Stock Art and Photos: Use Them Well and Wisely

The mere mention of using stock images used to bring up some heated discussion, followed by threats and proclamations of doom for freelancers. Time has proved the doom and gloom prophecies were over-exaggerated.

When I started my career as an illustrator, back in the early 1990s, a company announced a stock illustration sourcebook but the salespeople struggled to get enough images to fill the first book (yes, it was a printed book). It cost the illustrators money to place images and when my friends in the industry found out I placed a dozen images in the book, I was thoroughly chastised for helping “destroy the freelance illustration industry.” I always thought it was just my personality and business acumen that did that.

While my peers struggled for freelance assignments I was pleased to see that every month a check arrived for $100 to $800 from my commissions for illustrations being reprinted in places like Germany, France, Japan, the UAE and various U.S. companies. I was being paid to sit on my patoot while my work was now international. I had no complaints and when the stock company put out their call for the second annual edition of their stock book, the very same people who labeled me the “Judas” of the industry, were admitting to having submitted images for stock use.

I never noticed any of my freelance business being reduced by the use of stock images. The $200 illustrations I did for newspapers in New York turned much higher profits as stock images and upon occasion, a company would ask for one of the images in color or with slight changes. More bucks from the stock source!

For illustrators, designers and photographers, stock companies offer a reach, especially now that the web is involved and printing stock books is a thing of the past, just like the fees to be included, and that all translates into sitting-on-your-patoot money. That’s the sweetest kind of income! No changes, no insane directions – just create and let the money roll in.

Some people will still complain it did affect the freelance industry and reduced assignments. When I switched sides and became an art director, having to deal with freelancers, I saw why they would complain and why they got what they deserved.

The Right Image at the Right Time

When an editor or marketing person would ask for an image of a man in a suit, shaking hands with an octopus, I could quickly find several solutions through stock sources and present them for a “I want this one” decision. The usage fees were always within budget and the solution was provided immediately.

Unfortunately, when booking an illustrator to render the very same image, it was at least a 50/50 chance you would get what you wanted, done to the size you asked for and in the same style as in their portfolio. Asking for changes was a pain and often led to extra fees or firings and hurt feelings.

For photos, stock meant it was done and, once again, no surprises. Over half of the photographers with whom I have worked were prima donnas who were always late, didn’t want to follow directions and delivered a substandard and expensive product. I’ll never forget one photographer who was so late to a shoot, we had to let the model go as the budget had been eaten up while waiting the two hours and when he finally showed up, all smiles and ready to work, I screamed at him for being late.

“I had to stop to buy some Scotch tape,” he replied. I have never had a stock photo make the same excuse.

I have also not had to spend a day or two scouting a location, having to do a re-shoot or scream at a photographer. Stock made my life easier and happier! What would the modeling fees be for these three teenagers? What kind of headaches would you get from dealing with a photographer trying to wrangle three teenage girls?

©GL Stock Images

For designers and art directors, stock offers some money-saving shortcuts. We all have to admit to using background patterns we find on the web. We may not have the right to use them but we do. If you get caught, especially if you’ve used it for a client, the trouble ahead is career crushing… and expensive.

Stock backgrounds are inexpensive and give piece of mind to the end user. The cost should be passed on to the client anyway, so why not play it safe? How long would it take you to render the pattern below? For $1.00 the standard license is yours as opposed to spending a couple of precious hours creating it from scratch.

©GL Stock Images

Sometimes you need to spend hours rendering something as simple as a ladder or light bulb. Why not purchase a stock vector or photo and use that? Time is money and re-coloring a vector image takes no time at all, as opposed to rendering the entire object.

©GL Stock Images

The downside of stock images is when the same ubiquitous image is used over and over again by many, many different blogs, and/or clients. Think outside the box when it comes to using stock. Can you manipulate the image? Will something out of the ordinary work for the message and catch the consumer’s attention? Just because you’re doing something for a financial company, do you have to show piles of money or dollar signs? Try searching different key words and see what you can find. Be creative and you will have designs that have impact and a fresh, different look.

©GL Stock Images

Make Sure of the Rights for Usage

How many times have we, as creatives, been handed images by a client or boss and been told to use them in an assignment or project? Admit it… we all have and usually on multiple occasions. The minute you use an image you know to be illegally used, you are an accessory to a copyright theft. Financial penalties can be devastating and if the client or your boss decides to throw you under the bus, then you will really be stuck. It’s not only monetary damages, which may include punitive damages but you may also be ordered to pay the plaintiff’s legal costs, aside from your own.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen and the innocent designer’s career and life was ruined while the people who ordered them to use the illegal images never gave it a second thought. It’s a hard fact of life and our industry.

