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Five Tips For Getting The Most From Stock Photo Agencies

Let’s face it, if all stock photography agencies were the same, there wouldn’t be so many of them. Entering “stock photo agency” on Google brings up 675,000 results. So how do you know which agencies to use? And how do you make sure you’re getting the most you can out of the relationship?

First, you need to determine if your needs are better served by smaller, boutique agencies that specialize in certain genres, artists, and types of images or a large agency with hundreds of thousands of images.

If you chose the smaller agency route, you will most likely be able to do some searching online but may want to talk with someone to make sure their entire inventory is online (some smaller agencies don’t post all their images online and their online catalog may not be updated when you search). As with most smaller businesses, you will get real hand holding, but depending on their size and how busy they are, you may not get the fast turnaround your job demands.

On the other hand, the larger stock agencies have invested heavily in making their online services up to date, easy to use, and affordable.

Most of the big firms, like Getty and Corbis, and medium-size players, like Index Stock and FotoSearch, provide depth and breadth of selection across multiple categories. However, each agency has strengths in particular categories. For example, a search for photos of children on Getty yielded 957 images, Corbis yielded 1,000 images, FotoSearch showed 1,992 results and on Index Stock there were 7,016 photos matching that search term.

Each stock agency has taken its customers preferences into account as it has evolved its system. Some systems ask you a series of questions to help narrow your initial results; others, like Index Stock, provide quick results, with the most relevant searches presented first — from these results you can use Boolean search techniques (“and,” “not,’ and “or”) to narrow or redefine your search if desired.

If you decide to use the bigger-than-boutique firms, here are five tips to save you time and money:

  1. Take advantage of the advanced searching features provided by the online systems. On Corbis, you need to set this feature to “on” (it’s near the far right of the masthead on the home page). On Index Stock, this feature appears just below the search box for your primary search, and it appears as an option again once you get your first set of results. On Getty Images, this feature is accessible as a text link just below the first search box. On FotoSearch, the feature is just above the search box.
  2. To use some other features, you will need to register. Index Stock requires very little information, Corbis and Getty Images ask for quite a bit more, as does FotoSearch. The option to register appears at various points on the different sites. Registering entitles you to use certain advanced features, like lightboxes. It also provides a means for the agencies to email you about news, policy changes, and special offers, all of which will save you headaches when you are under deadline pressure to find photos, especially for rush projects.
  3. Set Up An Account. If you know you’re going to be buying photos fairly regularly, you may want to go a little further than registering by setting up an account (note: for some systems, “registering” and “setting up an account are synonymous). Doing this entitles you to different services with different agencies, but the extras typically include the ability to: view images without watermarks and be invoiced rather than having to enter a credit card for each purchase.
  4. Look for Special Features. The vast majority of searches are handled completely online, but sometimes you may want a professional searcher, who acts much like a clothes store personal shopper, to do the searching for you, which is a service Index Stock provides. Other services offer their own methods for adding value, like media management tools and news features, so be sure to check out the sites thoroughly to find the services that help you do your job faster and better.
  5. Call. While online systems are set up to make finding and ordering easy, the human touch can make all the difference. “Even though many of our customers prefer to research images on their own, they know they can always reach us by telephone when they need research help or have questions about images or license fees,” says Dan Russelman, President of Index Stock Imagery.

So the next time you need stock photos or illustrations, try digging a little deeper into the leading agencies’ services. You’ll find that leveraging those advanced service options can go a long way towards increasing the value you get from the stock photography agency experience.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Overexposed box of matches.
© 2003 lisegagne - [from iStockPhoto] - visit her website at

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