Service Comparison: Stock Photography

I’ll kick off the new Service Comparison feature with – Stock Photography.

For those that maybe unsure what Stock Photography is here is a brief explanation.

Stock photography is photography or imagery that is used repeatedly for commercial and non-commercial purposes.

When you need images for a site you may require something very specific and so take a photo yourself or hire a photographer to take the exact image you want. However, most of the time a bespoke image is not needed and a generic image is fine. You may require a picture of “a girl laughing” or “a pen” – this where stock photos come in.

You can search a database of images and find one that fits your purpose. While many like to use Google or Yahoo image search the vast majority of the time how does healthywage work – Stealth Secrets the images you find will be copyright and therefore illegal for you to rip off and use. There are some free gallery’s of royalty free images but usually as a free service they are very limited in the quantity, quality and variety of images.

For all the above reasons you will be best off with a paid for Stock Photography service. Some only include images from professional photographers, others are submitted by users of the site (although strongly moderated for quality). Here are the 4 examples that I will compare.

I will be scoring each site based on the following criteria:

Site Design (out of 25)
– Site Apperance
– Site Navagation

Images (out of 25)
– Quality of images
– Max available Resolution of images
– Range

Value (out of 25)
– Price/Value
– Restrictions on use

Editors Tilt (out of 25)

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iStockphoto.com

First up is iStockphoto.

The home page has a continually changing stream of photos available on the site. If you see something you like clicking on an image when it appears will take you to details page. There are also very clear and strongly promoted pricing. iStock’s prices are among the cheapest here so it is understandable that they would want to highlight this.

iStock allows you to search the full catalog of images before even registering. However, you won’t be able to add items to your lightbox until you sign up.

There are many ways to navigate around the site.

You can check out the featured links on the homepage including “Design of the week”, “Artist of the week” and “free image of the week”.

Using the left navigation you can browse through categories, see the most popular images, or the most recently added.

In most cases, though, you will want to use the search function. iStock’s search features are excellent. Enter a keyword to search for. If you get back too many results enter a new keyword and it will search within your results for a better match. You can also use filters to search for certain file types, resolution etc.

Bread crumbing used so if you cull the list too far it is easy to go back to a stage where you had the best results.

Hovering over any of the thumbnails creates a roller over with a larger view of the image. This even works with video where you can see the video play in the hover over bubble. The watermarks iStock use are in most cases unobtrusive so it does not detract from the image but it is enough to put off rip offs from stealing them.

Images
The Range of results is very good. With over 1.1million images, video or flash. However, how did it cope with my test searches.

Search test 1: A very basic search that should produce many results.
Target: Smiling Girl with Flowers (not special occasion)
Keywords entered: Girl, Smiling, flower
Results found: 370 matches

The first page had mostly videos or weddings. I filtered my search to just include photos this reduced the number to 356. I was still left with a lot of wedding photos. I used the searches “exclude” option to exclude the keyword wedding.

With 324 results still remaining I found several subtable images within the first few pages of results.

Using the iStock lightbox shortcut it was easy to quickly add the ones I liked to a new lightbox called girl with flower then browse through my favourites later before making a choice.

Search Test 2: A very specific search that could possibly find no exact matches.
Target: Woman putting on red shoes
Keywords: Shoe, Red, woman, put on
Results found: 10

Out of the 10 only 2 actually showed a woman putting red shoes on. As this test was designed to push the catalogues range to its limits it is actually quite impressive that a match was found.

As the images are submitted by users of the site the resolution available for each image will vary. I believe iStock have set a 2 Megapixel minimum for it to be accepted so unless you want to severely crop an image it will usually be more than enough for web use. If you need something hi-res for printing you’ll be pleased to find most images go up to at least 3000 x 2000 px and some many times bigger.

Value
iStock works on a pre-pay basis. You buy a bunch of credits and then spend them on images. You can acquire bonus credits by recommending friends, selling your images or ordering a larger quantity. There are also occasional promotional deals that get you more credits too.

At just $1 for the small images (roughly 800×600) not many would complain about the price. However, if an image is cheap but low quality, hard to find or only a few to choose from it wouldn’t matter. Thankfully iStockphoto Scores highly in all areas.

One last thing to consider is the Terms of Use. If you cannot use the image for your intended purpose then despite its pluses it iStock might not be the one for you.

The License Agreement is quite strict, even specifying that you can only make 1 back up copy of an image and display them no larger than 800×600 on the web. However, you are permitted to use them on websites, advertising, packaging, personal projects, CD or DVD packaging, film and video presentations, multimedia presentations, commercials, books, etc… You are also allowed to print the content up to 500,000 times. You may not resell the images.

These restrictions can be changed/reduced if you go for an extended license for an additional fee.

