Generally the Way to Go.
Small businesses (especially startups) can be tempted to just grab images from the internet, they Google search images and just copy them – please avoid doing this! Those images are almost all copyrighted, meaning the photographer or the company that hired them, owns the rights. You could end up liable if you just grab images from anywhere – and start using them for business purposes. That’s why royalty free stock photos make more sense. While the purchasing of stock photos does help save time and money while supporting the art community, it also has one more added benefit: it helps reduce your stress level.
Even bigger businesses have a hard time justifying the expense of custom photography – even they usually go with stock photos. Royalty-free is generally the preferred way to go. You still have to pay for them, but you can use on multiple projects. The biggest issue with stock images is the quality, it ranges all over the place – so do some research and spend a little time to get the right images for your projects. It’s not always easy to stay consistent with your image styles, but try to choose images that compliment each other and look like they’re sorta from the same family. It’s another way to build brand consistency.
- Save Time – time is money, you will be able to search and find what you need rather quickly and efficiently.
- Selection – there are millions and millions of images; that means you can probably find the right image.
- Model Releases – they already have the model & property releases. If you are going to use images for marketing projects, a release is a must.
- Lightboxes – stock sites have lightboxes that allow users to store images you may want to purchase at a later date.
How do you find good stock photos?
Bad stock photos are probably worse than no photos at all. Stock photo sites host thousands of images — the good ones provide filters for searching & finding the right images. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see the image you’re looking for on first search term. Find images that share similar qualities or styles – if you mix too many your brand will lack a consistent look. Don’t pick a stock image just because you think it looks “cool”, it needs to communicate an idea.
Where are you going to use the stock photo?
Whether you use it for print, web or both makes a big difference in the file resolution you need. If you think you might use an image again later for print – you should download a high res image. That way, you will not have jaggy pixels or blurry photos – you can always downsize, but you can’t upsize. Don’t modify images unless you have the skills and photo editing app like Photoshop. It’s ok to use part of the image if it meets your needs, just crop it.
Don’t skip over reading a site’s terms and conditions carefully. Some have very specific requirements on how an image can be used.
Short list of my favorite royalty free stock websites
If you can’t afford to buy images – you can try a site like Flickr’s Creative Commons gallery. There are other free sites as well – but it’s pretty limited, quality is generally not as good, and you need to be careful to follow usage rights (requiring that you give credit to photographer). It’s hard enough to find really good images that are perfect for your business using royalty free sites where you have to spend a few dollars – trying to find free images is a lot tougher, takes longer, and average quality at best. Ultimately it’s up to you, but I always go to my top choices for royalty free, I can’t afford to spend hours of my time trying to save few bucks – can you?
Stock photo prices range from a couple bucks (even less if you buy in volume) to $30+ for a single image (for depending on source and pricing structure. Many stock companies offer subscriptions where you can download a daily, weekly, or monthly allotment, or you can buy by the image by purchasing credits and choosing the resolution (higher resolution costs more). So, you need to consider how many images you need and over what period of time to decide which method is best for you. If you only need a couple images or maybe one now and another couple more in a month or two – stick to using credits. If you starting a bigger project like building your website, you might want to subscribe or a month or two – the most cost effective way to get a bunch of images and graphics.