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Complementary Imagery

Stock Imagery Web Sites Offer Choice

By Melissa Donovan

Stock imagery provides inspiration in the form of vector art, photography, and cartoons. Large format graphic designers looking to create advertisements, event signage, or in-store displays, turn to Web sites where they can easily download creative with a click of a button. Stock imagery is an excellent tool for complementing large format graphics.

A collection of the top rights managed (RM) and royalty free (RF) sites is outlined here, as well as their fee structures. Most sites offer either an “a la carte,” credit, or subscription-based pricing model. Wide format designers may freelance, so an a la carte option is ideal. Or, working inside a large firm may mean yearly, quarterly, or monthly subscriptions. Each payment format is designed to meet a range of needs, depending on a user’s specific requirements.

Who’s in Stock
Stock imagery sites are unique. Depending on a graphic designer’s vision, each major house offers a brand that represents a specific niche or plays home to a variety of smaller sites with their own genres.

Corbis offers RM and RF photography, art, and illustrations. More than five million images are available through the site. Image licensing costs range from a few dollars for standard, low-resolution images to hundreds of dollars for premium images, suitable for high-resolution printing, especially wide format. These fees are a la carte, but custom subscriptions for select media are available based on the user’s needs.

“Our clients include creative professionals in advertising, marketing, media, and publishing. About half work in graphic design for advertising/marketing and Web design projects, and half in the media/publishing space,” explains Dan Perlet, director of communications, Corbis.

The site, which receives millions of visitors and page views a month, also owns Veer. According to Perlet, director of communications, Veer, this site delivers affordable visual elements with imagination and style to aid designers in generating fresh ideas.

“Veer’s selection of RF and RM photography, illustration, and type are used daily in advertising, print and Web design, corporate communications, and publishing,” he adds. It features more than a million contemporary images.

Similar to Corbis, Veer offers a la carte pricing models. However, credit-based purchasing is also available. Packages range from ten to 2,000 credits, and are valid for up to one year from date of purchase. In addition, visitors can create customized subscriptions that range from 60 to 2,880 credits per week. Like most stock sites with this type of fee structure, the number of credits an image is worth depends on file size. Veer offers x-small, small, medium, large, x-large, and xx-large images, which are worth one, three, five, ten, 15, and 20 credits, respectively.

Getty Images’ creative content can be licensed individually or by a subscription-based option entitled Creative Express, which allows customers to download up to 50 images per day. The subscription offers two annual plans, providing solutions for different budgets and creative needs.

“Our site serves as a source of inspiration for a wide array of customers including art directors and buyers; agency or freelance designers; book, newspaper, and magazine publishers; and creative directors and producers. Getty Images’ imagery is used to tell a story, whether it is a multi-national ad campaign, on a billboard, or online,” shares Molly McWhinnie, communications manager, Getty Images.

The digital imagery provider features more than 2.7 million creative RM and RF images and 19 million editorial images through its main site, as well as an abundance of niche sites within the company. For example, recently acquired Jupiterimages offers users more than two million RF stock photos and illustrations from around the world. Another site, WireImage, provides companies with celebrity, music, and fashion photography. Contour by Getty Images provides premium celebrity portraiture for users looking to either license or syndicate art.

Also under the Getty umbrella, iStockphoto offers RF photos, illustrations, video, audio, and Flash files. Nearly six million images are currently in its collection, according to Kelly Thompson, COO, iStockphoto, “this continues to rapidly grow, but we are very selective in the process. Stock should not be a race for numbers, but rather an exercise in curating a high-quality, diverse collection.”

Graphic designers, small business owners, bloggers, and creative individuals visit the site frequently. iStockphoto currently provides micro-payment credit packages, where customers buy a certain number of credits at once. Subscription packages are also available.

Shutterstock offers RF high-quality photos, vectors, and illustrations, with 8.8 million currently in their system, but adding 70,000 new images weekly. “Roughly 40 percent of Shutterstock’s subscribers are graphic design professionals who use our images in a variety of ways, including large format,” says Jon Oringer, founder and CEO, Shutterstock.

The site pioneered subscription-based payment plans. A common subscription is the 25-A-Day plan, which starts at $249 per month, with discounts available for longer subscription periods. Users are able to download up to 25 images per day, with a maximum of 750 images per month. Custom subscriptions are also available for companies.

