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Things that we think are important, cool or just plain wrong!

There are a huge selection of sources of imagery that can be used in web sites. Licensing, pricing and quality vary greatly, but are not 100% reliable, you may find the perfect image for you needs in one of the free stock image sites or in a rights managed portfolio like Getty Images or you may need to shoot some photographs yourself.

Obviously budget constraints also come into the equation. If you need 10 new images a month you aren't likely to go and buy rights managed images unless those images are going to make you serious money, but you might set yourself up to have the images taken for you, or source them from lower cost royalty free image sites.

Image Sources; their pros and cons

Shoot them yourself

There are a number of reasons that you can choose to shoot your photography yourself, such as cost, specialist subject matter or specific design requirements.

However, it should be stressed that 'DIY' is not always the going to give you the highest quality and best imagery, so be careful in choosing this option.

Pros

  • Low Cost
  • You own the copyright; therefore there will be no future licensing issues or costs
  • You decide on the subject matter

Cons

  • Unless you're a keen and good photographer the quality is likely to be lower than other options
  • Equipment costs money. If you are planning on shooting your own images you should invest in a good quality camera setup. That £50 point and shoot from Ebay just won't cut it. This cost should be factored into your overall budget.
  • Large time and planning commitment. It's unlikely that the website is the core to your business, therefore it's important that you should weigh up the time that you will need to put in to shooting your images compared with the cost of hiring a professional photographer or buying stock images. You may find that you make more income by buying in services and concentrating on your core business.

So when is this the best option?

  • When good photography skills are already present 'in-house'
  • Budgets don't allow for any other form of purchase
  • When the subject is so specialist, or niche that none of the other options are practical.

Get a professional photographer to take them

In more business cases this is probably the most ideal scenario. Having a professional take the photographs specifically for the web site has a number of advantages.

Pros

  • You'll get the exact images that you want, shot in a high quality way with results that you can approve.
  • You'll own the copyright, so again, there shouldn't be any other ongoing costs for usage.
  • No capital investment in equipment is required
  • Images should be supplied in high resolution format that can be used across several media formats (web, print, video, etc).

Cons

  • Relatively High Cost. Professional photographer are not cheap to hire.
  • Selecting the right photographer is not always easy, particularly if the subject matter is specialist. If you're working with a designer or design agency they may have a list of photographers that they have worked with and might be able to help in the selection.

So when should you hire a pro?

To be honest, I would suggest this whenever the budget allows and suitable images cannot be sourced elsewhere. The difference in effect between mediocre and high quality images is significant.

Free Stock photos

there are a number of sites that offer free stock images, some allow commercial use, but be careful, some are only licensed for non-commercial use, so you may not be able to use them on your business web site.

Pros

  • Very low cost. the only cost involved here is your time in locating the right image.
  • Usually are available in a high enough resolution to be useful, but may not be high enough for good quality cross media useage.

Cons

  • Potential Licensing issues for commercial use: check carefully on the licence for the specific images that you intend to use.
  • Time consuming to locate the best images across a number of sites.

When to use free stock image sites?

Personally I always take a cursory look before moving to paid sites when sourcing stock photography. I may find that perfect image for my purpose without cost. However, I don't always spend a great deal of time on it. A few searches is likely to give you an indication as to whether the free sites are likely to provide. any suitable images.

If your budget is severely limited, then I would spend more time looking for suitable free images, even if it takes a bit longer.

Popular Free Photography Sources

http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml (stockXchange)

http://www.morguefile.com/ (morguefile)

http://www.stockvault.net/index.php (StockVault)

http://www.freerangestock.com/index.php (Freerange Stock Photos)

Low Cost Stock Photography Sites

There are a number of low cost stock image sites that provide royalty free  stock photography (as well as other media formats) at a low one-off cost. The average quality on these sites is significantly better than is found on the free image sites, after all, these sites take pictures from pro & semi pro photographers. They also exercise a level of editorial control that the free sites do not.

Pros

  • The relatively low price means that you can get high quality images without the need for massive budgets
  • High quality images. Most of these sites control the quality and size of images that are offered.
  • Royalty Free: This means that once the image is purchased you are entitled to use it over again. However, some sites offer different licence types. Check which licence you need to buy before making your purchase.
  • Strong search facilities means that you should spend less time searching for the image than in the free sites, though with the huge numbers of images available don't under-estimate how long the selection process will take, particularly if you have a nunmber of stakeholders in the web site.

Cons

  • Niches areas are not often covered. For photographers to make a useful income from these sites they need to sell the images a large number of times. This means that there's little benefit in them covering niche markets that will only offer a few sales.

Popular Low Cost Sites

http://www.istockphoto.com/index.php (istockphoto)

http://www.dreamstime.com/ (dreamstime)

http://www.stockxpert.com/ (stockXpert)

Also worth noting is http://www.fotosearch.com/, a meta search engine aimed specifically at finding images and footage across a number of stock imge web sites.

Premium Stock Photography Sites

This is where 'mega bucks' can come into play. Often rights managed, rather than royalty free these sites offer the pinnacle in quality and subject. niche area and topical news are usually covered.

Pros

  • Absolute Quality

Cons

  • High Cost
  • Licensing Costs for rights managed images may prevent re-use.

When should I bit the bullet and use premium stock images?

When you content relates to something current, such as a major news story, or you need a celebrity photo you are likely to need to go down this route.

Always view premium image purchases as a business investment. If you're likely to get a good return on the money invested, make the purchase. If not, don't.

Final Thoughts...

Imagery is one of the major elements to discuss in any web project's kick-off meeting. A budget should be set aside for it, and always get the best you can afford and don't dismiss the hiring of an photographer for a shoot.

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