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27th Annual Stock Visual Survey

Why are Stock Visuals a Staple Creative Resource?

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Stock photography has vastly improved in recent years. More images, better quality, ease of locating appropriate images and immediate downloads.

Speed, turnaround and increased image quality. Global access. Flexible terms. Volume of choice. It has become the staple of the advertising, publishing, promotion industries in almost every category.

Stock visuals have emerged at the forefront because they allow designers to work smarter not harder. Budget generally plays a major roll along with sensitivity of time.

There are three major reasons why stock visuals have emerged with such frequency: 1) The digitalization of images has made production faster and, in some cases, cheaper. 2) The internet has made them available for review, purchase, and acquisition in a matter of minutes. 3) Electronic media and printing technologies have made the use of full-color, high impact images imperative on even second- or third-tier communications.

Stock visuals work wonderfully for smaller budgets, or when you just need an ancillary image but don't need to reinvent the wheel. Even for some higher-end budgets, rights-managed photos are a great asset for when there isn't enough time or money allocated by the client for a custom shoot.

The choice and quality have improved, search and delivery is easier than ever, there are lots of price points, what's not to like?

They’re easy to find due to such a large supply. Plus, the lower bottom-line cost of RF photography is easier to sell to clients and marketers.

The fact that images can be searched easily and fast has propelled the industry. In a matter of minutes, a person can have an image downloaded and in use. This makes getting the project done faster. I also like the ease of getting a few choices in a lightbox and use those in comps. Then, when (the project ) gets approval, it is just a matter of selecting the version needed, paying for it, and you’re done.

Over a period of time, the changes in stock photo supply have changed drastically, but magnificently, with the access through technology. Very often, what can be lost through use of stock photography is specific creativity for a given topic or subject. Stock agencies always need to supply more creative and unexpected photographic solutions, so that art directors can continue to create unique design solutions.

The abundance of independent artists and virtual offices make stock services a convenient, affordable alternative to having an on-staff photographer. Great photographs will always be needed to give a design impact.

Photos get your point across in less time than words and enhance your message. Stock photography is a method to capture your concept in an affordable and inspiring way.

I feel like they give you a head start on your end product. Time is money and the ability to skip some steps saves money and gets you a better product faster.

Stock visuals are at our fingertips. We no longer need to check schedules, find talent and book the photographer. We can all sit around a computer and choose exactly what we want and it's instantly done with one click.

Stock visuals represent a nearly unlimited creative resource for our design business. This emergence is due to the proliferation of quality equipment and photographers shooting subject matter and in locations that would be impossible to re-create in our studio. It is highly accessible and relatively inexpensive.

They are inexpensive and immediate. When you need only one of one type of image, they're a no-brainer. In this world of high visual turnover, they make total sense for pieces that are more or less disposable. For a high-end piece or something that has some longevity, I most definitely hire.

Stock providers are very responsive to my needs. Sometimes I feel they are in my head in terms of anticipating what imagery I will need. That's pretty good.

Professionals always used stock imagery, but we used to pick it out of a catalog. Now, with the advent of the web, as well as per-image options, many people have access to stock imagery, which was not always the case.

Most projects budgets do not allow for the cost to hire a photographer ‒ except for corporate shots for annuals. It seems more and more everyday, that everything need to be approved by committee ... it has become much easier to download comp images that can be sent to everyone and so decisions can be made before purchasing.

All about the money, honey. Budgets aren't there for custom shoots.

Creatives who initially frowned upon stock visuals have begun to see the value, not even so much as directly using them in brochures, ads or interactive, but in the way they can quickly help you convey a thought in a comp. For instance, when you need an underwater beauty shot with some colorful seaweed. Bam, a few key words and it's right there. And if you have a yearly subscription to a service you don’t even think twice about using it.

My team uses stock visuals in combination with custom photographs. It’s just easier for us to add an element of a stock visual to heighten a visual strategy.

Ease, cost, breadth of types of images (vector, conceptual, photography). Our company used to buy CDs and we have several hundred, but these are mostly outdated. So a subscription allows you to get updated photos. The quality is still better with rights managed photos.

With the emergence of the internet, we now have available at our fingertips a nice variety of images on a specific subject without having to incur the cost of a location photo shoot, all at an affordable price. There is also an opportunity for creating a spark of an idea to pursue. Low res comps provide an opportunity to have the client sign off on an image before it is purchased. This makes for happy designers with happy clients. Instant accessibility is also a big part of its popularity.

Starved budgets have drastically reduced the opportunity to do a custom shoot, either on location or in studio. We’ve turned to stock because it's more affordable. It would be interesting to analyze the cost of the time spent searching and compare it to the cost difference.

Visuals help hit home a message, and makes content uniquely (or not!) stand apart. Its all about access. With royalty free stock visuals

so accessible, it allows designers to more freely and effectively convey communications.

There are things you cannot capture when you are in a rush to get things done with a short deadline.

Stock visuals are easily accessible and inexpensive. I believe that good photography has and will continue to impact the graphic industry.