Copyright infringement can include a violation of the rights of the creator or rights holder. Examples of imagery infringement may include:

  • Use of whole or part of an image without permission
  • Use beyond the scope of a license or permission
  • Adapting an image without permission
  • Asking another photographer or illustrator to identically recreate the image

If an infringement is discovered, responsible parties may include:

  • The party that infringed (the photographer or the person that stole the image in the first place), even if unintentionally
  • Employees or others who participated in the original infringement
  • Anyone who published the infringing image, whether they had knowledge or not
  • Anyone who authorized or encouraged infringement

By the same token, when using stock images, you need to be aware of the rights you are purchasing. Kelly Jay, The owner/partner of GL Stock Images, imparts the difference in rights sold by stock sources:

Rights Managed Images

When you purchase a rights-managed image, you are essentially “renting” the image for a one-time use in your project. The image price is determined on several factors: placement, size, quantity, demographics/traffic, industry type, distribution, duration and resolution. Depending on your project scope, the pricing can be dramatic. For example, an image purchased for the cover of Time Magazine may cost thousands of dollars whereas the same image purchased for a small website or blog may cost under a hundred dollars.

Royalty Free Images 

A less expensive alternative is to purchase royalty free images. Royalty free means you do not have to pay royalties only a one-time fee to use the image. This means you can use the image for multiple aspects of your project, such as print and web. Pricing is based on image size/resolution: small, medium or large. The smaller the size means the smaller the price.

For more information on the use and legalities of stock images, see more at stockphotorights.com.

An example of costs for sizes and standard licenses. Extended licenses are quite reasonable when you consider the ROI for sales in the number ranges offered.

What About Dingbats?

I love font dingbats! They add a nice touch to certain designs or as icons and avatars. The question is, if you own a set of fonts, what can they be used on and still remain under the license agreement? The answer is found in the agreement you sign when you download the font. Just don’t click “agree” when presented with the terms of purchase. Make sure you understand how you can use all fonts and background characters in a font set.

FREE fonts have been licensed from the font designers and are not so-called “freeware or “shareware”. Each requires acknowledgement and acceptance of an end user license agreement. If you use a dingbat as an image on a T-shirt or character for the purpose of licensing sales, you may very well be overstepping the boundaries of legal usage.

©GL Stock Images

Most stock image houses have a plethora of small icons, so look towards those sources for your needs and stay safe and legal. In the end, the costs are small compared with the trouble you may be borrowing.

About the Author

Speider Schneider

Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. Follow him on Twitter @speider

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15 Comments

  1. Great article. How true is that… freelance photographers can be as wild and as pricey as anything. The ones I’ve dealt with were also always late, and usually sub par. Stock didn’t always have as wide a selection and as low a budget that it does now, either.

    The point you made about the difference between making an art element you need (spending 3 hours) or buying it for $1-10 is a very good one. I know for a fact that I discovered some simple textures and art elements that became great sellers, due to my own experience back when I was a graphic designer. When I was working as a traditional designer, and needed those certain textures, instead of designing them in Photoshop from scratch, I would have much rather just bought them and moved on with my projects. Time is money.

  2. >DzineGrl May 16, 2012

    What a great article …. and loved the images, too! Thanks!

  3. Rhonda May 16, 2012

    Love it. I buy stock vector images and manipulate them all the time. I’m too busy (posting on Facebook, apparently) to always do that shit myself.

  4. Pauline May 16, 2012

    Not all our clients have big budgets but as you so succinctly pointed out, clever use of stock can keep it from the mundane. And, stock can be a good reliable, ‘user-friendly’ source. Thanks for posting.

  5. margaret raymond August 1, 2013

    Hi from British Columbia
    I am looking for a simple image that I can use in a logo. Of course, I would need all rights to the logo so that no one will come back on me in the future.

    Ideas: house with mountain background. vector okay.
    or name of business with little mountain sketch behind.

    Can you help? An estimate of cost?

    Margaret

  6. Author

    Hi, Margaret!

    In answer to your question, the images on this site are available for different uses, but not for sale of the copyright. You will not be able to find such an image to claim for your own copyright or trademark. You should hire a professional logo designer to create what you want and then there will be no copyright issues and you will have a professional looking logo and not one that ends up in an article entitled, “The Most Embarrassingly Bad Logos.”

    Cheers!

    Speider Schneider

Trackbacks for this post

  1. [...] pointed out in a past article, using copyrighted material is illegal. Sure, the boss says that he/she heard that anything you [...]

  2. [...] that anything on the web is free to use. Of course, that’s not true but endless lessons on the copyright law go completely over his head, according to my [...]

  3. [...] you can’t find the images you need, rather than cutting out pictures from a magazine, which are copyrighted and can lead to lawsuits, just use some handy stock images that have low cost and flexible usage [...]

  4. [...] Another basic is to show honesty to build trust and loyalty. Part of that is to stay away from using copyrighted images you don’t own or haven’t purchased. [...]

  5. [...] you can’t find the images you need, rather than cutting out pictures from a magazine, which are copyrighted and can lead to lawsuits, just use some handy stock images that have low cost and flexible usage [...]

  6. [...] that anything on the web is free to use. Of course, that’s not true but endless lessons on the copyright law go completely over his head, according to my [...]

  7. [...] pointed out in a past article, using copyrighted material is illegal. Sure, the boss says that he/she heard that anything you [...]

  8. [...] Another basic is to show honesty to build trust and loyalty. Part of that is to stay away from using copyrighted images you don’t own or haven’t purchased. [...]

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