Purpose-Led Marketing: Stock Imagery vs. Custom Photography

When it comes to projecting a brand’s image and values, visuals play a pivotal role. For purpose-led brands that aim to make a meaningful impact on society, the choice between using stock imagery and investing in custom photography can influence how their message is received. 

Stock Imagery: Pros and Cons

Stock imagery refers to a supply of readily available photos that can be licensed for a variety of uses. These images are generally generic and created to appeal to a broad audience. Here’s how they stack up for purpose-led brands:


  • Cost-Effective: Stock photos are often less expensive than hiring a professional photographer, making them an accessible option for smaller brands or those with limited budgets.
  • Time-Saving: Since stock images are ready to use, they save time that would otherwise be spent on planning and executing a custom photo shoot.
  • Vast Choice: There is a vast library of stock photos available, covering a wide range of subjects and styles.


  • Lack of Exclusivity: Because anyone can license stock imagery, it’s possible for the same images to appear across different brand campaigns, diluting the uniqueness of a brand.
  • Generic Feel: Stock photos can sometimes lack the authenticity or specificity that purpose-led brands require to effectively communicate their unique stories and values.
  • Limited Customization: Stock images do not offer much flexibility for customization to align perfectly with a brand’s message or visual identity.

When stock photos work

When you want a hero shot but the location, set-up or time constraints make it impossible: The Copeman Healthcare Health Letters are a good example of this strategy, especially for outdoor action shots where the setting is difficult to get to, e.g. swimming in the ocean or snowshoeing on a beautiful sunny day.

A small business or start-up may need to use stock imagery for generic things, like many of the projects we worked on for the Copeman Healthcare Dietitian team. Aurora used stock imagery to enhance the dietitian’s handouts, avoiding the need to take highly customized photos for small projects. The stock food photography served as an appealing backdrop for titles or diagrams.

Pro-tip! A collection of items or objects captured by a single contributor can be invaluable when their style and subject complement your project’s aesthetic. An example of this is the work of Kaanates Photography, available through iStock.

For the Copeman Dietitian cookbooks, however, custom photography was essential to showcase the precise outcome of each recipe. Photographer Tal Vardi looked at the stock image style we used in other materials and matched it.

Copeman Healthcare cookbook photography by Tal Vardi Photography

Copeman Healthcare cookbook photography by Tal Vardi Photography talvardi.com

Custom Photography: Pros and Cons

Custom photography involves creating original images that are tailored to a brand’s specific needs and goals. Here’s how this choice impacts purpose-led brands:


  • Brand Alignment: Custom photos are crafted to precisely reflect a brand’s ethos, mission, and vision, offering a level of detail and relevance that stock imagery often cannot match.
  • Unique Content: Original photographs ensure that the visual content is exclusive to the brand, enhancing its distinctiveness in a saturated market.
  • Emotional Engagement: Custom photography can evoke stronger emotional connections with the audience by depicting real scenarios, people, and products related to the brand.


  • Higher Costs: Professional photo shoots can be significantly more costly than purchasing stock photos, especially when factoring in the expenses of models, locations, and post-production.
  • Longer Lead Times: The process of planning and executing a custom photo shoot can be time-consuming, which may not be ideal for brands needing quick turnarounds.
  • Resource Intensive: Custom shoots require more resources, such as creative direction, styling, and logistics, to name a few.

When Custom Photography is worth the investment

Private healthcare startup, Copeman Healthcare (later acquired by Telus Health) focused on preventive, highly personalized healthcare. They had a dedicated team of clinicians who connected with patients and built longstanding, trusting relationships along the way. These talented people and the personalized care they provided was at the heart of the organization, so it was important to showcase those individuals. The healthcare clinic was also an up-market brand, making the use of custom photography even more important to their image. 

Aurora advised the Marketing team at Copeman to invest in custom photography, while also providing them with detailed guidance on the type of photos that would be best for their overall branding and upcoming projects. 

“I worked with Aurora for over 7 years and my confidence in Shawna and Gerard is unwavering. Their consistent and insightful brand audits significantly contributed to our journey towards success. Their recommendation to invest in custom photography was one of numerous invaluable strategies proposed by Aurora throughout our longstanding partnership, each playing a pivotal role in elevating our brand’s presence and impact,” says Katie Shimozawa, former Senior Marketing Manager at Copeman Healthcare.

Clinicians making connections Claudette Caracedo Photography claudettecarracedophoto.com

Copeman Healthcare chose to work with the talented Claudette Carracedo, who is an incredible storyteller through her photography. The team trusted Claudette with multiple photoshoots over the years that continued to capture the humanity and care that was at the centre of the organization.

Making the Choice for Purpose-Led Brands

For purpose-led brands, the authenticity and emotional connection emanating from custom photography often aligns better with their core values and narratives. Custom images allow these brands to tell their unique stories and connect with their audiences on a deeper level. It reinforces the idea that the brand doesn’t cut corners when it comes to their mission and the quality of their messaging.

Veterans Connect Canada Active Listening Course images by Devon Wells Photography devonwellsphotography.ca

On the other hand, stock imagery might be utilized effectively by purpose-led brands, especially when they’re just starting or testing new market niches. The key is to be highly selective, choosing stock photos that closely resonate with the authenticity and spirit of the brand.

In summary, while custom photography is generally more suited for purpose-led brands due to its ability to convey genuine stories and foster a stronger emotional connection, stock imagery can still serve as a tactical resource when used thoughtfully. Ultimately, the decision should align with your brand’s values, budget, and campaign objectives, ensuring that the chosen visuals enhance the overall brand narrative and contribute meaningfully to its purpose.

Photographers featured in this post

Tal Vardi Photography

Claudette Carracedo Photography

Devon Wells Photography