It's now a time and budget issue ‒ my clients want things a lot faster and don't want to pay the price tag of a unique photo shoot or licensing fees. Clients have a hard time paying for something they think they can pull off with their iPhones.

Immediacy is the primary reason for creatives using stock visuals. Deadlines (and budgets) often rule out photo shoots and commissions as an option, so stock allows us to hit the ground running and deliver full color layouts in the early stages of projects. Unfortunately, clients have little patience for sketches and mood boards these days.

The commoditization of photography has both increased access for those previously unable to afford it and simultaneously reduced the perceived value to those who can.

Stock visuals have always had a place in my creative toolbox, but as clients become more and more cost conscious, and campaigns become smaller and more “niche market” driven, big photo shoots are usually not in the budget. Stock photography, and especially royalty free stock photography offers a quality alternative to big budget campaigns.

Stock visuals are much higher quality and lower price today. This makes it easy to incorporate into designs, photo illustrations, etc. I buy much of my stock without going through an approval process and build the cost into my fees.

The ease of use and being able to show many concepts to clients. The quality and content of images have gotten better.

Better quality and wider selection. More cost-effective than in the past. The nature of our work, perhaps (so much opportunity to use full color visuals that have very short shelf lives).

A quick way for a designer to communicate using readily available library of images. Bad in some ways, it takes the thinking out of the process and reduces editing to process of elimination and settling for what's available.

Ease of use, price is very workable with budgets, development of ideas/concepts before committing to specific visuals. We do very extensive searches of images to minimize “typical” images, our goal is to have the stock visuals represent a custom photo. Also use stock visuals to develop image directions when using a photographer to shoot a more customized version of the image.

My clients need strong visuals and usually don’t have anyone inhouse with the expertise to take them. They also do not have the budget to hire a professional. Stock is almost the only option.

Back in the early 90’s, Comstock had the most play in the industry with mostly rights-managed images. It was time consuming to find the right image, you usually had to work with a sales rep and sign a contract that determined your price based on the scope of your projected use, and then wait for the CD to arrive, which limits you. Now, in the digital age, you can easily search several stock websites, buy your image based on pixel resolution (size) and not worry if that one image will do the trick. You are not locked into the image or use, so your creativity can flow. Plus some sites allow you to become a re-seller of your own images.

I have been in the graphic design field for 30+ years and they have always been a major part of the industry. However, due to ever growing “Sensitive Use” clauses I have seen use of stock visuals on the decline or dismissed altogether.

I think there are several reasons. First, because people can relate to people in photos. Next, I think the affordability and limitless options with DSLR cameras has a lot to do with it. Third, I think it's much like other trends ... illustration had its day for a few decades, now photos are having theirs.

With our client base the main reason would be value ‒ affordability and accessibility. Our clients are very budget-minded and are willing to sacrifice exclusivity for cost.

Stock images have improved over the years and are less “stock looking” ‒ so they are more versatile in creative projects.

Our institution (20,000+ student body) has one full time photographer. While we may have a vision for our design, we may not be able to utilize his expertise. I will only use photos of our students in our facilities. Therefore, when we are able to use images that do not need people or local landmarks, we choose stock photos to compensate. This allows us to move on and focus on the next idea. Why recreate a photo masterpiece if it’s already been done?

Budget. Budget drives everything. If it's not budget then it’s time constraints. People want things so fast now, there usually isn’t time to set up a photo shoot.

Economy. For what we can't shoot ourselves, we would love to use more assignment photography but can’t afford it. Also, some subject matter is so universal or mundane, you can't really justify using a photographer. Stock, especially in that instance is faster, cheaper and more efficient (and when you take a little extra time to “make it your own” in Photoshop...)

The searches can take time, and you do have to compromise, but most of my accounts do not have the budget or time to set up a photo shoot. Sometimes you just don't know exactly what you want and the stock photos can help you peruse the possibilities.

Because the tools to assemble creative have become more accessible so today’s art director is a conductor of ideas with many tools in his arsenal. Stock constitutes the ingredients of today’s art director as ideas and trends move at a fast pace and designers must accommodate a growing range of styles.

Yes. I just hope that stock companies break away from what they think we need and create new and creative visual trends. They need not be afraid to move into multi-media images mixing photography, video images with graphics. Show us something we have only dreamed about.

Every person with a camera and decent eye can successfully submit images, which makes it possible to find what you need for almost any topic or concept.

The use of stock varies for each client. Predominantly, cost and time come into play, but stock photography and illustration add a lot of value in adding a basis for design, comping an idea so a client can obtain a visual for the end product and/or adding valuable texture/graphic elements as needed.

For us it is a matter of being more resourceful. Instead of recreating the wheel (or in this case, redrawing the wheel) we find stock illustrations, mainly vector, that allow us to manipulate and enhance to our needs.

Allows me to focus on design instead of trying to execute visuals myself; stock visuals are very accessible and searches are much improved and results are better, so I can find the right image(s) for my projects more quickly than in the past.

Stock images can provide a starting or reference point in the design process. Stock images can be manipulated, collaged or otherwise altered for artistic development. Lastly, many designers do not have the time, equipment or budget for photoshoots or highly detailed graphics.