In November, we discussed how to make crystal-clear scans from preexisting analog media. This means any kind of printed image that already exists in nature: a book, magazine, newspaper, photograph, etc. This month, we are going to talk about purchasing stock imagery from a photo library.

Simply put, stock image agencies posses large collections of preexisting images that they sell to you. Some of these agencies own the images they are selling, while some of them actually represent photographers and are distributing their work for a fee (similar to the way record companies may or may not own the publishing rights to the music they sell but take a representation and distribution fee). Stock images can range from things as general as photos of children playing to images as specific as a building or monument.

The world of stock imagery is a tricky one as it involves two parties' authorization: the subject and the photographer. Let's say you are using a photo of a man sitting in a chair. It is understandable that the man in the chair had to sign a model release, either taking a single lump sum for his work or taking a residual based on licenses of the image sold. But did you know that many well-known landmarks also require authorization? The City of New York lays claim to The Empire State Building and its skyline, and you must get authorization before an image can be legally licensed for use.

An interesting side note: When I worked with Batwin + Robin Productions on Radiant Baby, we learned of a particularly sticky situation involving the infamous subway drawings of Keith Haring and the photography of Tseng Kwong Chi. Together, Haring and Kwong Chi published a book of photos called Art in Transit. It featured Kwong Chi's photographs of Harin's early subway drawings, publishing in 1984. The artist and the photographer both died in 1990, and their estates have been embroiled in a battle that goes on to this day — the battle over who owns the pictures. The Haring estate feels that it is entitled to ownership of them because Haring and his artwork are prominently featured. The Kwong Chi estate feels it owns them as the photographer actually took, processed, and printed the pictures. When they originally made the pictures, Haring and Kwong Chi were a couple of starving artist kids making what they considered public art for the people that should be free, not thinking about legal terms or ownership of the imagery.

Luckily, most of the stock agencies handle that sort of dirty work for you. Many also have massive online libraries organized by keywords. That picture of the man in the chair might be found in searches for “man,” “chair,” “sitting,” and more depending on the specifics you are seeking. Some even allow you to add a particular color to your search to help you quickly find the image you need.

Many of these searches allow you to collect the images you are interested in using into a lightbox or folder. Then you can review your collection before making final purchasing decisions. You can also download a low-resolution preview of the image (often called a “comp”) to test drive and see if it is the right fit for your design.

Once you have chosen your final images, you will probably speak to a salesperson who will negotiate a price based on how you plan to use it (i.e., What city is your show being performed in? How long do you want to use the image? How big is the venue?). Once the terms are finalized and the fee paid, they often provide a link to download a high-resolution version of the image for you to use.

There are also several sources where you can purchase royalty-free images. Similar to the model who took the lump sum payment for posing, you are paying a single fee to use the image as you please. You can occasionally find CD-ROMs of stock imagery that are royalty-free. There are also stock image agencies that specialize in royalty-free imagery. One in particular is iStockphoto. Its hook is that it charges $1 per image. Images go up to only $5 depending on how high resolution you need them (the bigger the image, the more it costs). You buy credits on the site, pick the image you like, and click to download. iStockphoto relies on user submissions for their imagery.

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