with a picture of the wrong Birmingham skyline. Hmm. It’s an easy mistake to make – do a search in your stock photo resource for ‘birmingham skyline‘, choose your favourite image, then make your flyer. Simple. Except of course if you know Birmingham in England, you’d know it’s not Birmingham, Alabama, USA. Admittedly they are similar, but not that similar.

Even without knowing which company Birmingham Council used to design this flier we can know that it’s not really their fault. It’s an easy mistake to make and surely someone at Birmingham Council should have checked the flier before it went out, perhaps noticing a lack of famous Brum landmarks like the Bullring building.

Birmingham’s distinctive Bullring centre – by Joseph Maestri

So how can we stop this happening? Well two key things; firstly – make sure that whoever is doing the work has a full, descriptive creative brief, perhaps with a few example images that you’ve found yourself to illustrate a concept or idea, and make people aware of pitfalls (perhaps Brum council’s brand guidelines can have a warning that says ‘watch out for Birmingham, Alabama!’. Secondly, review the final product carefully! It’s so easy to make a mistake unwittingly, from a last minute typo to a generic town skyline, so get someone who’s not been involved with the process to do a review as they will have fresh eyes. On that last point, remember that every time you make a change, however small, you have a new product that may have new mistakes in it – if in doubt, review it again.

In this particular case there could have been a third possible saviour – geo-tagging. In this situation if the photo search had been restricted to searches in the greater Birmingham area, UK, then the US skyline should never have shown up in the first place. A good stock photo search will potentially warn you of such ‘duplicates’ – asking you which Birmingham you mean before it presents results. In the case of using cheap stock photo engines you often pay for what you get, cheaper, potentially good photos, with less comprehensive editorial and tagging processes. Buyer beware!