Picture perfect

I’m making a cover for my next book, A Wolf of Her Own, so I’ve spent quite a lot of time on various stock photo sites trying to find the perfect photos to use. Since I’m not a Photoshop expert – or GIMP, the free equivalent that I use – perfect means pictures that are both suitable for the cover and something I can work with relatively painlessly. It took some searching and studying the wares of more than one site, but I found what I needed. Come back next Monday to see what I made of them.


In the meanwhile, here’s a list of my favourite stock photo sites.

They all have a nice selection of quality photos for many different purposes. All photos are royalty free, meaning you don’t have to pay for their use. There may be some limits to their use though, such as how many copies you can make of a photo. It’s usually quite a huge number so you don’t have to worry about it. However, make sure to read the terms of use before buying.

They all let you buy pictures with credits – you can spend as little as $10/£10/€10 on them – so that you don’t have to commit to expensive subscriptions when you only need one picture. iStockphoto even lets you buy individual pictures without buying their credits.

All sites are relatively easy to use, but they have differences in their search functions. The more you can narrow a search, the more effective a site is finding accurate pictures. When it’s a difference between going through 10,000 pictures or 1000, you tend to value effectiveness. Fotolia has perhaps the best search functions, but since the photographers add the search words themselves, it’s not always optimal either. I tend to use loser parameters for that reason.

The credits cost approximately the same in each, but the photo sizes and how much they charge for the largest photos vary a lot. Fotolia is occasionally more expensive when you’re buying larger pictures, but not every time. And the fact is that when you find the perfect picture, you’re willing to pay a little extra.

All sites allow you to store your favourite images to light boxes for easier comparison. Dreamstime has made it easiest to sort the pictures to different files even as you save them.

All three sites offer some free photos too, but their range and quality aren’t great. However, there are a couple of sites that offer photos for free. The photos tend to be smaller and not suitable for book covers, but they’re great for illustrating your content on blogs or G+ for example. I’ve mostly used these three:
Of these three, I like morgueFile the best. They have beautiful photos for almost every possible purpose that work especially well as illustration. And unlike the first two that exist to drive traffic to paying sites – they only show a few free pictures and then suggest paying ones – they show their own stock first. Many pictures on this blog are from there. They’re large enough to work as book covers too, should you find something suitable. However, the paying sites are infinitely better for that purpose.

These six sites should get you started. If nothing else, you can spend hours on them, looking at beautiful photos. Sometimes that’s valuable too. Just don’t get lost.

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