stockPhotosI was recently asked about stock imagery: not just for suggestions of good low-cost options, but also how best to deal with them. As is my usual practice, a question asked by a client becomes a post in my blog.

My client base ranges from large corporations to tiny start-ups and non-profits. When creating collateral for larger companies, they often have their own library of professional custom photography to draw on. But when I create collateral for smaller companies, and when I need images for my own collateral and my blog, I turn to online stock photography collections.

Usage rights: Read and understand the fine print

Regardless of where you get your images, you must be sure to read (and keep a copy) of the license agreement. This will tell you the cases in which you can and cannot use the images, the way you need to cite the source of the images, whether the rights to use the images expire, and other conditions. These agreements are rarely burdensome, but you won’t know unless you read it.

Copying images

We are all doing our best to make a living, and that includes the artists and photographers who created these images. Making copies of these images to share with others, whether you make money from this transaction or not, is not only illegal, it reduces the artists’ and photographers’ ability to earn a living from them. Do your part to keep quality stock images available by respecting the rules.

Take it seriously!

Making sure you use licensed images goes beyond just being a good citizen and doing the right thing: if a photographer or stock agency sees an image on your site for which you don’t have the rights, you can be sued. And taking the image down on request does not cancel out the problem: you can still end up shelling out quite a bit of dough.

Here’s a well-written post by Roni Loren about what can happen if you use an image that without purchasing the rights.

Sources for quality low-cost and free images

Online stock photography is available at the full range of pricing, from free to expensive.

There are many, many sources of free and low cost images on the Internet. Some of these sites earn their money by hosting advertising and offering additional products for sales. If you find a source of free or low-cost images that you appreciate, show your support by looking at the ads and clicking through if it’s something you have interest in.

There are also quite a few sources of high-quality images that are not free. In some cases these more expensive images come with exclusivity, which might be necessary for some clients. These sites also attract a greater number of more professional photographers and illustrators, because, in stock photography as in all things: you get what you pay for.

You might on occasion get an offer in your email inbox for downloads from a stock image site for a limited time, either for free or for a very low rate. These are sometimes very good deals and worth looking into.

For a short list of some good sources of free and reasonably priced images as well as a description of a good process for organizing them, see my earlier post Free Graphics Sources.

What types of images should you download?

It was one of those free-download deals that one of my clients wrote to me about. She had a one-week trial with a stock photo site, and asked if I had any suggestions for her best plan of attack.

There are several factors to consider when choosing stock images:

  • The topic or subject of the image.
  • The type of image — as in the file type and whether it is raster or vector. [Learn more about the difference between raster and vector graphics.]
  • The size of the image.

First, try to list all the things that you need images for. For me it is blog posts, web headers, source material for collage art, graphics for my collateral, and occasionally images for collateral for my clients. Then for each of the things you listed, think of the types of images you need. Try to think forward to things that, even if you don’t need them now, maybe you’ll need them in the future.

For example, if your business generally focuses on book publishing, event support, and education — look for images that fit in with those areas. But if you have an interest in theater management as well, perhaps in the future you’ll need images for that area too.

Some other important things to consider:

  • Largest file. You give yourself the most flexibility possible if you have the largest version of the image that is available. For example, even if you only need a 300-pixel-wide image for a blog post, you might want the same image for a printed brochure later — and for that you might need the image to be as much as 2400 pixels wide.
  • Tiled images. When images are used as a background image, they could be a single large image, or they may be a smaller square image that is tiled or set into a repeated pattern. When you download an image that is going to be tiled, look carefully at the edges to verify that it is actually intended for that purpose, which means it has been edited so that if you tile the image, the edges match up to create a continuous image.
  • Illustration file types. For non-photographic images, such as illustrations, it is best to download the vector version, usually an .eps file, sometimes a .ai (Adobe Illustrator) file. With these file types, you will be able to scale the image up and down in size without affecting the image quality.
  • Source files. If you use graphics editing software, then it is best to always get the .ai (Illustrator) or .psd (Photoshop) versions of images when they are available. In those cases, also save a screenshot of the image in the folder so that it will be included in your thumbnails.
  • Customizable images. For any kind of image, try to imagine it as something that you can easily add something to, even if you have to hire a freelancer to do it for you. For images that include words, look to see if they offer the image WITHOUT the word – that way you can add any word you want later. As an example, for my blog post about LinkedIn, I used a stock image of a hand with some empty blank rectangles. Because the rectangles were blank, I was easily able to add in the LinkedIn logo.

Organizing your library

If you can’t find an image when you’re ready to use, then you might as well never have purchased it.

If you ask ten experts for the best way to organize your image library, you will get ten different answers. [Note: there is a type of software called a digital asset manager (DAM) which can be a great tool if your photos number in the thousands. I’ve yet to find an ideal DAM, so will refrain from recommending one.]

Here are my suggestions for organizing your stock photos:

  • Folders. Keep all you images in subfolders in one place. For me, I have a folder called  “Purchased” in my Photos folder. The point is that I only put images in this folder that I know that I have purchased the right to use. If there is a subset of your images that can fall into a category, then consider creating a subfolder for those images. For example, I have many images that are close-up, high-resolution photos of colored, textured paper. I have all those images grouped together in a sub-folder called Paper. I also have a set of images that are photographs of plants, which I have in a Plants folder. Anything you can do to categorize your images to make them easy to look through will make the collection much easier for you to use.
  • File names. Most stock photo companies embed a reference number or name in the filename, and you may very well need that information later when it comes time to cite the source. So you should keep the original filename, but add to it. My method is that the filename begins with keywords that a describe the image, then the rest of the name is whatever the stock agency named it. I also make sure the name of the agency is in the file name. For example, an image of a green fish from Deposit Photos may be called “fish-green-Deposiphotos-xxxxxx.jpg”(where xxx is the original file number that Deposit Photos assigned to the file). What’s nice about this is, if I have ten different images of fish, if I make sure the file name of all of them start with “fish” so when I see those thumbnails in alphabetic order, they’ll be right next to each other.
  • Previewable version. While it adds a little bit of extra time to the process, whenever I download an illustration from a stock agency that is a file format that does not support a graphic preview in in my native OS file previewer, such as .psd, .ai, .eps, I save a screenshot of the image in with my images. That way, when I am browsing through the images in my folder, I can quickly scan through them.

Moral of the story

There’s a reason for the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Make use of a stock photography website to add a quality image to your blog post, article, or collateral to make it look good and attract more eyes to your content.

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