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Using Stock Photo in Websites

By Heshy Friedman

All websites use graphical images, with some websites more dependent upon them than others. Today’s website design standards require a strong visual approach to maintain a cutting edge website, and image size and graphic quality have been increasingly important. While some websites may be able to provide their own images and custom photography, many, if not most, will require stock photo to fill this void.

Stock photos are provided by several agencies that have large online databases of searchable images and photos.  One can type in a keyword or keyword phrase into a search box on the stock photo agency website, and relevant photos and images will display in the results. Each photo that is put up by the stock photo agencies is tagged for keywords so they can be easily searched.

Stock photo agencies get their pictures from photographers and designers, who make an arrangement to get a payment or royalty from the agency every time their photo is used. It is not uncommon to see the same photo in more than on Stock Photo agency; this happens when a photographer submits the same photographer to multiple agencies.

Some of the big stock photo names include:

To prevent copyright infringement and protect their suppliers, every stock photo agency watermarks or stamps their images with a logo. While an experienced graphic designer can graphically remove the watermark, this is considered copyright violation and is illegal. Similarly, some unscrupulous web design companies will take random photos for use on a clients’ website by just doing a website image search on Google Images. (This is an all too common practice of offshore website designers.) The proper way to get stock photo is to spend the few extra dollars and properly purchase them from the agencies. At least one of the Stock Photo agencies, Getty Images, has a nasty policy of doing a sophisticated image scan of their images on the web to see which website are using their images without authorization. If they find an image originated from them used illegally or erroneously, they will issue a generated fine via mail to the holder of the website. I have seen this on several occasions where a previous developer or company worker found an image on Getty Images and used it on the website, and subsequently (sometimes even years later) got slapped with a hefty fine close to a thousand dollars. Whether intentionally copyrighted or inadvertently copyrighted, this is no fun to deal with. Besides for keeping the law, it is highly advisable to stay out of any potential trouble and only use stock photo that was legitimately purchased.

There are two forms of stock photos:

  • Rights Managed
  • Royalty Fee

Rights Managed stock photo allows a user to buy the image and gain exclusive rights to that photo with unlimited usage. Rights Managed stock photo can be very expensive, sometimes even several thousands of dollars. Royalty Free stock photo is the more common usage in websites, where the purchaser buys a specific license to use the photo, but it is not exclusive. When purchasing stock photo, one can select different sizes of the image to purchase, with higher resolution versions costing more than the lower ones. For the most part, when it comes to the web, the smallest or second-to-smallest size will usually suffice, as screen displays require a much lower resolution than print. This allows stock photos used on the web to be very affordable.

My preferred choice when choosing Stock Photography for websites are Fotolia and IStockphoto. Both these websites are reasonably priced on most images. In many cases the desired photos can be purchased for around a dollar each! Both these agencies have straightforward policies and an easy purchasing process, unlike other agencies such as Corbis where the price structure and fees are very confusing. Although none of the agencies allow you to purchase one photo at a time, but rather only allow purchasing a minimum amount of credits, it is still worth it to spend the extra amount and go the safe route. In general, the more credits you buy at a shot, the better price you will get per credit.

Whenever I do a website for a client, I usually assist in attaining the stock photo if it is needed. I will either do a search within the stock photo agencies website, and present the options to the client, or offer suggestions where and how to search. If a client only needs a few stock photos that are around a dollar each, I may even purchase the photos under my own account and not bill for this.  If a client provides their own stock photo for me to use on their website, I trust that the images they are providing us were properly licensed to them, and indemnify myself of responsibility towards this.


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