Editor’s Tilt.
There is a great community feel about this site. There are forums filled with discussions on images. Although the posts are mostly tips for photographers that add content to the site, there is also help if you are trying to find a particularly difficult image.

They also have a new feature called BuyRequest. It allows you to specify what you want in a design and another user will either find it in the existing stock or create it for you. This takes iStockphoto beyond regular stock photos as you can get a bespoke image done by one of the many talented members.

The inclusion of a free photo each week is a real bonus. It may be worth signing up for these pictures alone.

Score:

Site Design
– Site Appearance
– Site Navigation
23/25

Images
– Quality of images
– Max available Resolution of images
– Range
20/25

Value
– Price/Value
– Restrictions on use
22/25

Editors Tilt
22/25

Total: 87/100

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Fotolia.co.uk

Next up is Fotolia.co.uk . Not as well known as iStockphoto but definitely worth considering. As Fotolia makes a localised site for several regions including the UK the prices are all in local currency, in my case Pounds Sterling which is refreshing for us Britons using the site.

Like iStockphoto the home page features prices prominently and some sample images change steadily. One difference is that one feature graphic remains static. This Large graphic is usually quite striking and really shows off the quality of some of the work on the site. This graphic changes only when you refresh the page.

Again you can search the full catalogue before registering. The images are supplied by website members and strongly moderated for quality before being accepted.

In addition to the Images, prices and search there is a tag cloud right on the homepage to get you right into the category your after.

Overall I’d say the homepage just about out-does iStockphoto.

Navigation again is excellent. You can use the tag cloud/categories or search. Once in a category the subcategories help you narrow down results further. As always, Lucky Day App Review: Legit Or A Scam? though, search will usually be your main way of finding your images.

I found that on the day of the test the search was a little sluggish. I entered a very general term and was left hanging for about a minute before being greeted with a mysql error. As a regular user of the site I know this isn’t usually a problem so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

After retrying I am greeted with a selection of thumbnails. Like iStock hovering over an image produces a rollover bubble with an enlarged view. While the search doesn’t offer the “search within” or “exclude” features of iStock, it makes up for it with a great filtering system. You can filter for photo orientation, type, or even if it contains certain colours. This last filter is useful if you want an image to fit with the theme colours of your webpage. There is even an option to receive emails whenever there is a new photo submitted that meets your current search criteria.

Another great feature of the search is being able to adjust the number of results on each page. It may sound like a simple feature but the lack of this on iStock is noticeable (ed- this feature has been added to iStock). If your monitor is set to a high resolution like mine you’ll be frustrated at only having 1 1/2 rows of images and loads of white space. With Fotolia you can have up to 48 items on each page.

Images
Fotolia has more images (1.4mil) than iStock (1.1mil) and I find more of them are relevant to my needs or have better composition. However, let’s see how it faired in my search test.

Search test 1: A very basic search that should produce many results.
Target: Smiling Girl with Flowers (not special occasion)
Keywords entered: Girl Smiling flowers
Results found: 401 matches

I found multiple suitable matches on the very first page so didn’t need to do any additional filtering. The overall composition of the photos was better than iStock although bear in mind I didn’t scan through every page. I have to say I was spoilt for choice.

Again I was able to quickly add a selection to my lightbox for later viewing.

Search Test 2: A very specific search that could possibly find no exact matches.
Target: Woman putting on red shoes
Keywords: Woman putting on red shoes
Results found: 2

In this case the results were less than on iStock. In fact the 2 that were found were also among the ones I found on iStock’s search.

As already mentioned the image compositions are very professional and the resolutions go up to 16 MegaPixels and more. In most cases, however, the images are between 2MP and 4MP.

Value
Fotolia works on a similar basis to iStock. You buy a bunch of credits and then spend them on images. There are various ways of getting bonus images.

The lowest resolution images are 2 megapixels, equivalent to medium/large iStock images which would set you back 2-3 credits. On Fotolia they cost 1 credit.

Again we look at the terms. They are very similar but a little less specific and presented in a friendlier way (i.e. a Can and a Cannot link that when hovered over list in 3-4 bullets what the terms are). The usual restrictions apply, no reselling or freely distributing.

Again these restrictions can be changed/reduced if you go for an extended license for an additional fee.

Editors Tilt.
Although the search function isn’t as intuitive as iStock I find more relevant or better composed images when I use this site. It makes good use of the full width of my screen and on a hi-res monitor makes a big difference. The friendly and clear instructions throughout the site add to a happy user experience.

Fotolia give away a huge 15 images per day. That’s 105 free images per week compared to iStock’s 1. This is a great bonus. You can really build up a good collection just from these freebies.

