There are a ton of different sites out there selling stock photography and illustrations. It can be hard to know where to start.
My starting place is always iStock.com. It’s my favorite because it’s what I’m used to and it always has what I’m looking for.
So, what goes into finding the perfect stock image?
Know what you’re searching for
The search terms you use are the most important factor in finding the right image. If you’re looking for something specific, like an adorable picture of a pitbull puppy, then it’s easy. Just type that in.
iStock even distinguishes between different meanings of the word to make sure they give you the right one (are you looking for the person named Pitbull, or the bull terrior pitbulls? Good question!). And then you can quickly and easily choose your file type: Photos, Illustrations, Video, Audio, or a combination if you’re not sure.
Look through a few pages, find the cutest pup and you’re on your way!
What if you don’t know what image you need?
If you’re looking for an image to put with some abstract concept, things can be a little trickier. Sometimes it’s as simple as typing that “concept” into iStock. But beware of jargon—for example, instead of searching for “year end giving” which doesn’t mean anything to your average joe (or search engine) try “holiday donation.”
Sure, there will be some random things thrown in, but something might spark an idea that will lead you to an even more specific search term. (Like “holiday bow banner”) And there you are, half way to creating a professional looking donation form.
Beware of those fake smiles
Stock imagery has a bad rep because of the high proportion of cheeseball shots out there. It’s true, they’re definitely there. But if you dig a little deeper, there are plenty of authentic “real” looking shots where the models don’t look like they just walked out of a Tide commercial.
The key is to find people that really look like real people your organization serves. Always ask yourself “does this look like it could be real?” If not, donors aren’t going to relate to it.
I’m ready to buy!
A lot of stock image services offer packages of credits that you can use to buy images. This is great if you’re going to be buying a lot of images throughout the year. At iStock, credits get cheaper the more you buy, so you can save a few bucks by buying larger packages. iStock credits don't expire as long as you use your account at least once a year.
Alternatively, if you only need one or two images and don’t see yourself needing many more over the year, iStock also allows you to just pay a dollar amount. It’ll cost a bit more, but is a nice option for people who don’t need images very often.
I’m ready to buy… but what size do I need?
If you’re buying stock photography, it’s really important to make sure you buy the right size photo to get the best looking results. There are usually 5 or 6 sizes offered per photo and which you need all depends on what you’re going to use it for.
First, switch from Pixels to Inches. Notice it shows you the dimensions @ 72 dpi or @ 300 dpi. I could write a-whole-nother post about image resolution (and I will!) but to keep it simple, 72 dpi means you can use it online, and 300 dpi means you can print it. If you print a 72 dpi image, it will come out pixelated.
So once you decide if you’re going to use the image for print or online, you need figure out how big the image will be on your page (paper or web). If you need this seal pup image to be 5x7” on a printed page (at 300 dpi), then you need to purchase the Large. If you’re only going to use it online (at 72 dpi), and need it to be 5x7”, then you can get the Small. If you want to use the image both online and in print, just buy Large. Having an image that is too big is never a problem!
Why not just pull something off Google images?
Google images can be really useful for brainstorming ideas, but never use it if you’re looking for an image you need to use commercially (or nonprofit-ly). Not only is there a ton of junk mixed in, it’s a pain in the butt to sift through everything, find the perfect image, and then realize that it’s under copyright (most images online are), low-resolution (looks great online, but will print all pixelated), or so expensive that it would blow your budget.
If you use a site like iStock, you’re only shown images you can actually use (and afford).
Did iStock sponsor this post?
No, it’s just what I like. Other sites that are similar are 123rf.com and shutterstock.com. Corbis and Getty both have amazing professional photos, but tend to be a lot more pricey then iStock and the like. But if you’re looking for a shot of a news event, or political figure, that’s where you should go.