Because of my personal distaste and dismay of the Stock Photo industry which started with the Getty Images Extortion Demand Letter, I have taken steps to personally boycott the Stock Photo Industry and advocate not using stock photos altogether. The stock photo industry seems to be rapidly consolidating into two companies: Getty Images and Corbis, as they buy their way into near-monopoly status with them setting outrageous rules, policy, and pricing.
This article will not give you all the information necessary to entirely eliminate the need for stock photos in every situation. However, this article will give you some ideas and strategies to wean yourself and perhaps altogether eliminate your need for stock photos. I firmly believe that if you put your intentions behind the idea, you can make huge strides towards eliminating the need for stock photos altogether.
The very first thing you need to think about is whatever media project you are working on is, do you truly need a photo at all? Chances are that you are working on a website, book, magazine, brochure, news story, banner, or some other media project. Alternatives to photos might be diagrams, cartoons, illustrations, and drawings that you or a graphic artist you hire can create. Can you take your own photo to fit the need?
If you hire a graphic artist to create your own artwork, do not hire anyone in China or India where there is very little respect for intellectual property. They may be inexpensive but you can never be assured that their work is original. There is little recourse for their bad behavior because they are so far away. I recommend hiring graphic artists from the U.S. because as a professional community, they have a greater respect for intellectual property than their Chinese or Indian counterparts. They will think twice before using pirated material.
I would avoid hiring any company that outsources their work to graphic artist worker bees. In other words, I always want to deal and negotiate with a graphic artist professional themselves, not some agent or agency that farms out graphics art work.
If you do want to use and take your own photos, I highly recommend investing in a good digital camera so that you can begin taking your own photos. I also recommend getting to know amateur hobbyist photographers who have access to good cameras and enjoy taking photos. Very often, amateur photographers with good cameras are trying to find a way to justify the costs of their hobby. By hiring them inexpensively, you can get some great looking photos but also help the amateur photographer pay for his hobby. Make sure they understand that you are they are working for hire and that you will have full ownership and rights to the photos.
Professional photographers can be expensive depending on what you want and who you use. For these folks, I recommend bartering with them for exchange of services if you have talents in your profession. I find many professional photographers finicky. They will sometimes not give you full ownership or rights of the photo even though you paid them to take a photo. They are quite protective and their thinking is aligned to many in the stock photo industry. Admittedly, this is a broad generalization and based only on my experience. I am simply not optimistic that you will get good value from a professional photographer but it certainly does not hurt to try and negotiate with them.
Another source of quality photos is product photos from product manufacturers. Often, they are happy to have their products publicized and placed in a positive light and will give you free rights to use their photos. Product companies mostly police and control their photos because they don’t want their photos used in a manner they did not intend or in a way that paints their company or products in a negative light. Many will grant you free usage of their photos if you approach them the right way. However, large companies can be a challenge sometimes because of their size. They may be so large that they may not even get back to you. Again, it never hurts to try. Product companies are in the business selling more of their products, not sue people who use their product photos.
If you choose to take your own photos, invest in a digital camera that can take a resolution of 4 megapixel images or higher. You want to take high-resolution photos as your master copy. You can then “downsize”, crop, and enhance the photos for your websites or other uses. I recommend buying an easy-to-use photo editor such as Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 or Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 that allows you to crop and resize photos easily. The photo editor can greatly enhance the quality of the master photos you take. You can also enhance colors and adjust lighting with the software. Special effects such as blurring, stretching, pixelating, framing, adding captions, etc. are included with photo editing software.
I truly believe that with the increasing power and technical capabilities of digital cameras, cell phone cameras, and camcorders, the value of stock photos and stock photo companies will eventually decline. It is going to be a losing business to be in. This whole notion of extorting your way to profitability is distasteful and eventually will fall by the wayside much like what has occurred in the music recording industry. One only has to look to RIAA for that lesson.
Along the “do-it-yourself” philosophy, you should have the mindset that you will fit images or photos you create to your media project, not let your media projects deciding the specific images you need. Stock photo companies are trying to brainwash you the idea that THEY have the “perfect photo” for your particular needs. If you are creative, imaginative, and resourceful enough, you will almost always find an alternative or work-around solution that does not require the use of stock photos.
If you want to show the stock photo industry you don’t need them, the best way is to simply generate more of your own photos to devalue theirs and then use your own. I have published two books recently and have been able to successfully avoid using stock photos of any kind. I used my own photos as well as authorized product photos. I created my own artwork. If more publishers, graphic artists, and graphic designers started doing this, I truly believe the stock photo industry could be brought down to their financial knees very quickly.
Many years ago, people said that we would run out of .com domains available because all the good ones were taken. It is true it has become more challenging to find a good .com domain name. However, I have made it my policy to not deal with any domain speculators or domain squatters. I won’t be extorted into paying thousands of dollars for an available domain I can register for less than $10. And because I have set that restriction and policy for myself, I have always been able to find many suitable .com domain names for my various websites.
It is the same principle here. Think abundantly. Think creatively. Tap into your imagination. There are many ways to implement a visual concept besides a specific photo you might have in mind. There are many ways to implement a concept visually. Do not let the stock photo companies brainwash you into thinking you have to use their particular photos because there are no other ways of finding an image for your particular website, logo, banner, sign, book, magazine, or other product.
The best kept secret that the stock photo industry hates are government websites and their photo collections. Great public domain photos can be found from U.S. government agency websites. “The people” own the photos, not any one individual or organization. USA.gov is a government-operated website that was launched to help U.S. citizens have better access to various government agencies and resources. Specifically, USA.gov has a page called U.S. Government Photos and Images which contains links to government agency websites that have public domain images. The diversity of images available is quite impressive. An off-shoot of that page is the State Photo & Multimedia Galleries which links to public domain images at the State level.
Some of the more notable ones I like and found impressive are listed below:
- NASA Images has space-related photos.
- Our Earth as Art has photos relating to the earth, weather, oceans, and nature.
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Digital Library has photos relating to animals, plants, nature, and wildlife.
- NOAA Photo Library has several collections of photos relating to nature, weather, oceans, and wildlife.
- U.S. Department of Defense DefenseLINK has photos relating to the military, war, politics, and the President.
- Library of Congress Geography & Map Reading Room has images relating to historical and current maps.
- National Archives America’s Historical Documents has images relating to history, politics, and historical events.
- National Park Service Digital Image Archives has images relating to nature, history, and national parks around the U.S.
Are you impressed with these websites? I was. It is all free and much of it is available in high-resolution. However, you should realize that not all images from government websites are public domain. You will need to seek out the image usage rights notices on each website. As I said USA.gov is a great starting point to a wealth of high-quality public domain photos.
If there are any other great public domain or government photo sites, please let me know and I will add them. If you have any additional tips to stop using stock photos and boycott the stock photo industry, send them to me and I will incorporate them into this article.