28th Annual Stock Visual Survey

Sponsored by Getty Images

Designers Turn to Stock to Feed Visual Hunger

by Gordon Kaye

There are many reasons why stock visuals have evolved from marginal to mainstream to essential as a creative resource. GDUSA has documented this phenomenon for nearly three decades. But rarely has there been such a clear articulation by our readers as to why this trend continues. In our 28th annual reader survey, a consensus emerges: society and business have become more visually hungry and more visually sophisticated, and stock imagery provides a vital lifeline for creative professionals who must keep up with this burgeoning demand.

Of course, the increasing dependence on stock visuals also relies on a robust supply: it helps that the great stock visual providers have stepped up their game with more and better offerings, more efficiently searchable and deliverable, and at more price points to help meet this demand. This abundance is not necessarily a positive for individual stock image providers, who face intense competition and the challenge of differentiating themselves. But for creative professionals ‒ the GDUSA audience ‒ rarely has there been such a confluence of a product and its times.



1. Stock Satisfies A Hunger

In 2014, the world is an image-centric place and stock visual use has evolved into an essential designer resource. You can name the reasons why audiences are more visually demanding ‒ easy access to multiple media comes immediately to mind ‒ though the complete answer is above my pay grade. To call stock visuals “essential” was once controversial. No longer. If you simply look at frequency of stock visual use, it is hard to argue otherwise. As a practical matter, frequency is at an all-time, record-breaking, once-unimaginable level. Nearly every designer uses stock visuals in his or her work, and it is not unusual to utilize several images in a project and hundreds over the course of a year. This year, for the first time, our survey finds that two-thirds of designers use stock imagery more than 20 times a year and one-third use stock imagery more than 100 times.

2. A Cornucopia of Choices

Stock visuals provide a meaningful option for creative professionals because the central value proposition ‒ choice, accessibility, convenience, affordability, breadth and depth of content ‒ dovetails perfectly with the intense demand for more imagery. This is especially true in the context of the tight budgets, short turnarounds, challenging assignments, multiple media, demanding clients and digital workflow that now shape the graphic design business. Throw in all the improvements in how stock is developed, searched, licensed and distributed, and the result is a cornucopia of choices at a broad spectrum of prices delivered by an increasingly fluid and responsive infrastructure.

3. A Post-Skeptical Era

Stock has achieved legitimacy. It is a widely accepted, largely appreciated and often preferred source of imagery. This may not be news to a new generation of designers, but it is stunning in the broad historical sweep. For years, stock visuals were the subject of stigma, suspicion and skepticism, even as usage consistently grew. Now we are in the post-skeptical period. Stock providers are perceived as helpmates who make it possible for creatives to work smarter and stay balanced on the tightrope, as gracefully as possible, that is the creative business of today. Indeed, given the current proliferation of amateur photography, some designers now laud stock photography as a defender of the faith. This change in attitude has also tamped down on the once-raging fear of oversaturation and duplication, and what it would do the creative soul. Concerns about exclusivity and originality still exist but, based on the spirit of this year’s survey, not so much. Not everyone loves stock, but everyone gets it.

4. Desire For Control

Given the importance of stock imagery in the creative and budgetary process, it is no surprise that designers want to control the decision as to source, image and method of license. More than eight-in-ten designers say they do so, while a mere three percent disclaim any role. The primary reasons for selecting a particular stock provider? Price, quality and searchability remain at the top of the pyramid. Search methods are a particular area of interest to our readers: improvements in this area get a particularly loud shout out from the survey respondents. So, too, do concerns that search methods need to be tweaked to keep up with the flood of imagery on the market. From what devices do designers search for imagery? Desktops and laptops largely still hold sway versus hand-held devices.

5. Same Project – Multiple Channels

The subjects for which stock is utilized and the media in which imagery appears continues to expand. The perennial subjects ‒ people, business, concepts, lifestyles, technology ‒ remain popular. But many categories are now in demand, reflecting a constantly evolving economy and culture: for example, multicultural/ethnic images, education and healthcare recently joined the top ten most licensed categories. In the 2014 survey, more than two dozen identifiable categories register significant activity. As for media options, it goes without saying that creatives today work in and across multiple channels. Print remains the number one medium for stock use at 96 percent. At the same time, stock licensing for online design ‒ websites, digital, mobile ‒ continues to soar, topping 80 percent for the first time in this year’s poll. Other applications, running the gamut from point-of-sale and packaging to television and film also make their presence felt. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents say that the stock images they license are used across multiple channels for the same project. Licensing an image for single channel use is diminishing.

