Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 1 | WebReference

Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 1

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Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 1

By Nathan Segal

As a Web developer, chances are that you'll need images for your Web presence. While some of you might possess skills in photography or illustration, many do not. In addition, time constraints might make it impossible to shoot or create what you want in time to meet a deadline. Then there's the other issue - cost. If all of these factors are an issue, check out stock photography. In this and subsequent articles, we'll have a look at the stock photography industry, how it works, what images cost, copyright issues and how you can make use of images as a Web developer.

A Short History of Stock Photography

In the early days, stock photography consisted of image outtakes from various photography assignments and were of limited use, except for books. In time that changed. By the 1980's it had become a specialty market and spawned an industry in photography where many photographers were no longer shooting for assignment, but for stock imag libraries. Many chose the latter because of greater flexibility in working conditions and because it offered a form of royalty (or residual) income. Until a few years ago, most, if not all stock images were viewable only in printed catalogs that were sent out to various advertising agencies and photobuyers who were in charge of purchasing image licenses.

Over time, stock agencies became more sophisticated and began to survey their clients to find out what images were most needed. This information was passed onto the photographers who would shoot images based on agency requirements. To elaborate, if a vertical image was shot, the photographer would have to pay special attention to image placement as the image would likely have type placed on it, either at the top, bottom or side. Quite often, vertical images were best as they would be used for magazine and book covers or for annual reports. Horizontal images would likely be used as an insert on a page and were sometimes used for a two-page spread.

In the 1980's a few of the main stock agencies were Masterfile, The Image Bank (now a part of Getty Images) and Comstock (now a part of JupiterMedia). In recent years, many of the smaller agencies have been bought out and have been merged to form large agencies, two of which are Corbis and Index Stock. Within JupiterMedia, we have the JupiterImages division. A few of the company properties are Comstock, and Picturequest.

To give you an idea of how stock works, imagine that you're looking at a department store catalog and you're looking at images of products. Each picture refers to a product you can buy. A stock photography catalog would appear in a similar fashion, except each image would be available for license, for use in advertising, book covers, annual reports, etc. When a license is purchased, the fee is split between the stock agency and the photographer who created the image. Traditionally, you would purchase images from printed catalogs, but with the advent of the Internet, these catalogs are less common. In some instances, you can get stock catalogs on CD-ROM, but these days, most agencies are online.

Who Buys Stock Photography?

The beauty of stock photography is that it can be used and reused multiple times. It has a host of applications in the commercial design world, such as book publishing, magazines, annual reports, advertising, television, film, interior design, CD-ROM production, web design, graphics design, calendars, government agencies, niche publishers, etc.

Stock Photography vs. Assignment Photography

By using stock photography, clients can save a lot of time and can stay within their budget requirements. In most cases, stock photography is much less expensive than hiring a photographer. Stock databases contain a wide variety of images which simplify the task of finding what you need. In addition, if you purchase a license online, you can often download the image the same day.

In many cases, images in stock libraries are of better quality that those shot on assignment, due in part to rigorous editing procedures. Tight deadlines become easier to manage since you don't have to set up a photo shoot. One of the great things about stock is that by looking at images, art directors can get a better idea of what will work for their projects. Another option is image comps, where you can download a low resolution image and test it with your layout. If it doesn't work, you don't buy it.

Another difference between assignment and stock photography are the requirements. Assignment photography is created with a specific use in mind whereas stock photography is created with a more generic approach, so the image will appeal to many potential markets.

The Evolution of Stock Photography

As mentioned earlier on, stock images came from various assignments in the form of outtakes.

One of the photography options that emerged was the opportunity to create multiple exposures on a single frame of film, making it possible to create composites; images made up of many components. As technology evolved, pin-registered cameras and darkroom equipment was created to create these complex images with great accuracy. This technology was used to great effect in the movie "Tron" and the first Star Wars movies.

With the advent of the computer and the invention of software programs like Photoshop, mechanical darkroom techniques were transported into the digital realm. The result? Special effects could be created simply and with great accuracy in hours or even minutes. Using mechanical techniques the same result could take days of work.

Now that the Internet has arrived, multiple new markets have been created, with limitless possibilities. Now, stock libraries are easily available world-wide and images can be downloaded with a click of a mouse.

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Created: March 27, 2003
Revised: September 23, 2005