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Taking Stock of Web Images

22nd June 2013

Go to any business website and chances are there will be at least one stock image, maybe more on the pages. A stock image can save you the time and trouble of taking your own images, gives a visual representation of the theme of your web pages and clearly portrays your message. Stock images can be bought from reputable stock image websites and vary in price from £1-£30.

The early days of the internet saw a lot of shameless copyright infringement:  Images were plucked from other sites and used; content was copied off other websites and passed as their own. Around 2008, the image companies said “Enough!” and began to clamp down on anyone seen to be misusing images.

The one story I tend to share with my clients when emphasising the importance of image copyright and how it can all go wrong, was from the MD of a local company: Before we got called in to help with his website (I must stress that this all happened long before we were on the scene!) He bought two images to use on a corporate presentation about 10 years ago. When he came to updating his website a couple of years later he used the same two images on his website thinking that this was ok.

Two months later, two envelopes landed on his doormat.  Both were royalty bills from the photographer for each of these images: £7,500 each or the special offer price of £15,000 for 2. Money that is better spent elsewhere for any small business!

In this case, the person involved didn’t read the small print, because if he had, he would have known that these images were not permitted for web use. This is just as big a problem as using Google Image search and pinching the image for your own use.

There are many stock photographs website out there that provide a wealth of stock photography at various sizes and formats for you to get your message across. the main two being and

It is free to register on both websites and then you can either pay per image, or pay in advance by, purchasing credits (iStockPhoto) or subscribing for a fixed time (ShutterStock). The unit price does get cheaper if you buy more or subscribe for longer, but my advice is only buy what you will realistically use. Free stock photography website

There is also which is a free stock photo website, but the quality is not always as good as the paid stock image websites. Also still make sure you read the Standard restrictions and availability first as some photographers do ask to be notified and/or credited.

Here’s a few pointers to make your credits/subscription go even further:

Check out the free section: Both websites have a free section. If you have a clear idea of the image you want, see if you can find it here first.

Read the small print: Before buying anything, take the time to read through the Website’s Licensing terms. It is a lengthy document but stock image websites do make it a bit easier for you by listing what you’re allowed to use their images for and what is not permitted. If you’re planning to use an image or graphic as a logo, you will need to buy an extended license, which does cost a bit more. Most sites permit you to use their images for small-scale printing but check the impressions limit given as this varies from site to site.

Size and resolution: Each image comes available in about 3-5 different sizes, from a small 500 pixel image version to use on a web page to a high resolution, 6000 pixel wide image ideal for posters. If you know you’re going to crop an image then buy one slightly larger than you need to. If you are only using the image for the website then opt for a resolution 72 dpi (Dots per inch) which is more affordable than the ideal print resolution off 300dpi.

Get it right: I know a lot of you are probably saying “Duh!” and slapping your foreheads at this one, but it is one worth mentioning: Shutterstock do not have a refund policy and as of 1 July 2013, iStockPhoto will no longer issue refunds for errors. So if you don’t check you have the correct image, size and resolution, it’s your loss. So just double check again before before hitting the download button.

Steer clear of Editorials: Most stock websites include images used for editorial purposes. These are found under a separate section but may appear if you are running a search. These can include, logos, people, places or events. If they’re highlighted in red or have clear warnings on their page, then find an alternative because these are strictly for non-commercial use.


Just by following these basic guidelines, then no one needs to receive any hefty royalty bills for thousands for an image you realistically only need to pay a fiver for.  If anyone can think of any other good tips or something that I’ve missed then please do feel free to leave me a comment below.


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