6. Robust Rise In Subscriptions

Considering the various methods of licensing, today’s survey reaffirms that royalty free dominates the creative marketplace. Fully 94 percent of designers use royalty free images, more than 80 percent tap royalty free microstock, and a majority engage exclusively in royalty free licensing. One business model ‒ subscriptions ‒ seems to resonate this year. Awareness of subscription options is high and those actually purchasing one ‒ often more ‒ rises to a robust 70 percent. It is important to note that, despite the obvious appeal of the royalty free model, two other licensing methods show life. Rights managed collections remain viable when they add value. More than one-in-three designers license rights managed as part of the mix because of perceived advantages in originality, distinctiveness, depth and personality. And Creative Commons licensing, in which copyright owners can grant content creators the right to use images for certain purposes and under certain conditions, is an interesting innovation and registers a small but growing number of users.

7. Camera Phones and Crowdsourcing

This year, the insatiable hunger for images gives rise to a lively debate about the place and value of camera phones and crowdsourcing as sources. Let’s be clear: the vast majority of creatives say that these tools have absolutely no impact on their work because they lack the quality, discipline, and deliberateness that characterize the professional design process. For most creative professionals, case closed! Still, the survey reveals a growing band of contrarians who contend that: the quality is adequate in most cases, especially for social media and blogs; content can be fresh, friendly, democratic and timely; the output represents a new kind of art form; and clients like this approach because it enables them to participate in the process by supplying ideas or images. Will user-generated imagery become a meaningful source of imagery in a professional context? I urge you to read the thought-provoking comments on point later in this special feature.

8. Lose The ‘Thumbs Up’

What more do creatives want from stock visual suppliers? Lower prices, lower prices and lower prices. Duh. Beyond the obvious, ideas fly fast and furious. At the top of the wish list is greater diversity in collections in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, workplace and lifestyle. Conceptually related, creatives also want to see more realistic and edgy people and situations, especially in lifestyle and workplace shots. That means, they say, fewer “shiny, happy people,” lose the “thumbs up” models, and lighten up on sexually suggestive shots. As noted above, better search is on many a mind. Here the suggestions are many and varied, and include better keywording, tagging, filtering, presentation of results, comping options, and the like. But it all boils down to this: the abundance of available images can be overwhelming and users need more help finding the right solution. Can there be too much of a good thing? Perhaps. On the other hand, one designer, when asked what stock providers should do better, spoke for many: “I am thankful. Used to be a desert. Now, it’s a candy store!”

Click through the gallery to see the results of the Stock Visual Survey.


Stock visuals allow us to visually represent ideas better than ever, ideas that we would not easily be able to communicate without the robust offerings that stock agencies offer now. Sometimes it feels like the stock photographers can read our minds and have the visuals of our ideas before we even know what we are looking for!

– Ron Sansone,
Director of Creative Business, Tru Events

Customers and companies are more savvy and more aware in regard to marketing and design. A brochure built in Word with snapshots won’t work even for the smallest businesses any more. Stock is a way for anyone to achieve a polished look regardless of resources. More people are familiar with stock sites. Clients will often do searches and suggest images for projects.

The immediacy of the industry has made the use of stock imagery practically a necessity; this has, in turn, affected the availability of imagery since there are now thousands of amateurs and professionals willing to share and/or outsource their photography or vector creations almost instantly.

It is the “norm” that clients want more visual punch for the designs we do for them now, but they are not willing to pay for truly creative design. It seems they want the more dynamic visual look of added imagery, but do not value the cost they’d incur if we did the creative work. So we use stock photos and illustrations to bridge that gap. We constantly have to warn clients against just grabbing an image off the internet. There’s a shift in the public’s value for original work. They see so much online, visually, constantly. There’s a perception that it’s very easy to be creative now. Pure imagination is a commodity ‒ and has been devalued by the massive visual electronic onslaught that one is exposed to on a daily basis.

More and more is being put on creative’s plates, a lot of times there is not sufficient time to create icons and illustrations or set-up a photo shoot. That is why stock is so useful. Only on larger scope projects do I have the ability/time to customize one of a kind art.

People expect compelling images in ads, brochures, and documents. You can’t go everywhere to get original photos. I use a lot of vector art so I can change it to fit a specific need or combine it with other pieces to create a scene or situation. Photos are the norm now but I think that the public is going back to art (vector and illustrations) for infographics and many ads for the fresh look and ability to meet racial demographic needs.

