The evolution of the stock imagery market is not just about the rise of the internet and the digital camera. It's also about the evolution of business. Where once the model involved buying large photodiscs from Kodak and Comstock for several hundred pounds, online delivery has driven prices down and even led to micropayment-based sites for 'microstock', where royalty-free images cost as little as $1.
Of course, you get what you pay for. The stringent controls over rights-managed imagery often result in guaranteed quality, but at the sacrifice of cost, control and immediacy. Royalty-free images are usually available right away, with very few restrictions on how they're used. Clifford Singer of London-based agency Edition adds, "Stock-library quality has really improved. Seven or eight years ago it was all permatanned smiling families, but now it's more quirky. Though there's still a lot of bland stuff around."
As a result, stock-image libraries have more to offer cost-conscious designers than ever.
Offers royalty-free images for as little as $1 but it's credits-based, so those prices are only available for bulk buys. Its range runs from so-so, generic photography to tacky, PowerPoint-esque clip art.
www.bigstockphoto.com (opens in new tab)
The usual selection of royalty-free and rights-managed stock shots, but it also features an eBay-like marketplace where photographers vie to meet your requirements by the deadline.
Essentially a royalty-free microstock site. While it does give away free images, the selection is limited, so you'll need to purchase credits to find anything useful. Also, the licensing for the free shots prohibits significant alteration in Photoshop.
Food And Drink Photos
A comprehensive collection of photos about eating and drinking. Pricing depends on use, so expect to pay tens if not hundreds of pounds per image. However, a royalty-free collection is imminent.
For high-quality stock photography, FreeImages has little to offer. But its collection does feature photos of strange and obscure household ephemera that sometimes come in handy. Terms and conditions simply involve linking to or crediting the site.
Getty-owned iStockphoto is arguably the market leader for microstock. Again, it is credits-based, with small images starting at around £1, and the very biggest costing closer to £12. It also sells vector images.
www.istockphoto.com (opens in new tab)
Offers anything from £2,000 royalty-free DVD collections to standard rights-managed images and royalty-free images under £30. It also offers a subscription service, with monthly or annual fees.
Runs a 'pay what you want' scheme. Very new and short on range, this could still be the shape of things to come.
Science Photo Library
Features some of the best stock photos available online. But be prepared to pay anything from £70 to several thousands of pounds, and the library has to assess each purchase to decide rights usage.
A premium-quality creative resource and inspiration site, Ultrashock offers high-res photos, conceptual vector illustration and other assets. Simple art is as little as one credit (roughly $1), while multilayer assets can range to 40 credits.
A huge array of creative resources such as vector-based textures and illustrations, and even brushes for borders and other embellishments. Freebies are available but prices are typically $10-30.