Perhaps only fellow designers may understand the mixed feelings of horror and hilarity that is felt when encountering a piece of design work in the street or online that has used the same imagery you have purchased and implemented in your own design. The horror comes from fearing your client may encounter the same atrocity and complain that the work you’ve done for them is unoriginal. The hilarity comes from realising you’ve spent so long trawling through 50+ pages on a stock image site, that you’ve memorised visually, the search results for when you type in say, “cute nerds” which the shop window you’ve just seen, has used the most popular stock to advertise bubble tea.
For anyone who doesn’t know yet, stock imagery is visual elements in the form of photographs, vector illustrations, Photoshop elements and even video, of various subject matter, that you can purchase (a one-off price depending on size of image) and download, royalty-free (which means using copyrighted material without having to pay for each instance of use) in your own designs. The most popular sites include iStockphoto, Shutterstock and in Australia, Getty Images.
Do not fear – there is always room for originality. Just because you’ve bought an image doesn’t mean you have to use it as is. In design and web work, clients will most often than not request for their images to be tweaked to suit their branding colours, image or even just the dimensions of the design you’re working to. You can combine stock images and with a bit of Photoshop magic manipulate it enough to come up with something original.
Stock images are great for use in online publishing too, in blogs personal and professional. It’s great to have an image that speaks about your content in a really direct and concise way and sometimes just punching in a search term in a stock site is really handy. One piece of advice for those new to blogging and using stock images: Beware of Google Image searching! As silly as it may sound, I know of someone who thought all the search results from Google Images were free! NO, they definitely ARE NOT! Be careful not to just rip images from Google as you may find some cross emails requesting you to pay for using copyrighted material without permission. Go with stock imagery! Trust us, it’s just safer. And legal.
If you don’t have a big budget then there are Free Stock Sites like freedigitalphotos but if you read carefully their terms, you may have to make attributions (visible credit to the original creator of the images, on your design) which is alright for blogging but most people don’t want that on their marketing material. Also, although they are completely free of charge, Free Stock Site images are generally smaller in size meaning not hi-res.
The reality is, there is nothing wrong with using stock imagery. If nothing else, it’s just practical. It’s not always possible (time-wise and budget wise) to shoot your own good quality imagery. For instance, you may need an image of the Swiss Alps or a flying acrobat. A hundred dollars on a bunch of good quality images from a stock site is a small price to pay to get the subject matter you would not otherwise have access to. Unless you’re an amazing photographer that has been absolutely everywhere, has shot absolutely everything from the surface of the moon to the inside of a mother’s womb, and have an extensive database of images – then we highly recommend you use stock imagery.