Imagery is used much more in every communication today so the contemplation of and investment in imagery has changed over the last decade. At the same time, the quality of stock has improved such that larger campaigns can carry imagery that feels more distinct that was possible in the past. Last comment is that the work I do today is much more global and the feasibility of shooting custom is lessening, especially for applications that are more perishable. Having said all that, for really important and major campaigns, we aspire to use custom imagery of some type.

As the world learns that good design is important, the use of stock imagery became more of a focus to the general public. Also, being a photographer as well, I have found that clients want cost effective alternatives and are not usually willing to pay for custom photo sessions unless absolutely necessary.

It’s the economy stupid!!!

I would not say the rise of stock imagery is due to better quality, I have been doing this for 8 years and the quality seems the same. I would say the rise is due to: working conditions, employees expected to do more with less and on a quicker timeline; and the ease of searching and purchasing stock imagery.

Lower budgets and greater demand for visualization has forced art directors to only consider stock over commissioning. Better in selection and accessibility via web sites, worse in the swill that you have to wade through to find the right image.

Heavy workload and minimal staff. We never use stock visuals straight from download, they are always altered in some way. Definitely today’s stock is better than in the past. Much more creative, and more competition keeps the variety high.

Both quality and price has helped. We live in a era of shrinking budgets and expectation of a quick delivery. The advancement of digital cameras, the internet and the willingness of clients to sacrifice a bit of uniqueness to deliver their message quickly and cost-effective has created a perfect storm for the rise and demand of stock images.

Photography has ramped up in the last few years. With the increase of smart phones applying filters and effects, everyone is a mobile photographer. The photos I look for fit the same look, but that have a higher quality. Stock photography today is better than it was even 10 years ago. Lifestyle, movement, freshness and action are compelling and pleasing to look at. To use those types of images within a campaign can really help sell the ideas.

The quality and availability of stock visuals is really improving. More providers and more creative photographers makes the field stronger all the time.

Stock is just more accessible. The libraries are larger and the images are better quality. People are catching the “stock buzz” more rapidly.

Better for a million reasons. Quickly search for a subject and get 1000s of choices. Helps with brainstorming ideas. Quickly give a client multiple choices. My clients don’t steal images off of the internet once I lead them to a stock photo website.

Stock visuals have matured into a source of near-instant gratification due to the shear volume of images and resources to search for them.

The use of stock visuals have become so frequent primarily because of price. Creative projects today not only have tight budgets, but they also must work across multiple channels, but still within the same budget requirements of traditional print or advertising. This forces much of the capital investment to be spent on production and less on creative.

As an inhouse creative department for a nonprofit, we are very resourceful in our spending. We do take our own photographs, but it’s a fine balance between our own and stock. Most of our work is high quality, but produced quickly and efficiently. New inexpensive subscription services are perfect for our needs. The business of stock photography has come a long way since rights-managed only photos. I’ve been in this business for 25 years and where I am currently, it’s a perfect fit.

Stock images have provided budget flexibility for my clients and myself. Although some challenges come with finding a specific image, the industry today provides imagery that is more affordable and still creative.

The average designer is juggling multiple projects but taking time to take your own photo or draw your own illustration has time constraints. Stock visuals allow one to meet tight deadlines. Stock quality is about the same, except there are more illustrations and videos available.

The ease of access to photography is why stock has become so frequent and common. Everyone has the ability to become a photographer ‒ whether you have a digital camera, smartphone or professional camera – and designer. Also, project deadlines and budget don’t always allow for a custom photo shoot. The amount of photos has grown, giving us more options, but with the increase in photos, there is a lack of originality.

The use of stock photography has become so frequent because of the rapidly changing trends in design. Stock imagery has definitely become better than in the past, mainly because there are so many talented people out there who learn from what they see and enhance and grow from that.

Digital photography has made the art of photography more attainable to the masses ‒ you don’t have to spend a fortune to get decent equipment anymore. More photographers equals more photos. More photos equals more competition. More competition equals lower prices. With copious amounts of stock visuals at a good price it is hard many times to justify the time, effort, and money involved in commissioned work.

The internet has opened the floodgates to designers and has enabled anyone the ability to self publish, Photography is now a commodity to be bought and sold like apples and oranges. In the past (the Jurassic Period), a designer would collaborate with a photographer to develop a concept. Now concepts can be cherry picked off the sale rack like some cheap overstock. Creating today is a matter of finding puzzle pieces that fit together. Creating yesterday meant truly starting with a blank sheet of paper. The industry has changed. Technology makes it easier to create faster and quality isn’t necessarily a goal anymore. Fastest to market is. Sad truths.

