5 reasons not to use free stock images

These days, we’re all used to getting things for free. Why buy a newspaper when you can read The Metro, or get the news online for nothing? Why buy a CD when you can listen to the album without charge on Spotify? And there are so many free design resources online, it’s easy to get into the habit of not having to pay for anything here either.

Looking up at trees

You won’t find this sort of photography on free sites, but you can get high quality images at very affordable prices from iStock by Getty Images 

But there comes a point when, as a professional designer, you have to draw the line. After all, there’s no point in saving a few pennies if it lowers the quality of your work and could potentially lose you valuable clients.

So while the lure of freebies may be strong, when it comes to photography, illustration and video, it’s actually a false economy. In this article we highlight why investing in low-cost, high quality images from iStock by Getty Images is a much smarter choice.

01. Quality

Macro shot shows leaf detail

iStock images offer far higher quality than freebies, both technically and artistically

It may sound obvious, but it’s still worth saying: images from iStock by Getty Images are just better quality. 

They’re better quality technically, in terms of things like colour, lighting, cropping and so on. And they’re better quality artistically too, feeling more contemporary, authentic and relevant than the typical images you’ll find on free sites.

And that’s no coincidence. Photographers don’t upload their work to iStock out of the kindness of their heart: they do it to make money. The best way to do that is to provide what the market wants, so they’re under constant pressure to upload better and better images. iStock further helps you find the best stuff through its specially curated ‘Signature’ collection, which features the highest quality images the site has to offer.

02. Range

City buildings seen from a skyscraper, smothered in cloud

You won’t find images as unique as these on free sites

Free stock image sites generally don’t have a lot of images to offer. So even if you do find something that’s suitable, there’s a very good chance that your chosen image will have been used in countless other people’s designs. That’s not going to reflect highly on you as a designer.

In contrast, with more than 160,000 global contributors, iStock by Getty Images can offer you literally millions of affordable, unique, royalty free images to choose from. So the odds are far greater of finding an image that’s the perfect fit for your design – rather than trying to shoehorn in a free image that doesn’t really work. 

And once you’ve found that perfect image, you’ll also find it’s surprisingly affordable. With images starting at only £9 (or $12 or 11 Euros), you’re getting incredibly good value for the quality that’s on offer.

03. Versatility

iStock images are available at very high resolution and at a range of sizes

iStock images are available at very high resolution and at a range of sizes

Many of the images you’ll find on free sites aren’t just of low technical quality, but are normally only available at one (low) resolution and size. With iStock by Getty Images, though, you can access images at very high resolution and at a range of sizes.

This means that whatever your project - from digital to print to 4K video - you’ll be able to find relevant assets at the size, resolution and format you require. Remember, also, that with a high-res image, there’s much more scope for creative cropping without losing too much in the way of resolution.

A wooden desk with watercolour paints, brushes, a mask and an artist's hands

You won’t have any legal worries with iStock’s images

The site you’re looking at might say the images are available for free. But how do you know, really? The internet is pretty much the Wild West, and there are plenty of unscrupulous website owners willing to scrape other people’s copyrighted material, make it available for free download and make money off the advertising... setting you up for potential legal action in future.

Even when the site is legitimate, things can get tricky. Flickr, for example, is filled with images made available under Creative Commons licences, some of which are even available for commercial use. However, we’ve heard from design bloggers, for example, who’ve used such images only to find months later that the licence has been updated, and they’re no longer available for free use. Do you or your client really want to keep checking back on Flickr to make sure your “free images” are still free?

With iStock by Getty Images, you have no such worries. Every image you download is yours to use, however you see fit. Plus your iStock contract comes with a $10,000 legal guarantee that when you use content within the terms of the license agreement, it won’t infringe on any copyright, moral right, trademark or other intellectual property right, or violate any right of privacy or publicity.

So apart from anything else, isn’t it worth paying a small amount of money just to be able to sleep at night?

05. Ease of use

A couple in shorts and t-shirts stand in a fountain kissing

It’s easy to find what you’re looking for quickly with iStock

iStock by Getty Images doesn’t just provide you with access to millions of royalty-free images, it makes it quick and super-easy to find what you’re looking for. Sophisticated search tools allow you to really hone your search in the way that works for you. 

For example, you can use negative search terms, conceptual search terms, technical search terms or search with images not words. Specify photos, illustrations or videos. Search by ‘Best match’, ‘Newest’ or ‘Most Popular’. Narrow your search according to licence type, colour, image size, orientation, or the number of people in a shot. Most importantly, the interface is extremely intuitive and easy to follow. So there’s no learning curve; just start searching and tweak as you go.

Brilliantly, you can also search by images. So for instance, if you’ve found a free image that’s close to what you want, but not quite right, why not upload it to search for something similar on iStock?

Special discount for Creative Bloq readers

Finding the right image can make or break the success of your design. So don’t waste your time and energy looking at free image sites: head to iStock by Getty Images for a guarantee of high-quality, low-cost stock imagery.

Right now is a particularly good time to do so if you’re on an annual budget and time is running out to spend it. Why not use up the money you’ve still got to buy iStock credits, which you can then use into 2018 and beyond?

To give you an added incentive, we’ve teamed up with iStock by Getty Images to offer Creative Bloq readers 10% off all iStock credits. Just use code ZNKPC46N on any credit pack today at istock.com to take advantage of this incredible offer!

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.