Is using stock photography cheating?
I would like to start out this post by saying, the use of stock photography is somewhat of a controversial topic. Some camps feel you don’t really create your artwork if other people shot everything in the image for you. Some camps think it’s okay to use stock for small segments of your image but frown on using pre-made backgrounds and stock images of models. While another camp thinks it’s okay to use stock as long as you are not showing the work in galleries but it’s for private commissions… and on and on and on I could go… Bottom line, this is a personal decision. YOU must decide in what situations you are comfortable with its use and where you draw the line. There is a lot you need to consider when using it. Once you read this post you may decide using it is more of a head-ache than just shooting the stock yourself. But there will be times where you just don’t have access to the things you need.
When do I use stock?
For me, if the image is going to be sold as limited edition prints and displayed in a gallery setting, I don’t use pre-made backgrounds or stock models. If I do use stock, I make sure I am not using it as is, but altering and composting it into my own creation. I take the stock and completely repurpose it. Let me give you an example. My mermaid image.
This image is made up of about 10 different images. Of those images, 6 were not from my personal collection of stock. I had to use other artist’s stock because I didn’t have access to some of the pieces I needed to complete the image. The sea turtle, the fox coral for her tail, the sea, rocks and stormy ocean sky, the fish scales, and the waterfall are all little bits and sections I clipped from other artist’s stock images. I cut the scales, I used for her body, from a stock image of a large fish and warped that pattern and changed the colors in order to create her body and tail section. If I showed you the stock images I used you may not recognize some of them. I cut out only the sections I needed and I used them to create something completely new.
Now… This is how I deal with the use of stock for my limited edition prints and gallery work. I use stock photography in a completely different way for my private conceptual portrait commissions. I will talk more on this at a later date but it is important to note, in order to make a living doing private commissions, you need a replicable system. One which is quick in setup and allows you to generate the same images over and over and over again. Using, making and purchasing pre-made backgrounds is one of the ways to accomplish that. It does not matter to clients if you have used a background with 20 other children. They are only going purchase the version with their child in it. I do offer unique, one-of-a-kind conceptual portraits for those clients who want them, but I have found most of my clients don’t have that preference.
Do I think using stock photography cheapens conceptual artwork?
Not in the least. I think of and use stock photography as a paint brush. I have many tools I use, such as a camera, lenses, lighting, and props to create my images. Stock photography is just another tool. Would you fault an artist if they used someone else’s paint brush to create the image? They still painted it themselves. Would you look down your nose on a clothing designer if they used fabric they didn’t weave themselves? It’s silly really. Now I do have my limitations but these limitations are based on what I am comfortable with. Weigh all the options and make the decision for yourself based on how the final image is going to be used. This is not something someone else can tell you.
Types of Stock
If you are still reading this blog post then I’m going to assume you will be using stock photography at some point in your career and therefore you need to keep reading. There are some very important guidelines you must follow. The internet makes finding stock photography really easy, but that also makes it easy to break the law. Copyright is automatically applied to any image as soon as it is created. The owner of the copyright is the only one who can approve its use. Just because it is on the internet doesn’t mean its considered “public domain”. (Public domain means the image is not owned or controlled by anyone.) Make sure you know who owns the image and what the owner’s guidelines are for the use of their image.
Royalty free means once you pay the one time licensing fee you can pretty much use the image anywhere you like, in any way you like, for any duration, as long as you comply with the owners license agreement. That licensing fee is based on image size, how many people will be using the image and so forth. Be careful. Some images require you to purchase an extended license, such as licensing multiple people to use the image. Read the fine print.
The creative commons licensing system was developed to make sharing and using images easier and more straight forward. A CC license is applied by the copyright holder when they want to allow the public to use and share their work. There are six different types of creative commons licenses. I look for stock with the Creative Commons Attribution license. CC Attribution (or CC by) lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon their work, even commercially, as long as you credit them for the original creation. This is the license I always look for and the only license I will use out side of royalty-free. If you would like to learn more about Creative Commons Licensing you can visit creativecommons.org. It is important to note that creative commons stock images may not have the proper model or property releases so you could still be liable if a dispute arises. Do your homework.
Where can I find CC and Royalty-Free stock?
The following links are all sites I use to find royalty free stock or Creative Commons Attribution licensed stock. Most of these sites have a search feature that will look for CC licensed images only. When searching for stock on any of these links, in every case, I recommend you read the individual rules of use on each image. Don’t assume the search engines are 100% accurate for weeding out images that don’t have the CC license. There are some great artists out there who share their stock photography freely. (I am one of them). All the stock, actions, brushes and textures I share on this blog have no restrictions for use, except for selling it as your own creation.
- http://www.deviantart.com/ (click on Stock Image category when you do your search.)
- My personal stock gallery: http://carolinerutland.deviantart.com/gallery/
Found that perfect stock image but you’re not sure if you can use it? When in doubt? ASK…
There have been a few instances where I emailed the owner of an image and asked permission to use it in my artwork. In the case of the mermaid, I actually did that with two of the stock images, the turtle and the coral tail. These images were listed under the stock categories on Deviant Art but they didn’t have any published rules of use. I messaged the owners of the images through the site and asked them if they would give me permission to use their image in a work I was planning on selling limited-edition prints of. I included the image for their approval. I have never been told no and they have all thanked me for contacting them and respecting their rules of use.
Document, Document, Document
Once the stock images are approved for use, I keep the correspondence as documentation in case there is any time in the future I would need to prove permissions were granted. For any stock image I use, I always keep documentation on who it belongs to and what the guidelines of use are. You never know when you’ll need it.
AHHHH! FOR PETE’S SAKE NEVERMIND!
There is a lot to it isn’t there? You may be completely turned off from using stock photography forever. LOL! I don’t blame you, however there will probably come a time when you have an image you can’t finish without it. It is good to be in the know. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using stock photography. Use stock. That’s what it was created for! There are people who make a living creating stock photography and stock backgrounds. Marketing and advertising companies rely heavily upon it because it saves time and money. Just make sure you read the rules of use and adhere to the guidelines and everything will be just fine.
Keep learning and keep #SharingItForward!
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Want to contribute? Shoot me an email! email@example.com – I’m always looking for like-minded artists who are willing to share what they have learned. If it is something we have not covered before I will share it on this blog, with a link back to your portfolio, website and social media!
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