People’s attention spans are getting shorter, need solid visuals that tell your story fast.

Stock visuals have been a major part of design for several decades now. If there is an increase in frequency it is due to an explosion of freelancers and even weekend designers with easy access to the same bounty of images that might previously been difficult to get. The diversity of images has plateau’d in the affordable image arena. The trade-off, rightly so, is the more unique the image the more you pay.

Today’s stock is much better quality and the quantity of image options is greater. You once had to buy images on stock disks, have a photographer come in to shoot images, both cost a small fortune. With stock images available via the web, the ease and lower cost makes is an affordable option for all business sizes and types.

Today’s stock is definitely more affordable, but I wouldn’t say it’s better. More readily available and more to choose from, but not always better stuff. A lot of it has really “cheesy” qualities.

In a word: convenience. Oftentimes it’s a lot easier (and affordable) to sit down at the computer, search and find an image than it is hiring a photographer and preparing for a shoot. But even with that type of convenience, there are situations and projects that call for that type of specialized, almost artisanal, photography. And it’s well-worth the time and effort involved.

In the past stock may have been more consistently high quality, but you were more constrained to the photographer’s ‘vision’. Now stock can be more responsive to needs and trends. I do think there is a bit of a backlash against this, though, since a lot of stock ends up looking the same. A few sites are coming up to allow clients who want to invest a little more but don’t have custom-shoot or rights-managed budgets to get a look that is more exclusive/fresh.

The profusion of affordable, high-quality digital cameras has allowed more people to enter into the field without a formal education or an agency to supply equipment. There is far more stock available, and you can purchase royalty-free on an image-by-image basis without having to purchase an expensive stock CD that may only have one or two images you can really use. Even small businesses and individuals can afford quality imagery. This also means there’s more poor-quality stock proportional to the past, but due to sheer numbers it’s easier to find a good image that hits your price point. Another drawback, though, is that the best microstock images tend to get used over and over again. More people are looking for low-cost ways to achieve an individual look.

At our university, we have over 120 areas of study. Our one photographer can’t get pictures of everything.

Time saver. Honestly, I don’t know how they did it before the internet.

In these times of tight deadlines the quick access is mostly why we use stock photography, and it has improved over time.

It’s all about the efficiency of technology. 20 years ago, you received a big thick catalog from Corbis or Getty Images and had to request the image to be sent to you on a slide, through the mail. Low res comping images later evolved to CDs. Today, you login, download dozens of comping images within minutes and you can start working right away.

Actually, at our company, the use of stock visuals has declined. Hiring photographers and videographers has been our M.O. during the past 3 years as it leverages our differentiation from our competitors.

Every designer needs a stock image resource. The advances in photo technology along with affordable pricing for such allows for so many varieties of images becoming available on the open market.

For my company’s needs, the biggest improvement in today’s stock is the ethnic and gender diversity that didn’t exist ten years ago.

It is easy to convey to a client an image using stock. There is much more stock available, but people are using more stock. The unfortunate thing about stock is the overuse of particular images and the “cheesy” factor of many of the images.

There seems to be more variety of stock. We use more stock photos because of the timing to get our own photography completed and the cost to stage a shoot. We can often get what we need or close to what we need with work being only to seek, not recreate.

Clients prefer the pricing. It has become more difficult to convince a client to fork over the money for higher quality images, and forget about using a local photographer anymore ‒ unless it is just company head shots.

The ability to find historic photos and public domain images has become much easier in recent years. Other than nature photos and historic imagery, I generally find it hard to find images to suit projects that I work on. Generally there is no budget for stock images for most of the projects I work on, other than the occasional film where stock images would be appropriate for set dressing pieces, in those cases the art department usually has a shared stock account for a set amount of downloads per day.

Like $1 pizza, it’s fresher because there is such a fast turnover.

We’re looking at three factors. Budgets are ever tightening which precludes assignment photography for most small-to-medium sized clients and projects. An explosion of royalty-free images is making it easier to find what you need or can adapt, within your budget. Also, the democratization (to put it nicely) of design is a boon, especially for accessible, usually microstock providers. Computers have enabled “everybody and their brother” to become “designers” and the internet put the stock tool in their hands ‒ whereas years ago, it was primarily those in an agency environment with access to the big books and CDs. The upside (and a downside, with the risk of devaluing photography) to all of this is that, yes, quantity does mean you can find affordable quality.

