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Stock Photography on Blogs Comes Under Fire

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I make no bones about the fact that I use a good deal of stock photography in posts here at Patrick’s Place. The image that accompanies this post, for example, is stock. I sincerely hope that no one is in need of smelling salts.

I don’t find that to be a huge problem. For years, I had themes that didn’t have a design that favored any kind of images: if you added one, it’d show, but if you didn’t add one, you’d just see a lot of text and everyone went on their merry way.

A few themes ago, I switched to a design built around the notion that every single post has at least one image — a thumbnail — to illustrate the topic of the post. I think it adds a great deal to the look of the blog by breaking up the text and giving the eye something to see besides a lot of words.

That’s my opinion, of course, but since this happens to be my blog, my opinion just happens to count a good deal.

This week’s Blogchat focused on using the best photography for your blog. During the chat several people proclaimed that original photography is better than stock images, as if such an announcement is as earth-shattering as the discovery of a cure for cancer might be.

I think just about everyone understands that if you have a choice between adding a photo you took yourself or adding a photo from a stock photography site that everyone else who blogs has equal access to, an original will likely stand out and look more unique, especially if the stock option is one that has been used to death. In most cases, I’d happily concede that original photography is always a better option, if you have original photography as a valid option for a given post.

That, friends, is what I might call “common sense.”

I cover a wide range of topics here at Patrick’s Place. Sometimes I write about television; sometimes it’s politics. Once in a while I write about religion, or I bust someone on double standards that don’t make sense.

If I decide to write a post about President Obama, I don’t have the clout to be able to hop on a chopper, fly to Washington, land at the White House and schedule a quickie photo session with the commander-in-chief. It might be nice if I did, but that’s just not an option. So if I write about a topic for which I have no reasonable original photo with which to decorate the post, stock is the obvious option.

But that’s where the conversation took an odd turn.

I saw two complaints about stock photo emerge: the first centered on the gripe that stock photos appear everywhere. The second seemed to complain about paying for stock photos when there are free options.

I’ll take the second part first, Alex.

Paying for Stock?
I use two primary services for stock images: Stockfresh and Crestock. Both are reasonable in price as stock libraries go: for the size I need, it usually costs a single “credit.” Credits are about a buck a piece, but if you buy in bulk, you can get credits for less than $1.00. Because I use some images more than once over time, I can save by repetition. I’ve also used images from iStockPhoto, but their prices have continually increased, and there are cases now where images I’d like to have can be upwards of 25 credits. I’m not willing to pay more than twenty bucks for an image, so in most cases, they’ve priced themselves out of my business.

But the real point is this: if I choose to pay for a stock image, why’s that anyone else’s business?

If I can find a “free” image that accomplishes what I hope to accomplish with the thumbnail, I’d certainly be happy to use it. (My definition of “free” may be a bit different than yours…more on that in a moment.) But if a stock image I’m willing to pay a buck for accomplishes the same goal, I might just choose the stock image.

This is my blog, so that’s up to me, not anyone else.

Maybe you think I’m acting stupidly for paying for stock. If that’s your opinion, I’ll respect it, but until I have enough free time (and the resources) to photograph every single image I’d possibly want to use to illustrate the point of a post the way I’m currently doing it with stock images, I’m likely to continue on the way I’ve been going. I think my way — combined with the way I blog — works well.

If I reach a point at which I feel that’s no longer true, rest assured I’ll change the way I do things.

As for the “free” thing, several people suggest Flickr images and other similar services that offer Creative Commons licenses. I don’t hate that idea, but one big problem for me is that you have to credit the owner of the image somewhere in the post. My thumbnails don’t make that particularly easy, so I’d have to add a line in a post to credit the image; it’s a small task in the grand scheme of things, but it’s also small enough that I might forget, and I’d feel bad about not crediting someone else’s work properly. If I repeat an image at a later date, I also have to search through the post to see if there’s a credit that has to go along with it, or keep that info in the media library and copy and paste that as well. It’s an extra step that, at the moment, I don’t feel is a good use of my time.

And then there’s the issue of the CC license and one’s ability to change the terms in the middle of the game. What happens if the owner of the image decides he’s no longer willing to license that work? Do I still have the right to continue using the image that was obtained at a time when a CC license was in operation? That’s not clear, but there’s enough doubt to make me believe that it’s possible that I wouldn’t.