Shutterstock recently bought BigStockPhoto, a credit-based image site that offers over four million images for as low as one dollar.

Adding BigStockPhoto allows Shutterstock to complement its original subscription-based offering with a pay-as-you-go system, and in turn, attract more users to its family of stock imagery sites.

Searching for Wide Format
Resolution is a deciding factor in choosing the right image for any graphic—whether it is ten, 24, or 200 inches. Stock imagery sites offer artwork that fit this criterion, however it may be difficult to find. Companies such as Getty Images revamped its search functions to include options that quickly and easily find images available at high resolutions of 300 dpi.

“Most of our collections feature either panoramic or wide format images, and can be found in the Advanced Search option. For wide format projects that require footage, high-definition footage is often the best content option to use,” explains McWhinnie. The search function also allows users to search by image or footage styles, such as full frame or long exposure, which helps narrow down images that work for large format.

Getty Images also encourages users to contact their customer service representative if they need an image in an extra large file size. If available, they can negotiate a fee. The company refers to the service as Large Format File and interpolates the image to 100, 200, or 300 MB.

iStockphoto recently launched Best Match 2.0. Located in Advanced Search, creatives set the Best Match Sort Slider to high, prioritizing files with primary subject keywords to yield optimal search results. Setting the slider to low assigns more prominence to other factors such as concepts and secondary subject matter in the image, generating a wider variety of files.

“Phase two of this technology is even more exciting. We started collecting search data based on the country and language in which the search originated. The next version of Best Match uses this language and country data to deliver superior, locally relevant search results,” adds Thompson.

For designers unsure of resolution requirements, vector art is a fail-safe option. This type of artwork can be blown up to any size, without a loss in quality, says Oringer. Shutterstock currently has over one million vector images in its collection.

Networking Trends
To keep up with technology, many stock imagery companies keep profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube. These pages are constructed to advocate the company and its services and some companies also use these programs to promote customers.

“We maintain a strong social media presence. We streamlined Shutterstock’s site to channel traffic to our social media platform, and designed a special application for Twitter called Shuttertweet that allows submitters to ‘tweet’ whenever images are accepted or sold,” shares Oringer.

Getty Images recognizes the power of social media and its ability to promote corporate brands and personal ambitions. “We recognize that social media offers a wealth of opportunities for brand awareness—for not only us, but for our customers as well. The digital revolution upended traditional notions of advertising and left many marketers to explore which social media channels are best for their marketing and communications plans. Because of this, Getty Images evolved our RM license model to introduce two new licensing options designed specifically for social media use,” explains McWhinnie

“Corbis launched a new Web site in Spring 2009 with a variety of enhancements including a refreshed look and feel, improved usability, and a streamlined checkout process. We are currently active on several social networking sites and have profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to name a few,” says Perlet.

Veer hosts two of its own blogs, The Skinny and The Fat. The Skinny details inspiring collaborations with Veer’s own images and type, as well as unusual and unique designs found elsewhere on the Web. In-house, Veer employees host weekly contests that encourage readers to submit their own photos, graphics, and more to receive prizes such as subscription vouchers.

The Fat allows members of the Veer community, not necessarily those who work for the company, to post images and share insight in an open community forum.

Keeping Pace
Stock imagery Web sites are user friendly. Connecting with social networks and advancing search techniques are real world examples of a growing effort to cater to customer demand. Companies like Corbis, Getty Images, iStockphoto, Shutterstock, and Veer are listening to the subscribers frequently visiting these sites. Their feedback aids in the growth of some of the world’s largest photo libraries.

“Our customers’ voices are a driving requirement in our company’s development process. As a whole, customers are concerned about whatever slows them down in getting the best picture for their project. It is important for us to learn about these issues so we can remove as many friction points as we can, creating the best user experience possible, ” comments Getty Images’ McWhinnie.

Oringer, Perlet, and Thompson concur, incorporating customer feedback is essential to the growth and success of a business, and stock imagery is included in that.

Depending on the genre of images offered from a site, the breadth of sizes, and the fee structure, a wide format designer is able to find a stock imagery site—or two—best suited to their needs.

Feb2010, Digital Output

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