Where to Get Photos for Your Website or Blog

The following is part of a series on image optimization. In this post we’re going to be looking at sources for images.

Premium Stock Images

There are a lot of sources for stock images on the web. On the web, however, there is a huge divide in prices. While the images from this category are very professional, and very high quality, in this author’s opinion, the cost is extremely overpriced and should only be considered if you are a Madison Avenue Advertising Agency or operate with a similar pricing structure. IMHO paying upwards of $10-$100 per photo is highway robbery, but I’m including them here to be thorough. This includes websites like Getty Photos, Jupiter Images, BigStockPhoto, Corbis Photo and many others. If you use a lot of images, some of them offer subscription pricing, but if you compare them to other sources, I think you’ll find much better deals.

Standard Stock Photography

These are similar to the premium image sources above and, in some cases, are even owned by the same companies. There is a slight drop in quality; however, this is offset by image or subscription pricing that is much more affordable and within the budgets of most webmasters, publishers, and designers. These include websites such as IstockphotoShutterstock and Photospin.

I used Istockphots for a very long time and was happy with the options; however, in recent years, their pricing model has gotten a bit out of line IMHO. Shuttersstock offers two options: a flat rate that you can use over time (that doesn’t expire) or a monthly/yearly subscription plan that allows you to download a specified number of photos per month. You have to look at how many images you’ll need to figure out which is best for your needs. Photospin is a new stock service. While they have significantly fewer photos than the others, they compensate with extremely reasonable pricing (at the time of this article’s writing, it’s $329 per year). Currently I use both Shutterstock and Photospin. Depending on how important the image/project is and what’s available, I choose between the two. Some of these services offer multi-seat licensing. IMHO these prices are just ridiculous. If you really need this just use light boxes and have one person/computer download the light box contents.

Free Stock Photography

Like the paid stock photography services, there are also free stock photography services. The photos offered through these services can really be hit or miss and of questionable quality. In many cases these services are owned by the premium stock services and try to upsell you to the premium services. These services include Sxc.hu, and StockVault.

These services ask that you notify the photographer and get permission and link back in exchange for using the service. In practice I’ve found this to create such huge bottlenecks in the production process that’s it’s just not worth the cost savings. I avoid these services, instead opting to use creative commons images.

Creative Commons Services

Many professional, amateur, or regular people choose to license their pictures under creative commons licensing. Creative commons is a complex beast beyond the scope of this article to explain (see What is Creative Commons); however, there is subset of creative commons that allows you to reuse photos for commercial purposes. It’s important that you know the difference when you are going down this road. Sources for creative commons images licensed for commercial reuse are WikipediaFlickr, and Google Image Search. When using these services make sure you select the creative commons for commercial reuse options:

Creative Commons for Commercial Reuse Options

Google advanced image search options

Some people will put their images into the commercial reuse category and put up a note saying not to reuse it. They are confused and create a headache.  Avoid them because trying to educate them after the fact is pointless. If you want to use creative commons images from Flickr, try the PhotoDropper plugin from Markus. It’s awesome and does all the heavy lifting for you. When you use creative commons images you are required to credit the source–do the right thing and do it. If you use a lot of creative commons images, also think about giving back to the image not just taking by kicking some images of your own back into the creative commons pool. To make the most of creative commons images read How to Optimize Using Creative Commons Images.

Flickr

Sometimes you are unable to find images you want using the services above; in that case, I recommend doing a search on Flickr. If you find an image you like, contact the owner and see if you can reach an arrangement. Explain to the person what you are doing with their image and how you are using it and that you can give them credit and a link. I’ve been very successful with this tactic. Don’t be dufus when it comes to this: link to a commercial website if they ask you to and give them some good an anchor text too. Really don’t be a jerk. Sometimes you can negotiate a price with them that’s reasonable; for example, I’ve paid $50 for a set of 5 pictures.  It was more than I would have paid for a stock service, but I had better and more unique pictures that no one else had. If you hit a professional photographer, they may ask for several hundred dollars per picture. Politely decline and say it’s out your budget (unless it’s not). They will get the hint and drop the price or move on. Don’t be an idiot and use it without permission because this can come back and bite you in the butt down the road.

Craigslist, Backpage, or Local Classifieds

Sometimes you need a local picture when you aren’t a local. In cases like this, hiring a local amateur photographer or complete novice can work out. Ask to see some sample pictures so you have some idea of the quality of their work. Be very detailed and descriptive in what you are looking for. Too much detail is always better than too little. For example “take a picture of Joe’s restaurant” is not as helpful as “a clear, in-focus, daytime picture centered on Joe’s restaurant with the complete sign and without any pedestrians or other obstructions in it” will get you two completely different results. Despite the best instructions in the world, you will have a “chuck rate” if you go this route. My advice is to ask for 2-3 times the amount of pictures you want. If you need 5 but ask for 15, you should be able get 5 usable shots unless the person taking pictures really sucks.

So what are the takeaways here:

  • Check out several premium and paid stock services and find one or two that are in your budget range.
  • Use creative commons in the absence of good paid stock photography.
  • Turn to Flickr to see if you can get access to non creative commons photos.
  • Get custom photos from people using classified services like Craigslist.

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