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A Guide to Stock Imagery for the Web

Web Content and Imagery

In the early days of the internet, websites were quite lean. They consisted of mostly text and elaborate linking, with the primary purpose of conveniently sharing information online.

But, as the market expanded, notably in the dot-com bubble, commercial websites required better architecture and tooling that would support various formats and interactions. So, websites started to gain a new look.

Today's websites are content-rich, with each aspect working in unison to achieve a better user experience. From a visual standpoint, images play a crucial role in creating appealing and engaging websites. We can include simple graphics and even elaborate animations, to capture the attention of visitors and communicate information more effectively.

For instance, a business can make the effort and create original photography, adding personalization and improving its brand identity. However, a growing business, may not have the necessary resources, as the approach can both be time-consuming and expensive. So, that's where stock photos come into play. They offer a cost-effective and convenient alternative and can be leveraged with careful consideration.

Simply put, stock images are pre-existing, ready-made assets that can be licensed in several ways and used in various projects. We can acquire them on stock photo marketplaces, which usually have numerous categories to choose from, or sometimes focus on a specific niche.

Stock Images Legality

Before using stock assets, both designers and developers should have a basic understanding of licensing and legal implications. Mainly, these are the three types of licenses; public domain, royalty-free, and rights-managed.

First off, free stock images are part of the public domain category and typically fall under the Creative Commons license. They're available free of charge, for both commercial and non-commercial use, because the creator has willingly forfeited their rights. Naturally, they're the go-to option for those on a tight budget.

Don't get confused by "royalty-free", as the term is loosely thrown around often misinforming a lot of readers. To disambiguate, stock marketplaces offer a one-time flat fee for assets that we can use multiple times for different purposes. However, we don't hold the copyright to the images; the creator is still the rightful owner, and is in mutual agreement with the vendor, sharing the profits from the sold licenses. Moreover, the license for the image can be sold to other businesses or individuals, meaning they can have the same assets to supplement their website content.

Lastly, rights-managed images are licensed for a specific use, and their fee is based on factors like the image specifications, how long we use them, as well as geographical distribution. For a hefty price, we can obtain a rights-managed license, and gain exclusiveness to an image for a limited period.

Usually, reputable stock image marketplaces take care of the legal considerations for us, but if we want a careful review of the license agreement and aren't sure about the intended use, consulting the vendor or other professionals is highly recommended.

For instance, Stock Snap has a clear explanation for the licensing, and a neat option at the bottom of the page to directly contact them for any pressing matters.

Why Use Stock Photos?

There's no doubt that today's digital landscape requires a visual appeal to capture the user's attention.

Aside from saving resources, another obvious benefit is the wide selection. Marketplaces offer a variety of images, covering a range of subjects, styles, and themes. It's quite convenient to find the right image to match your needs, whether you're looking for a specific type of graphic like vectors or clipart.

Furthermore, there's competition in place so professionals have to ensure a certain amount of quality and careful selection, as well as optimization for different web uses.

Despite these benefits, we should note that users have developed a sense for generic photos and can potentially ignore them. With some clever tactics, we can avoid some common pitfalls of generic stock imagery and make them feel more natural and relevant for the project.

Getting Creative and Customizing

Using stock photos is about finding the right balance between style and substance. To make the most out of them, we can strike a creative chord and ensure they blend in naturally.

Initially, we should carefully select images that aren't overused. Then we can customize them to fit the design, by leveraging design tools and even AI-powered software to make the process more frictionless. Composition, cropping, and color balance are critical aspects that we should focus on so that the images blend in seamlessly, and elevate the website's look and feel.

However, it's not just about looks. To get better results, we should also focus on performance and accessibility. The obvious first step is to use high-resolution imagery. Additionally, there should ideally be ample whitespace between the elements on the page, and proper responsiveness on different screens. Also, including alt text for accessibility with relevant keywords will cover all the bases and help your website perform better.

We strongly suggest investing time and effort in the process. Smooth user experiences are critical for retaining visitors and keeping them engaged with your content.

Useful Resources for Free Stock Photos

StockVault is a thriving community of stock photographers sharing their work

MorgueFile has a growing collection of over 400,000 free stock photos for commercial use

Gratisography offers really silly, quirky content with a free-to-use license

FreePhotos - a growing collection of free stock photos and images