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Finding The Right Stock Photo For Your Marketing Projects

Good news: The client just awarded your design group their new corporate brochure.
Bad news: The materials need to be to the printer in two weeks.
Good news: No photo shoot—you’re going with stock images.
Bad news: None of the FPO photos can be used.

You need the “right images” for the final piece. Where to begin?

If you haven’t tried an online stock photo agency, now is a great time to start.

The major online stock agencies all provide easy searching for images by category (e.g. business, children, animals), keyword, color, type of image (photos and/or images) and license options (rights managed, royalty free, released, etc.). Some, like Index Stock Imagery, also allow you to also search by orientation (portrait, layout, and panoramic).

Using as an example, before you begin your search you will want to help the search tool bring back relevant images by using the check boxes to screen out images that won’t meet your needs. Image type, size, and color are all easy, so select the boxes that will retrieve the results you want.

The area that most people new to using stock images have questions about is licensing the images: What’s the difference between “rights managed” and “royalty free?” How often can the images be used? What if you don’t know the exact audience size for your project?

Here are a few guidelines to help you decide the options that are right for you (be sure to read the information provided on the agency’s website, too):

Rights-Managed Images are those for which you will need to pay for every usage of the image for a set period of time. For example, if you want to use the image in a brochure and in a print ad campaign, that would be two usages. You will need to estimate the audience size for each. For the printed brochure, use the print run as the audience size. For the print ad, calculate the circulation of each insertion as the audience size. Most stock agencies have a default licensing period of six months to one year, but other options are usually available. (Tip: mark your calendar for 1 month and 2 weeks before the license expires so that you have time to remind your client and arrange for a renewal or to ensure that the marketing materials containing the images have been discontinued to avoid copyright infringements.)

With rights-managed images, you can often arrange for exclusive use of the images during the licensing period. This helps ensure that it won’t be used in competitors’ marketing materials or that the image gets over used and become less effective in your materials because it’s been “seen” in other places.

Released Images, which includes “Model Released’ and “Property Released” images, are images for which the models or the owner of the property in the image have signed releases making the images available for licensing through the stock agency. It is important to make sure that the photos you select are released images unless you want to try to obtain the releases on your own.

Royalty-Free Images don’t have a per usage charge; they are licensed for an indefinite period of time and in as many marketing pieces as desired. They’re “licensed” instead of purchased because they can still be used by others, and by licensing them you agree not to resell them. An added bonus of royalty-free photos is that they are released images, so you know automatically that all the releases have been handled.

If you’re still not sure which options you want, check all the boxes and the system will bring back all images that match your search query, and from there you can select the images that work best for you, making the licensing choice a part of your decision process.

Now you’re ready to start searching. If you were just starting on the project, you might want to enter a general term to get ideas, but since you’re focused now on finding the right photos, you should be as specific as possible. For example, if you want photos of small children in a park, enter “small children park” as your search term instead of just “children.” Not only will this yield results closer to the mark the first time you search, it will help the search engine continue to drive towards your best results as it allows you to search just within your current results pool on subsequent searches.

The search tool should have delivered thousands of images of children in park. The number of images found should appear somewhere on the first page of results. You can page through the results; re-sort them so that you see more, smaller images on each page of results; or you can choose to refine your search. Some designers like to add keywords one at a time, paging quickly through the new results to see if the results are closer to the mark. Others like to use advanced searching options that let you use “and,” “or,” and/or “not” as qualifiers, and to enter multiple options at once. You can also search by artist if you know who created the image you’re seeking.

Refining this search by adding “sunny” and “day” brings the total down to a more manageable group from which final selections can be made.

As you find images that really work for you, add them to the lightbox. The lightbox is an online gallery where you can place images for others working on the project to view.

(On most systems, you will need to register to use this feature. Some require a little information; others require quite a bit more. Index Stock allows you to use the lightbox but not save the lightbox without registering.)

From your lightbox on you can email one, several, or all of the images to others working on your project. Recipients will get an email with the lightbox name as the subject line. In the text area of the email will be your message to the recipients along with a clickable URL that takes them right into the lightbox where they will see the selected images. Other stock agencies have similar features.

Once the final selections have been made, you simply complete the online order form. If you are ordering rights managed images, you will need to specify how it will be used (e.g., postcards, brochures, print ads), the audience size (print run or circulation of magazines where ad will run) and the size of the photo in your materials (e.g., is it a full page use or a spot photo within the piece). For most online stock agencies, a one-year term is the default option. The system will then let you know the exact pricing for the photos you want and you can complete your order. (Note: If you are licensing royalty free images, you won’t need to answer those questions.)

Once the order is complete you will be instructed on how to download the images, which you can then save and use in your project.

Buying a license for stock photography online is easy, fast, and affordable. Next time you’re working on a fast turnaround project, try licensing stock photos online.

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

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