I’m conflicted when it comes to crowdsourcing. It makes me leery as a creative professional. It’s a slippery slope that endangers us all by possibly lowering the bar, amateur-izing “quality” and creating a new norm where our skills aren’t worth paying for. But, conversely, isn’t encouraging everyone to express themselves creatively and to see the world as full of compelling images a good thing? That can reveal wheat among the chaff? That said, crowdsourcing is something I’d make use of sparingly and selectively. As for camera phones, digital photography period, we’re taking and using more of our own photos. It’s pushing us to learn more about photography and gives us more control within the often frustrating confines of budget.

– Tracy Levitz,
Art Director, Adverteria

Phone photography enables everyone to show you what they think and image should be ‒ now your client has a tool to snap photos all day and they like to share them. Sometimes this direction is priceless and helps jobs flow rapidly from concept to completion.

None, really. I don’t care to use most images shot by non-professionals. It’s not that they can’t get lucky with a great shot, I’m more comfortable for our brand with quantifiable, professional level work.

I always strive to push my clients to provide higher quality imagery as it could compromise their brands standards.

Generally, I do not use these kinds of images, especially for high and middle types of projects ‒ ads, brochures, collateral, websites. If and only if the feel of the client or project is crowdsource-y casual, I may adapt the camera phone look. Very rare.

Graphic design is becoming increasingly “commoditized” by online printers and consumer-level software that creates simple logos and avatars for small business users. Same with camera phones. I have found that this convergence of low level consumer empowerment with high level tech toys reaches even the “C” Suite of some companies, so that the President is insisting that you use his great vacation shot of Tahiti in their brochure. It is frustrating to deal with sometimes.

Some impact, mostly for ideas. Camera phone quality is getting better. Lucky shots happen with the every day phonetographers but with experienced photographers and designers, higher chances of quality pics and better results are received.

Camera phone images are rarely of adequate quality for use in professional media.

Reverse quality effect: stock is higher quality in terms of image and composition than what clients self-shoot with camera phones.

It is easier in a digital project to take a smart phone shot, especially for a blog post or something that will have a quick view or turnaround time. Smart phones are set into our daily lives and has become part of the design process.

No impact. I think crowdsourcing is the anathema of design.

A good photographer is an artist, and their tools do not have a big impact on what they can produce. Great photographers can get great images on camera phones.

Camera phones should not be allowed to take pictures for design. They should only be used for social media and personal use.

Clients will often send or cite imagery they like from friends or associates that they snapped on their iPhone. It’s hit-or-miss whether they are worthwhile; more miss than hit. It’s my job to show them that professionally sourced imagery is better. Especially when it comes to acquiring rights for images.

A lot of the subject matter of our photos requires media releases. We have not taken the leap into crowdsourcing.

Cellphones allow for a different type of image to be available. A “street” point of view or what is perceived as a non-staged candid photo helps to convey a more inclusive and welcoming message.

Camera phone = bad quality, should not even be considered.

I have used phone images for projects, mostly for lifestyle shots.

Camera phones and crowdsourcing enable creativity to surface. Some groups have used this method, shared their case study. With a good strategy, a plan could prove valuable for the specific result needed.

Camera phones have become a vital tool in capturing information, concepts and ideas quickly that can be shared over a network with a creative team, as well as the client. The images are rarely used for the final execution, but they are critical to the development process.

Some photographic apps really deliver some very cool images. I love the surprise aspect of playing with the filters. Have the smartphone with me always, really gives me a chance to snap a decent photo if I happen to see a great opportunity. I don’t always lug the camera around with me. Just a greater opportunity to be creative.

There are two areas where I have seen the impact of camera phones. One is during conceptual development. It’s far easier to mock up an intended shot with a camera phone so camera phone shots are a better bridge to custom imagery. Clients today can’t read or interpret old fashioned comps so shooting FPOs enables us to get easier buy in and to help us sell the idea of a custom shot. When we use placeholder stock images, more often than not, the client ends up using that whether or not it’s the best solution. When it comes to finished work, I think it affects video more so than print or online. Where I work, the use of amateur footage is pretty much limited to internal video needs which makes sense.

Camera phones are the sketchpads of today. I can snap something for inspiration and capture it to refer to when developing an idea. In some cases the candid nature of personal snaps is the street art that becomes lifestyle and represents the audience you’re aiming at. I’ve seen it in film too. A different world today.

