Now that you have a wonderful theme that you just can’t wait to show the world, you might find yourself wanting some fresh, site-appropriate, royalty-free images. The answer to that need for many designers and users, myself included, is iStockphoto.com. They have an enormous library of over 3.3 million files, including 100,000 royalty-free videos. Stock images add thousands of words to your articles and brilliance to your designs without the hassle of getting a photographer or risking a lower quality image by doing it yourself without the proper equipment, lighting, or training. By using such a large site, you are almost guaranteed to find something that either does exactly what you need, if not completely fits the bill for the space, color, and topic. Royalty-free means that you don’t have to pay the artist every time you use it. Once you buy it, the files are yours to use according the the license agreements at the time of download..
The first thing to do, of course, is to create an account in order to purchase credits. That is pretty straight-forward, by clicking the ‘Sign up’ button on the home page of the site. Your login is also your site “screen name” and identity for any files you might want to upload for sale in the future, so choose your login wisely. It is a rather quick sign up process, as you only need to pick a username and enter a valid e-mail address. They will send you a login key to activate your account. The next step is actually kind of exciting, because iStockphoto has added a new option for purchasing credits.
Until now, the only way for non-corporate account users to purchase credits was to pay-as-you-go, with discounts applied for purchasing in greater quantities, up to 47% more credits per dollar. Credits are non-refundable and expire after a year, but those are the only regulations on credits. Files range from 1 credit to 10 or 15 credits, depending on the file size. Illustrations are often more “expensive” because they are scalable vector graphics, making them essentially the largest size possible. They do offer free images, illustrations, and videos of the day, week, and month to allow you the opportunity to take advantage of some great works – if you can make them work for your site.
The recent addition to the credit purchasing plans is a subscriber option for 3, 6, or 12 months. You pay for a variable number of credits per day, based on your estimated usage for a short or on-going project. You don’t need to use all of the credits each day, but it is structured that way to allow you to account for normal operating costs at a much lower rate than the per-use credits. As with the per-use credits, the longer you subscribe and the more credits per day, the better discount they offer.
For purchasing the correct size without wasting credits, the general rule of thumb is to get the smallest size that has the image or area of the image you need without any resizing. For example, if you need to create a header for your site that is 1000 pixels wide, don’t skimp and get the x-small size that is only 600 pixels or the small size that is 800 pixels. You will only be buying the next larger size and end up wasting the 1 or 3 credits on the smaller image.
A word of caution, though, for big publishers: be sure that you read the licensing agreement to ensure that the image’s use complies with the cheaper agreement, or they could come after you for extra money if they find their image plastered all over when they only got $3 for it.
iStockphoto has a very comprehensive, yet intuitive search feature. All of the content is tagged with keywords to allow you to find an amazing array of results to pick the best photo, illustration, Flash, or video for the job. The search will even prompt you to be more specific if the database contains slight variations to your search terms, and is often spot-on. If you are looking for a certain color scheme or image placement (copyspace), content is also marked with that important meta data.
One final feature to love about iStockphoto is the social media aspect of the site. Artists and users have profiles with avatars and profile e-mail messages. Files are tracked for download statistics to determine if an image is trendy or untapped. You can review and read reviews on files and rate them from one to five cameras (fittingly). Go ahead and start or join a creative user network and start collaborating for even more use from the site and their users.