A Guide to Stock Photography, Part 1

April 7, 2010

Photography plays an important role in any website. It's a powerful and dynamic tool that can be used to communicate your brand personality or simply sell a product. Choosing the right imagery for your website can be a tedious task, but getting it right makes all the difference.

Before we get into specifics about what to look for in a stock photo, let's talk a little bit about where to look.

There are dozens of reputable stock photography websites out there, offering up millions of images from which to choose. In my mind, where to look can be broken down into two criteria—price and quality—that usually go hand-in-hand.

Free is nice, but not always best

There are a few sites that offer free stock photography, which I think we can all agree is the best price. However, free isn't always best, as some of the images on these sites lack quality. Don't let the allure of free photos detract from your brand positioning.

SXC.hu—In my opinion, Stock.xchng is your best bet for free stock photography. It has a nice breadth of subject matter and a pretty good shot here and there. Although the images are free, it's important to pay attention to licensing agreements, as is true for any photo you find on the web.

Flickr.com—Although not initially intended for stock photography, Flickr has a nice selection of usable imagery. You may have to wade through a lot of bad snapshots, but the perfect image could be there, waiting for you to find. Again, pay attention to licensing agreements.

Tip: Don't use images from a Google search, as many of the results don't clearly state terms of usage and may be protected by copyright. Better to be safe than sorry in this circumstance.

If it's good, pay for it

Google "stock photography" and you'll find several sites that offer quality photos at low cost. If you find a great photo on one of these sites, don't be afraid to pay for it. In my opinion, the long-term benefits of the right photo outweigh the initial investment.

iStockphoto.com —iStockphoto is probably the most well-known stock photo website and my resource of choice. There is an amazing depth of great, quality photography at affordable prices, some as low as $1. Some of the larger, better-quality images can be as high as $30, but like I said, don't be afraid to pay for it, if it's the one.

Tip: Do a Google search for iStockphoto coupon codes, and you'll often find a valid code that you can enter at checkout, saving you some serious cash.

Should you not find what you need on iStock, try these competitor sites:

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If you've got it, flaunt it

For those of you with deep pockets and a "nothing-but-the-best" mentality, there are a couple of sites made for you. If you don't mind spending big bucks for some of the best photography in the world, try one of these:

GettyImages.com—Considered by many to be one of the best stock photography sites on the web, Getty houses premium content. Not only do they have tons of general stock photos but also up-to-the-minute editorial content. Want to know what Ian Poulter wore to the first round of the 2010 Masters? They've got it.

CorbisImages.com—Another great resource, Corbis has a substantial collection of quality work, including iconic editorial content, videos, and more.

The where and the what of it

Knowing where to find the perfect image is the first half of the equation—perhaps the easier and less time consuming half. Next, we'll dive into what makes a good stock photograph and how to choose which is right for you.

Click here for part two.