Camera phones have turned everyone into a photographer! If the client is creative minded and the photos are good, that a plus. But if they are bad, how to you tell the client tactfully? That is the main problem with camera phones…

Our design studio is half print and half web. We need high res for print; have not used cell phone imagery for print due to quality/size issues.

Quality of camera phones, though improved, does not improve the quality of the image taken by someone who does not pay attention to lighting and composition. Plus people like to shoot vertical images when the web is primarily horizontal in most cases.

Huge impact. The need for professional-looking imagery has given way to the candid shots that make the products/images look accessible and affordable. Also, many clients don’t want to pay for professional images and are very happy with having photos taken on these devices or by non-professional photographers. The bar has been drastically lowered.

Camera phones now are able to take good quality pictures and are also seen as sort of a new “art form.”

They bring down the overall quality level. Clients often try to supply phone photos whose quality and resolution are often lacking.

People want authentic and believable images that speak to what is happening now in the world. Many stock assets look fake, posed and dated. This is why agencies look for User generated content to connect to their audience and be believable.

I’ve actually been able to use my own photos taken with my iPhone for some client’s projects in the past, which allowed for a more creative and budget-friendly option for both the client and myself as a designer.

Only impact is that legal hates these type of photos ending up on our blog or social media sites. Everything shared has to be approved and monitored.

They have not had an impact, yet anyway. Occasionally a client will offer up an image taken with a phone, but so far I have been able to show the quality difference ‒ sharpness and noise, and have dissuaded usage.

As long as providers continue to improve the selection and hone the ability to search their stock, I’ll be happy!

– Chuck Groth,
Groth Graphic Design, St. Louis, Missouri

I’d like to see blanket coverage for every media source. All territories, all media. No legal squabbling over an image that I won’t know how it’s used in 10 years. If it was bought for a book, it can be used on media that hasn’t been invented yet.

Sometimes less is more. While quantity is a good thing, quality still reigns.

Keep doing what they are doing. I couldn’t do my job without them!

Provide better search engines is by far the number one issue. There should be more diversity and higher quality shots.

Diversity, diversity, diversity. It is so important now to see a mix of races and cultures interacting in all fields.

Stock visual providers are generally doing a great job right now. Of course we can always use more and better kick-ass visuals, but that goes without saying. I’m pleased that most stock companies are now offering photographers, designers and illustrators a simple way to add their own work to the stock catalog, sort of a symbiotic relationship where we all might get a shot at making a little money.

Keep adding to their inventory. We’re always looking for something fresh and new.

Price. Always a challenge. That’s more a reflection of the client’s needs though … truly, there’s such a treasure trove of image providers out there, that I am thankful! Used to be a desert! Now, it’s a candy store worth of great visuals! Hard to choose sometimes!

Better keywording/tagging of imagery. Of course, great imagery comes first but what good is it if you can’t find it? I look at thousands of images a day and I see 20% – 40% properly tagged images that are appropriate to my search.

We look for photos that do not look staged. Also need more diversity in women. It’s really hard to find a good photo of women in the work field.

Stock sites can offer promotions and advertise them more broadly.

Have more ethnically diverse subject in the photography and do not have everything look so silly or friendly … emotions other than humor/mirth do exist. If I need a picture of someone who is angry, I need a picture of someone angry; or someone just serious and contemplative that what I need … not play acting.

I want to see real people portrayed in real environments. We need more selection when it comes to minorities, older individuals and different cultures. Perfect teeth, sexualized glamour shots, and smiling 20-year old business executives giving a thumbs up gesture are a waste of everyone’s time. Wouldn’t it be great if images were rated according to their aesthetic and artistic merit.

Stop the thumbs up images. Drives me crazy. And when you do crowd or group images, diversify the people by gender and ethnicity.

Provide better quality control! I shouldn’t have to go through 10 pages of crap to find 1 image. Maybe someone needs to put out the first step and create a designer boutique of micro stock. Low price, but much better quality control. And better image tags.

A site needs to be easy to navigate and flexible to quickly weed out the images you don’t need. Years ago I found that if I asked the stock house to search for me they would find the best images in the library and now I rarely use that service as the quality is worse than what I can find for myself. The researchers should know the images and be able to do a better job than I can.

Serve me better? I don’t know. I’m having difficulty answering this one. They all do a great job of tickling my imagination and making it easy for me to search for and find imagery.

