picture of skyscrapers

Selecting Stock Photography

There are many stock photography services on the web and we use iStock® when we buy this type of photo. Prices are fair, their system is easy to use and their controls over photos are very tight. 

When you are seaching for photos on iStock, use the same kinds of words you would use if you were searching for something on a search engine. You could search for "fountain"...and you could refine that by using "fountains in Italy" or "fountains with people." Whatever kind of photo you are looking for, there are likely to be hundreds of results, so it is helpful if you consider specifics about the use of the image you hope to find.

Here are some points to consider when you are searching for images to use. We recommend that you don't buy any of the pictures until we have reviewed them for usability. 


For instance, the image at the top of this page has a dimensional size of 1200 pixels in width by 450 pixels in height. It is horizontally oriented (landscape), meaning it is wider than high. Vertically oriented photos (portrait) are taller than wide. Most images for the website pages will be of horizontal orientation. When searching for photos on iStock, there is a control on the left side of the page that will filter the results for only horizontal images. 

Framing of the Image

Framing the image refers to the finished size at which the image will be used. Refer to the image at the top of the page again. We were looking for a horizontally oriented image for the page and found this one. Its original size is 7360x4912. In order to make it fit the 1200x450 size needed, we first reduced the width of the original image to 1200 pixels wide. Keeping the original proportions of the image, the resulting image height was 800. We then selected a 450 pixel in height portion of the image to use on the page. To see the original proportions, open this PDF: Stock Photo Framing. The picture image is 1200x800 and the blue mask is 1200x450, the portion we used. Basically we cut 50% of the height, off the top and bottom. 

Tightness of Shot

Tightness refers to how close the camera appears to be to the object of the image. A picture that is mostly a person's face is a "tight" shot. A picture that shows the person head-to-toe is likely a mid-range shot. A picture that shows the person, the sidewalk and the buildings around them is a "long" shot. When selecting pictures for use on the site, or when taking your own images, it is best to use mid-range to long shots as they are easier to crop to size. 


You mostly hear this referred to as "hi-res" or "lo-res" when it comes to images. You want to start with hi-res images and we will reduce them to lo-res images for use on the web. Hi-res images give us more to work with. As mentioned previously, the image at the top of the page was originally 7360 pixels wide, nearly four times wider than the "pixel width" of a modern flat monitor, which is 1920 wide. In creating a finished image, we can reduce the overall width from 7360 to 1200, or we can just cut out specific 1200x450 sections of a 7360x4912 image. We have sometimes made more than one lo-res image from one hi-res image. Hi-res images give us much more flexibility.

Image Costs

iStock has two levels of costs for images - Essentials and Signature. iStock uses a system in which you buy "credits" which can then be spent to purchase images. Essentials images are usually one credit, or about $11, and Signature images are typically three credits, or about $33. You can quite often see the difference in quality and finish between the two levels but a little more time searching will quite often yield the images you need at the lower price. Ten images at $33 is a lot more money that ten images at $11. That said, sometimes an image that really captures those proverbial "thousand words" is worth more. There is a control at the top of the search results page where you can select to display All images, or just Essentials or Signature.

Editorial Use Pictures

You will see that some pictures, especially those with iconic, logo-ed landmarks or groups of people, are marked with "Editorial Use Only." These cannot be used on a commercial website or print collateral. In the left column, select the License Type control for "Creative."

Select More Than You Need

We recommend you select about 20% more images than you need for the site. This will give us a buffer in case some of your first choices don't work out due to cropping and framing. You don't have to buy the images until we have tested the fit to the page.


We have sometimes spent an hour going through hundreds of pictures to find the right one. Finding several "right" images will be time consuming, but conveying the desired message with an image is important, and worth the time. If you rush, you may miss the diamond among the topaz.

In Summary

  • get or make horizontally oriented images
  • consider the "framing" of the image for its intended use
  • consider the "tightness" of the shot for the framing you want
  • always get or make high-resolutions images for editing flexibility
  • make sure the images you are selecting are in the price range you want
  • do not select Editorial Use Only images
  • find about 20% more images than you need
  • allow plenty of time for the image search and don't rush