This means I’d have to return to wherever I’ve gotten the image, find it again, and make sure we’re still “good to go.” That, to me, is a further waste of my time.

But there’s an even more troubling trend I’m seeing in the arguments against stock photography.

The Stock Concept
Some complain that if license someone else’s work rather than relying on my own, I’m potentially using an image that “everyone else” is using, too. It should be obvious that this problem exists even in those “free” options.

If I can do a Flickr search and pull up an image with a CC, so can you, and so can every other blogger. It’s the same with other, similar non-paid options: a repository of images available to everyone — whether paid or unpaid — is still the same thing: a repository of images available to everyone.

So if I choose to use images I pay for from a stock house, and you use images that you obtain with a CC license, we’re both running the same risk of using an image that others have already used.

But the comparison does still hold up: If seeing the same images from blog to blog is a turnoff for readers, we’re both guilty of the same crime.

(And I might suggest that given the option of going free or paid, most bloggers might choose to do it for free. I wouldn’t think of suggesting that the free route wasn’t a smarter choice.)

Choosing Your Battles
If you’re coming here for original photography, there’s a link at the very top of the page that reads, “My Photography.” Go there and enjoy. I’ll update that section to add more photos when I have time to do so. Otherwise, you will likely be disappointed by this blog.

If you’re coming here for content, for writing that at least a handful of people on the blogosphere seem to enjoy (and that at least a few have returned to read more of for years now), then the little thumbnails that accompany posts should be viewed as window dressings for the rest of the content.

That’s what they’re intended to do.

Those sticklers out there, the people who dispense the cosmic wisdom of blogging in the form of “rules” that everyone simply must follow without question, likely stopped coming here last year when I dared challenge another of their rigid laws by suggesting that if you really, really need a day off from writing once in a while, it truly won’t be the end of the world. Or, for that matter, your writing future.

When I get to a point where I can leave the “working world” and make the blog a full-time enterprise (and one that makes enough income that such an option is practical), then I’m sure you’ll see a lot more original photography here. Or, when I reach a point of decision at which I suddenly decide that I can’t possibly write one more post without an accompanying image I photographed myself, I can promise you’ll either see original photography or a lot fewer posts per week!

Until then, this is what we’ve got. And I hope you continue enjoying it in the meantime.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

6 Comments

  • I’m neither a professional photographer or a habitual blogger, so I’ll comment on this as just a long-time reader of your blog.
    I don’t mind the stock photos. In fact, I like them. They capture the essence or topic of the post perfectly, and at the very least give me an idea as to whether the post will be about politics, television, religion, or something else. That said, I don’t spend time admiring the image, nor do I want to see a larger version of it. It’s salt on an otherwise already good meal, and I don’t care what brand the salt is.
    I am also not at all bothered by seeing a picture I’ve seen before. I’m here for the writing. But the site feels more “alive”, for the lack of a better word, for having some stock imagery peppered throughout the posts. So it serves its purpose.
    Frankly, I think this was kind of a silly thing for Blogchatters to be arguing about. But it’s not my place to say that…

  • As a photographer, I’ve got mixed emotions on this one.  On one hand, I’d love for all bloggers to buy photos from me and get specific rights for a period of time.  That would, of course, eliminate the issue of the same image appearign on numerous blogs.  On the other hand, I too submit images to my stock agency and like it when the sell. 
    Either way it happens (or with the blogger taking his/her own), I’m just glad that people “need” images.  It creates opportunities for folks like me.

    • Hammond The problem with the limited timeframe, though, is managing it. If I write a post next week and my option is to get a good stock image I can use indefinitely or a great one I can only use for six months, I’d go with the good one because I’ll never remember to go back in six months and pull the photo.
      I’d have to have some kind of sophisticated plugin running in the background to automatically “hide” images once the expiration date has been reached, then substitute a second one without an expiration date. And if I have to go through all of that, I’d just as soon not fool with the “temporary” version because it’d end up as more generic stock, anyway, sooner or later.

  • I agree. If people want original pics then they can go to a person’s original photo blog. I take my own pics because I like taking pictures and I am not too computer savvy. Installing my own pic is easy for me. patricksplace good post

    • audaciouslady Thanks so much. Yes, if I were trying to do a photoblog, you’d find no stock here. 🙂 Since I’m not, well, I work with what I can! HA! Nice to see you!

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