Better search. Keeping it fresh. Getting real about the fact that almost everything should really be licensed for unlimited use so the idea of putting a premium on that has run it’s course. Vendors who are still doing this are losing business to those who are more flexible and reasonable in their pricing approach. That is one key criteria that determines where we begin our searching.

More layers more, clipping paths on subjects in photos, more quality vector art.

As a military spouse I have been serving a few clients in the military industry and I often struggle finding imagery that is to the military standards. For example I often find photos of women in uniform with long hair (past the shoulders) and others where the uniform isn’t worn properly. This often limits my options.

More diversity and more seniors doing every day things and just having conversations, looking real not posed, not stock-ish and not just yoga in the park.

Explain usage rights in a more simple way.

I get angry at the sites that make you buy credits and the unused credits have an expiration date on them.

Add more photos that focus on real-life agriculture.

Just keep the new images and fresh talent coming. We in-housers, especially, think of our preferred stock sites as our in-house studios. We appreciate it when they makes us look like we have great studios in-house, giving us great unique shots, without having to dole out the bug bucks.

Better search engines. It is so frustrating to look for a photo of a “teacher” and get hoochy-mama pin-up photos. I don’t want tits. I want teachers.

I like the ease of use between multiple devices ‒ for my work, I bounce between desktop at work, phone/tablet at home when researching images, and it’s great to be able to open my lightbox from multiple spots and pick up where I left off. A great addition would be adding abilities to enhance making contact sheets of images that I’ve save to my lightboxes.

Anything that speeds up the page loading time. I know it’s difficult because the sites are robust. But there has to be some way.

Have more ethnic stock. It’s very hard to find African Americans in many categories.

In our organization, we would like to see more multi-cultural or diversity in the image selections. While we do find some images that relate to our Christian organizations, the selection could be much better.

It would be nice to have layered Photoshop files instead of just jpeg. Especially for files that can be served as a template. Some simpler licensing so we can use certain graphic for logo use.

Higher quality images. In a conservative environment I have little use for silly and sexually explicit images. It doesn’t have to be serious, and sad I just don’t want to see nearly naked women when I search for “happy home owner” or “home interior” or “yard” there is no reason for that.

More options, more object images with clipping paths to use on background images, larger resolutions for larger sized projects.

Stop the point payment systems. Make the payment clear and less number of web pages to get to final sale for first time users.

Stop acting like a used car salesman. My biggest gripe is that everyone is always trying to sell me on using their site over another. It’s become a hard sell rather than an informational conversation. When someone continuously keeps pushing me to their site and trying to upsell me on everything, I stop using them. I’ve been in this business for 20+ years, I don’t need a vocabulary lesson on RF vs RM every time.

Highlighting particular photographers who have a style that you like could help you cut down on search time. As an art director, I have a vision of what I want to see, but sometimes it’s hard to find that image. Or if I see a photo that I really like, I will save it knowing I could use it later. When I find photos I like, I look at the artist so I can go back and use them first in my next search.

Pick your market and position and stick with it. If you want to cater to budget conscientious designers set you price and keep it. Many of these sites suffer from credit creep, getting fewer credits for the same amount or more, and no longer serving the market originally targeted.

Better search, key words, availability of alternate poses for same models, more specialty medical images, ability to “wish-list” specific subjects or images.

Better plans for people who need more than 1 or 2 images but don’t require a full subscription. Better pricing as well. Many times I’ve opted for an image I don’t like as much because it was significantly lower in price.

Curate their libraries better. Compile stronger recommendation or similar image searches.

Less images of shiny happy people. More realistic shots.

Need better comping downloads for images being comped large!

Stock providers can help us by offering ways to see similar images. Some providers are doing this, and doing it well, while others are not doing it at all. Same thing goes for seeing images from the same photographer, or same model.

Sometimes the search is not intuitive if you don’t know exactly what someone else calls the photo subject especially for sites that are international and there is a language barrier.

Provide me some idea of where and how images were used in the past. I do not want my happy vacation couple in my ad being the same image used by the funeral planning people and both ads on the same page of the newspaper.

Variety. Providing the off-the-wall images and then again – revisiting the basic subject matter in a totally different perspective. I can alway use an interesting picture of a spoon, apple, a wooden pencil, a happy face, iPhone, a bicycle… or even a kitten.

Stock photo sites would be even more useful if the sophistication of their databases was significantly increased: a robust search tool would include descriptors of color, composition, identifiers, effects, practical application, location, filter, more keywords and emotive ambience.

