Delivering a message with impact requires two key elements: pictures and design. While the overall design is important to creating a cohesive piece, the quality of the images you use matter just as much as the message you want your customers to receive.
Have you ever visited a website where the images were blurry? Or flipped through those coupon magazines and noticed two or more ads using the same image? Or worse, seen a photo that looked like someone took it on their iPhone with terrible lighting? All of these matter to the audience, whether they notice it or not.
I did a quick Google search for stock photos involving money. While both satisfy the concept of money, the visual impact of these images is wildly different. The generic image has a person holding, obviously fake, bills and smiling on a white background. These kinds of images are plentiful on out-dated brochures and websites. What is she smiling at? Where exactly is she in this sea of white? How can she hold so much money so daintily with her hands like that? As a designer, I ask these questions when I see images like this. It gets the message across
"Money is Good" or "Lots of Money = Happiness." That message is pretty boring and not engaging at all. While the image is crisp and looks like it was taken by a professional photographer, it's just OK.
Now the image on the right also conveys the message about money, but does so with more visual impact. The face of Ben Franklin is in a close-up, making you stare right into his eyes. The bills are in focus while the bed of coins below aren't fully visible, but easily recognized. And the biggest impact; the color. This all looks like real money, but those colors would really stand out against a white background or sheet of paper. It would be impossible to miss. It doesn't state clearly as the image on the left does "Money is Good" because that should be what the copy of the piece does. Images shouldn't be the driving force of your ad, they should be the hook and support to it.
The quality of the image itself is probably more important than the content of the image (but only by a tiny margin).
The difference between an amateur photographer and a professional is obvious. I've had clients give me photos from their vacations or images of their resort/home that they insisted on using. While the images had great memories for my clients, they meant nothing to their audience. If your business is a location, like a resort or rentable vacation property, hiring a professional photographer will make a world of difference. Yes, it will be more expensive than using your own photos. But it is more than worth the cost.
The quantity of pictures and images is also an important.
The old adage of "Less is More" rings true when you aren't sure if you've added enough elements. Jamming your brochure or website full of stuff starts to get confusing for your audience, even if you think each piece is worth including.
While the site on the left is an extreme example of too much going on, even if the colors were adjusted and toned down, it has too much visual activity to navigate easily (it's also heavily animated). The site on the right keeps it simple with images of just the cars and easy to use navigation. The purpose of both sites; to sell cars. The site on the left sells cars, t-shirts, has games you can play, and who knows what else. The site on the right sells just cars. Clear and simple. If you were in the market for a new used car, which site would you want to browse through seriously? Which one would you spend more time on? And more importantly, which one would you return to?
I use stock images for most of my projects, as I'm not a photographer by trade. I've had minor luck taking my own photos on a cheap digital camera, but I understand the value of hiring a pro when needed. It's worth the money to have great looking pieces and websites that reflect your product or service in the best possible light.