Do you stay up late at night scouring the web for free photos and graphics? Finding high quality, CC-licensed images is a constant struggle for most of us bloggers.
Many web publishers looking to increase their professional shine and cut down on searching time have turned to stock photography sites.
If you’re willing to invest a bit of cash, you can have literally millions of relevant, high quality images at your fingertips. There’s not much you can’t find on stock photography sites
The big question: Is it worth it?
We’ve put together a guide here to help you decide. The following is a crash course in buying stock photography and the best places to find it.
Stock vs. Microstock
Using traditional stock photography services like Getty Images or Corbis is well outside the budget of the average blogger. These agencies represent the creme de la creme of professional photography, and sell images to huge media outlets and advertising companies.
So when we talk about using stock photos for web publishing, we’re really talking about microstock – a subsection of the industry that caters to the lower budget, higher volume web market.
How you buy photos
There are generally two ways to buy images:
‘Pay as you go’ model
You can purchase photo credits on most microstock sites, which you can then use to download images as you need them. Credits typically remain valid for one year. This is a better option for casual web publishers who don’t have a constant demand for images.
You’ll pay anywhere between $2.50 and $4 (USD) per standard image. Photo credits are cheaper when you buy them in bulk, but be careful not to buy more than you’re actually going to use within a year.
You can pay a fixed annual or monthly fee that allows you to download a certain number of images per day – usually a minimum of 25. This is a better option for people who run multiple websites, or a high-frequency blog with multiple authors.
The individual image price is much cheaper, but your photo credits will expire at the end of each day, so you need to be doing some pretty heavy publishing to get value for your money.
25 images per day will cost you between $175 and $300 per month, depending on how long your subscription is.
You’ll pay less per month if you purchase a six month or full year subscription, but all the major sites offer a single month subscription too.
Assuming that you download your full quota of images every day, this works out to a cost of $0.23 – $0.40 per image.
Note: the prices quoted here are only an approximation, and based on the smallest images sizes available (which is generally all you’ll need for a blog or website). You’ll pay significantly more for larger image files.
Beware of licensing restrictions
The standard license is all you’ll need if you’re only using the images on your blogs and websites.
If you intend to use stock images for commercial and merchandising purposes, however, you’ll probably need to purchase an extended license at extra cost.
Make sure you carefully read the licensing agreement on every microstock website you use, because each agency has slightly different rules.
The main contenders . . .
This is the original microstock photography site. iStockphoto is owned by Getty Images and has one of the biggest ranges of material available anywhere. iStockphoto is generally regarded as having the highest quality images of all microstock sites.
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A sister agency of iStockphoto that offers cheaper subscription plans. No video or audio material – photos and graphics only.
The major competitor with iStockphoto. These two sites dominate a large chunk of the microstock market. Shutterstock has over 17 million photos and vector graphics, as well as a video library.
A subsidiary of Shutterstock. Bigstock has a smaller collection of images (but still plenty to choose from). They don’t offer a subscription plan, just a simple pay-as-you-go system.
Another huge microstock collection – over 15 million images available.
A lesser-known microstock site. They offer a selection of free photos as well as their paid content.
There’s a tonne of smaller stock photo sites out there, many of which cater to a particular image theme or niche. A quick Google search will point you in the right direction.
Choosing the right microstock photo agency
What’s more important is the range of images that each site offers, and which one has the best selection of material for your purposes.
This depends entirely on what your blogs are about. You can browse the collections for free, so invest a few hours in comparing the image collections of various sites.
If you’re running a blog about vintage cars, for example, search for vintage car photos on all the sites and see how they stack up against each other.
The site that has the largest and most diverse collection of images in your own niche is probably going to be your best choice, regardless of whether it’s a few bucks cheaper or more expensive that the competitors.
Got any stock photography advice to share?
If you can recommend a good microstock site, or have any tips for finding high quality web images, please leave us a comment below.