Score:

Site Design
– Site Appearance
– Site Navigation
22/25

Images
– Quality of images
– Max available Resolution of images
– Range
23/25

Value
– Price/Value
– Restrictions on use
21/25

Editors Tilt
23/25

Total: 89/100

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Shuttershock.com

The homepage features 1 static image that changes whenever you refresh. While the feature image is usually good they are not as striking as those featured on the Fotolia site.

As with the others the home page features member login and clear pricing information. There is also a full index of categories and some featured lightboxes.

The overall layout is good – making it easy to get straight into the category you want or start a search but it is centred into the middle 740px of the page. This means on a hi resolutions there is a lot of wasted white space which on an image site it is good to make the most of all the space possible as fotolia does. The width does increase to nearly 900px once you start searching though.

The categories listed on the homepage make it easier to get straight into a category but as there is no subcategories to navigate to its usefulness is questionable. Despite this the search options are arguably the best so far. It has both the iStock style “exclude” option and the Fotolia color filter in a smart color wheel.

Shuttershock doesn’t feature the nice hover over effect to allow you to get a large view of images so you have to click each one to view its detail page. Then the watermark can be very overwhelming, hiding key elements of the image or detracting from the overall look. This is especially noticeable on predominantly white images.

Images
The range and quality of images for the searches I tried was the best overall although the actual number of images in the database is the same as iStock (>1.1million).

Let’s try my search test:

Search test 1: A very basic search that should produce many results.
Target: Smiling Girl with Flowers (not special occasion)
Keywords entered: Girl Smiling flowers
Results found: 1574 matches

I found multiple suitable matches on the very first page but there were a few wedding photos in there so I used the exclude function to remove them. That still left me with an incredible 1347 photos to choose from. The overall composition, resolutions and variety of the photos was the best so far. Nearly every situation I could think of was covered, thoroughly.

Again I was able to quickly add a selection to my lightbox for later viewing.

Search Test 2: A very specific search that could possibly find no exact matches.
Target: Woman putting on red shoes
Keywords: Woman putting on red shoes
Results found: 1

The same image found on iStock and Fotolia came back.

Although many of the images are the same as seen on iStock and Fotolia you will find plenty of unique ones. Overall the images are of similar standard to the previous entries and in cases better.

Value

Unlike the previous 2 sites Shuttershock is subscription based. A fee of £85 gets you 1 month’s subscription. You can download up to 25images/day. So potentially, 750 images can be downloaded each month. This works out to about 11p per image but the chances are you won’t need 25 images a day so many will days you will either get less or images you don’t really need.

You do get an even better deal if you take a quarterly, annual or bi-annual subscription at best you’d pay only 9.5p per image but this would require you to be downloading 9000 images over the year.

Even if you don’t get maximum use out of your subscription it is still a good deal. As long as you download on average 3 images a day or more it works out the cheapest in this comparison.

Similar restrictions to image usage apply with some slight differences. This means no reselling, no freely distributing and no displaying of the image at resolutions greater than 800 x 600 on the web. They specify you cannot use the images in spam mail (not that any of us should be spamming anyway). You cannot resell or Add to a greeting card and sell. You cannot feature an image in a public display such as a restaurant or public area. They also state that an image should only be used in a multimedia presentation if it will be viewed by less than 250k viewers.

There are also added protections for images that contain people – You may not use an Image in a way that places any person in the photo in a bad light or depicts them in a way that they may find offensive. If you are looking to manipulate an image to show the effects of an illness or accident for a article you may want to be careful here as it could potentially be in breach of the policy.

Some images are also marked as Editorial Use Only and cannot be used for commercial purposes.

As a subscription service they also want to prevent you from signing up, downloading your heart out and storing these images for future use. So you have to use the image within 6months of your subscription expiring on a standard license. You can extend this if you go for an extended license.

Editor’s Tilt
I miss the hover over zoom of images and the general feel of the previous 2 sites. However, Shuttershock is exceptional value for money if you’re a regular stock photo user and has some of the finest stock images I have seen.

The license restrictions are a bit more intense than the others and I find myself actually reading the terms carefully before downloading or signing up as although transparent they seem more restrictive.

Score:

Site Design
– Site Appearance
– Site Navigation
20/25

Images

– Quality of images
– Max available Resolution of images
– Range
23/25

Value
– Price/Value
– Restrictions on use
25/25

Editors Tilt
19/25

Total: 87/100

To be continued

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Please note all prices and terms quoted are correct at time of publication. Any recommendations are solely my opinion and should not be the only basis for your choice of service provider. I have likely made errors or omissions which I will attempt to correct as I notice them. I disclaim any responsibility for any action taken by readers of this article as a result the information provided. However, if there are complaints or errors please feel free to point them out either in a comment or by emailing me.

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