People sometimes ask me where I get the blog images I use here.
One of the main reasons I bought the theme I use here at Patrick’s Place is that it was designed to feature a thumbnail image in every post. And I really do believe that adding images can help make a post more visually appealing.
No one wants to read a wall of text without some kind of illustration. Remember our school days, when we’d crack open a textbook for the first time? If chapters had lots of photos and diagrams, the book didn’t seem so intimidating. If it was all text, you knew it was going to be a long semester.
For the most part, I use stock photography for my blog images. Some people aren’t ready for that, yet.
THE FREE OPTION
Many people like going to Flickr and looking for blog images available through a Creative Commons license. The CC gives you permission to use the image free, but you must provide a photo credit for the image when it appears.
I have no problem giving credit when it is so required; it is the right thing to do, and through that agreement, the legal thing to do.
But it’s an extra hassle for me as well.
Do I place the credit somewhere at the bottom of the post? If so, then the image credit, which would take the form of “Photo courtesy…,” would have to be listed in a note attached to the image in my image library.
This means there’s a reasonable chance I might not see that note, and that I might miss it, which would put me in violation of the license.
I know, I know…a lot of people just Google an image and steal it with no credit. But the creative artist in me refuses to do so. It’s rude and unacceptable. So it’s not an option here.
My other choice, then, is to pull the image into photoshop and add a credit in small text in the lower corner of the image itself; that way, any time I use that image again, the credit is sure to be there. But in that case, the credit can be a little distracting from the image itself, so unless it’s a newsworthy event or an image that communicates something so clearly that I feel I can’t live without it, I prefer not to go that route, either.
You could always provide your own photography to boost a post’s visual appeal. But sometimes if you’re writing about a particular topic that you can’t easily punctuate by snapping a picture, you’ll be stuck.
In some cases, I’ll build my own graphic. The titles, for example, for the Saturday Six and other weekly memes I do are homemade titles. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you hadn’t already figured out there.
But that’s one of the downfalls of do-it-yourself graphics: unless you’re a true graphic designer, a lot of homemade graphics look homemade. And not in a good way.
When you go with stock image libraries for blog images, you should know most libraries out there require you to buy credits which you will then use to buy the actual images. The price of each credit depends on how many you buy at once.
When I purchase an image, I always purchase the smallest size available, which most services describe as “extra small.” It’s big enough for the largest thumbnail size I use here, so it’s as big as I need. But even so, some services want a lot more for those images.
iStockPhoto.com is probably the best-known stock image library and is generally among the best regarded. iStockPhoto.com has some great images, but their prices sometimes reach into absurdity.
The primary service I use is Stockfresh.com. It has a very large library of images and photography, but it is the cheapest of the paid options I’ve found so far. When I can’t find an image that I think works well for a post I am writing on Stockfresh, then I go to iStockPhoto.
There’s also Dreamstime.com, but it prices its images in levels. Level 0 images, the cheapest image they have, go for one credit each for that smallest size. Level 1 images sell for 3 credits. That’s too much for me, so I haven’t even priced their Level 2 images.
Let’s look at price for a second to give you a better idea. Let’s suppose I want to buy 50 credits. Stockfresh will sell me 50 credits for $39.99, which works out to 79 ¢ each. At Stockfresh, I’ve yet to find an image’s smallest size requiring more than one credit. So I pay less than a buck a piece for images I buy there. Every time.
To buy 50 credits at iStockPhoto, you’ll shell out almost double: $79.25, which works out to be $1.59 per credit. Many of the shots I really like there now cost two credits, which means those images cost me $3.18. Some of iStockPhoto’s images — usually the better ones, it should come as no surprise — are pushed into “special collections” that cost even more. Some of them want 5 credits per image at the smallest size. That’s too much for me to pay right there. Then there’s this thing called the “Agency Collection” with high-quality, high production value images that almost everyone would love to have incorporated into their site. But those images come with a 55-credit price tag in the smallest size. Granted, the smallest size for those images is twice as big as the typical “extra small” size. But by that same credit price scale, buying just one of those images means spending $87.45 for an image.
Any blogger who is willing to spend that much for one image needs counseling. If you’re a production house who’s turning out lots of graphic work, that’s a different story, of course, but if you’re a blogger who’s blogging for fun with the hopes of making money one day from your blog — or even if you are already making revenue from your site, that’s a high price to pay if you can avoid it…and you can.
Dreamstime wants $49.99 for 52 credits. That’s 96 ¢ per credit, which puts their lowest-price stock under a buck a shot. But remember that level thing: this only applies to “Level 0” images that go for one credit for the smallest size. Level 1 images require 3 credits. And it goes up from there. Dreamstime also makes it easy to filter your search results to specific levels — in my case, that’d be Level 0, so you know what you’re able to get for what you’re willing to spend.
I just learned of another option, Crestock, which advertises that all of its images start at one dollar or less. The smallest size of its images can be purchased for one credit. You buy less than 50 credits at a buck a piece. But you pay $47 for 50 credits, which would mean 94 ¢ per credit. I’ve explored this site only today, but I already believe that this site will push iStockphoto to a third position in terms of stock sites I’m most likely to use.
IS THE PRICE REALLY RIGHT?
I found an example of the same image on all three services and decided to compare the price. The image features the word blog in letterpress. It’s a rather simple image, but it’s at least interesting enough to break up the text and add a little visual boost to your presentation. And I’ll base the cost on each service upon buying 50 credits in their credit bundle. (The version I use here has been compressed horizontally to fit within the thumbnail images on the front page, but otherwise, it’s the same image you’ll see on the stock sites.)
Crestock doesn’t have this exact image, but they have a very similar version that features the lettering in all caps, so that would would price at 94 ¢.
But hold on to your hat: Dreamstime offers the same image that Stockfresh and iStockPhoto have, but its smallest size is only slightly larger, at 480×319 pixels, yet the price is 9 credits, or $8.64.
It’s a great illustration of why you need to shop around when it comes to stock photography.
Clearly, these services are either not shopping their own competition, or they don’t care what the competition charges because they think their customers will pay whatever they ask without shopping around. Some of them, perhaps all, offer various monthly subscription services that allow you to purchase up to a few hundred images a month for no additional fees, but the monthly rates themselves are quite pricey. If you can swing that, I suppose it no longer matters what the per-image credit cost is.
It’s worth noting that Dreamstime offers a selection of free images as well. The free section does not offer this image. Free blog images could certainly offset the cost of paid images, but still, when you can get the same image elsewhere for 79 ¢, there’s just no rational reason for paying more than eight bucks.
SO IT’S ALL UP TO YOU
It all depends on what you’re looking for and what you’re able to budget for your blog.  There’s nothing wrong with going the free route, and if you’re happy with the results (and your readers are as well), then that’s really all that matters.  If you decide that the paid route is better for you, at least take the time to protect your investment by finding the cheapest options, so that you always get the most bang for your limited bucks.
Do you use photos or images in your blog? If so, where do you tend to get most of your blog images? Are there any good services you know of that I missed?