Rare is the day that I don’t need a photograph of some sort in either my day job as the creative director of a news-related Web site or in my freelance graphic design work, most of which is for authors and small business owners. Unfortunately, my budget generally precludes a custom photo shoot, or even a high-end stock photography site.
As a result, I usually get photos from a microstock site like iStockPhoto, or in instances where I need an image of a political figure or an entertainment icon, perhaps from Wikipedia. I only use the editorial collections of Corbis or Getty if I’m really stuck, and even then I think twice — mainly because my boss always blanches whenever I need to spend more than a couple of bucks on a photograph.
Two Types of Photos
The photos I use fall into two general categories: feature photos, which play a major role in the design of a page; and spot photos, used in smaller pieces like ads and promos. Both types of usage present challenges when pulling photos from microstock sites or other inexpensive sources.
In the case of feature photos, it can be difficult to find an image that meets the client’s specific requirements. For example, one client I work with requested a stark page layout that was to consist solely of a photograph of a person, isolated on white, with the actual site content appearing immediately to the right of this image.
Because I wasn’t able to plan a photo shoot, I had to do a lot of digging to find an image that was just right. I delved into the iStockPhoto archive and found lots of photos of people isolated on white — but it was tough to find one that matched the mood I was looking for.
After exploring many different options, I pasted comps of my favorites into Photoshop, scaling them to size and assessing which one seemed to best fit the mood of the page until I had picked a winner. It took a couple of hours, but the client loved the end result, so it was worth taking the time to get it right.
The Search for Neutral Space
Neutral areas can be critical in choosing stock photography, particularly with spot photos. In many cases I need to place text on a photo to create promotional images or advertisements, but if an image doesn’t have enough of a neutral area around the primary subject, then I’m stuck unless I resort to some Photoshop manipulation.
On more than one occasion I’ve had to create long rectangular promo graphics advertising events featuring specific political figures, but have only been given official government 8 x 10 headshots to work with. As a result, I have to slide the image to one side of the canvas, match the background color and fill in the rest of the canvas with that, using the retouching tools to hide any “seam” between the two.
I don’t prefer to go this route, of course; if I have a choice, I like to be able to have a custom shoot or to select the best photo I can find on the Web, regardless of price. Unfortunately, these days it rarely works that way, particularly for online publishers and small businesses.
[tags]microstock, stock photography[/tags]