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Image Libraries Changed The World For Designers (Part 1)

11/22/2012 11:29:24 AM
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 Pictures that would have been too expensive and impractical to commission could be picked from a catalogue. The internet brought instant access. Royalty-free licensing made buying simple. As digital cameras cut the cost of photography, supply increased and prices continued to fall. Today, you can browse millions of images in a few seconds and buy the one you need for a few pounds.

Description: Description: Description: Description: IMAGE LIBRARIES CHANGED the world for designers

Image libraries changed the world for designers

And this has also changed the world for photographers. Some feel low-priced stock has devalued professional photography. Others see it as a way to sell images on the side to buyers who never had the budget to use photography before. Few doubt that it’s contributed to the blurring of boundaries between amateur and pro.

In this article we’ll look at how both buyers and sellers can get the most out of stock libraries, how their pricing structures work, and what they now offer in addition to photos – including illustrations, video, audio, and design work for both print and web.

FOR THE BUYER, the new generation of ‘microstock’ sites offers simplicity, low prices and enormous choice. You can usually start searching without even creating an account, though you’ll need to sign up to access all the features and create your own ‘light boxes’ to keep track of the images you find.

There’s generally no obligation to provide credit card details at this stage. When you decide to purchase an image, you either buy a number of site ‘credits’ from which the cost of your downloads will be deducted, or take out a subscription entitling you to download a maximum number of images per day. When you buy images for credits, the price will vary according to what resolution you pick, so a version suitable for A4 print will cost more than a size appropriate to a blog. On subscription plans, you can usually download the highest resolution at no extra cost. It’s a topic slightly too big for this articles, but do be sure that you understand how resolution works before buying stock.

Illustrations, an increasingly popular element of stock libraries, may be supplied as images or in some cases as vector files, which can be placed in DTP documents or edited with software such as Adobe Illustrator. Confusingly, some libraries use the term ‘Illustration’ as a synonym for vector-based artwork, although image files may also be illustrations rather than photos, perhaps consisting of modified photography or created using 3D software. Vector files generally cost more, but can be used at any size without loss of quality.

Description: Description: Description: Description:  Adobe Illustrator software

 Adobe Illustrator software

Microstock images, and indeed most stock images these days, are sold on a ‘royalty free’ basis. This means you pay once for an image and you can then use it as many times as you like and in whatever way you like, within the terms of the licence. This normally includes everything except top-end work, such as high-circulation magazine covers or advertising campaigns, and merchandise, such as printing onto T-shirts that customers can order (as opposed to your or your client’s own promotional use); an extended licence is usually available for such purposes at extra cost. One thing that won’t be permitted under any circumstances is reselling the image itself – logically enough, you can’t buy royalty-free stock to other buyers. Watch out for limitations on digital distribution, too: many libraries prohibit use above a certain size on the web, to avoid the risk of unlicensed copies getting into circulation.

Remember that a royalty-free licence only covers copyright, not other rights that you might potentially infringe. If there are people visible in a picture, a model release is normally required from each of them to use it for commercial purposes. A similar release is required where a distinctive building or work of art features prominently in ma photo. Most royalty-free libraries insist on these releases being provided by the seller, but check the terms and conditions of the library you’re using. Some, such as Alamy, list separately whether releases have been obtained for each image. Others offer a special category of ‘editorial use only’ images, which aren’t cleared; it’s generally safe for you to use these in magazines, newspapers and similar publications, but not as covers and not in advertising or marketing.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Alamy, list separately whether releases have been obtained for each image

Alamy, list separately whether releases have been obtained for each image

Another reason for an image to be classed as editorial is if it contains trademarks, such as company logos. Take care not to use a picture containing an obvious logo – even something like the Apple logo on a Mac - in commercial work, because your client could be sued for trademark infringement and this will come back to you.

Model releases generally have an ‘illegal or immoral’ clause, so think twice about using an image in a way that the original model might reasonably object to – although, clearly, if  an image is caption ‘Posed by model’ is useful to avoid any possible misinterpretation.

Also keep in mind that while you can use the images you buy as many times as you like, and in work for any and all of your clients, you’re not licensed to supply those images to clients for them to re-use in other work. If they want to do so, they’ll need to purchase them again from the stock library. Where costs are low, clients shouldn’t mind if this arises, but you do need to stay on the right side of the rules; stock libraries have no sense of humour about their content being re-used or distributed illegally. Similarly, if you buy a subscription, it’s absolutely prohibited (unless you pay for a multi-user account) to let other users ‘borrow’ your login and download images within your allocation.

With these caveats, buying royalty-free stock is really very straightforward, and, as you’ll see from the examples we feature, very affordable. Try a few different libraries and you’ll soon get a feel for which ones have the kind of images you need – and, just as importantly, which search engines feel quick and intuitive. All of this is to a great degree a matter of personal taste.

Don’t be surprised to see the same images crop up on multiple sites. Sellers have the choice of whether to stay exclusive to one library or not, and many don’t, preferring to hedge their bets. The images that are exclusive will tend to be the most distinctive – and in many cases a little more expensive.

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