More refined usage calculators. for example regional distribution or even smaller businesses whose clients are within a metropolitan area only.

Other than maintaining high quality and selection, providers should strive for some exclusivity. It is tiresome to see the same photos on multiple sites.

Get rid of the goofy stuff, make keywords better, and keep it affordable.

I feel like they are serving me well.

More specials and deals on pricing is always better.

Some sites handle saving to a lightbox very clumsily. Make it easy, and default to last saved lightbox instead of asking me to select every time.

One thing I always seem to have a hard time finding are meeting-seminar-conference shots with the participants in business casual attire. I design a good amount of conference brochures and I would like to see images to reflect today’s casual business environment.

Offer one-time, single-image pricing and actually mean it. I purchased a single image recently and the next month there was an automatic draft on my checking account for a month’s subscription!


Getty Images is the world’s leader in visual communication, with over 170 million assets available through its premium content site www.gettyimages.com and its leading stock content site www.istock.com. We asked Andrew Saunders, Senior Vice President, Creative Content, at Getty Images, to comment on selected results of this year’s survey. Andy directs the creation of imagery and footage at Getty Images. Working closely with photographers, filmmakers and art directors globally, he plays a critical role in ensuring that the company is continually evolving and provides fresh relevant content. His foresight into cultural and societal trends that shape visual communications drives the creative offering. Andrew notes: “I’ve been with Getty Images since it’s inception in 1995 and it certainly has been an exciting journey. As the market leader, we’ve experienced, absorbed and then built on the impact of all the changes reflected in your survey. I’d like to think we’ve forced up the quality of the imagery and customer service across the industry. We’ve also made a lot of photographers wealthier along the way. Looking to the future we’ll continue to put the customer’s needs and workflows first. These are inevitably changing so we are developing new business models that anticipate new ways of providing content to our customers.”

GDUSA: To what do you attribute the almost universal use of stock imagery by creative professionals?

SAUNDERS: The combination of the advances in technology and the growth of social media have placed imagery as the universal language of the 21st century. The evolution of digital cameras and now mobile devices has permanently changed the way we communicate with each other. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that people who want to communicate about their products or services are using more and more imagery to do so. On the availability of content, for the same reasons it’s also now far easier for talented photographers, whether amateur or professional, to make content available for commercial use.

GDUSA: Do you accept the premise that society is more visually hungry, demanding and sophisticated than ever?

SAUNDERS: Absolutely. Our familiarity with imagery means that we are no longer as easily surprised by imagery as we once were. That is an exciting place to be for creators and customers. The fact that more imagery is being produced means that there is a wider choice of styles, aesthetics and ideas from photographers trying to interpret an idea or a concept.

GDUSA: Are you seeing any major shifts in subjects or content that creatives are licensing?

SAUNDERS: In the past, the stock industry has been criticized by the broader visual community for a lack of authenticity and that is something we are keen to change. This is an area where we’ll see rapid improvement, and that certainly is already the case for Getty Images. We’ve had a huge amount of success with our support of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In organization in specifically creating and commissioning imagery that better reflects the roles women are playing in society.

These are not images that patronize, but are more reflective in their subject matter and execution of our living reality. We have a team dedicated to researching visual and social trends, their mission is to understand which of these trends are relevant to our customers or understanding ‘what needs to turn into a picture’ We feed that information into our Creative teams and the broader contributor base.

GDUSA: Do you see significant changes in how and where creatives acquire visuals? The numbers seem to suggest a continued preference for desktop and laptop, with some small movement toward tablet and smartphone.

SAUNDERS: That is consistent with what we are seeing, but without getting into a long-winded commentary about changing work habits we believe that offering customers access to our imagery at all times is very important. In fact this summer, we just re-launched our iStock and Getty Images apps that provide vastly improved usability, features and access to our content. If imagery is the language of the 21st century, then ideas and visual solutions to work tasks can be happening at all times.

GDUSA: Do any of the survey results particularly surprise you?

SAUNDERS: I was a little surprised at the overwhelming doubts around crowd sourced and mobile imagery. Admittedly there are issues with quality … however this imagery does sometimes provide viable alternatives in terms of a more realistic and authentic feel. Obviously the imagery has to be released for commercial use, but we are seeing a gradual raised awareness in the community for those legal issues. For me the addition of crowd-sourced or ‘street‘ imagery to our collections is a positive factor as it can provide amazing one off moments that don’t feel over-thought or ‘produced’.