Last week we discussed stock images in ELT materials design, including the benefits and limitations of their use.

We briefly touched on what picture researchers need to do to find the right images, and in this post we’ll dig a bit deeper and explore how we approach picture research here at emc.

The deal with photo libraries

We mentioned previously that sometimes knowing which photo library to use is as important as knowing which search terms to use. If you want to illustrate ‘an apple’, you could find images ranging from a single apple on a white background to a low-perspective shot of a hand-woven basket full of apples in an idyllic orchard. All image libraries work hard to include as much of a variety of images as possible for any given situation – it keeps picture researchers coming to them. As a result, however, you’ll find that occasionally some of the biggest libraries host the same images, so which image do you choose?

Determining which image you need to look for and where to get it from depends on context within the material, but it also depends on your client’s requirements. Most publishers have agreements in place with the larger libraries, giving them preferential rates for the kinds of rights they require based on usage (and whether the image is royalty free or rights managed). These days, publishers request fairly extensive rights, covering a multitude of formats and markets, which means the preferential rates are especially important to stay within typical ELT/educational budgets.

These approved sources generally include the most popular groupings of libraries, and the pricing agreements usually reflect the range of images that each library offers: slightly cheaper microstock image libraries for simple royalty-free shots (Shutterstock, Thinkstock, 123RF, etc.), mid-range libraries that tend to have both general and specific choices (Getty, Corbis, Alamy, etc.) and more specialist libraries for very specific briefs (Mary Evans, The Kobal Collection, Science Photo Library, National Geographic, etc.).

Searching for that perfect image

These libraries know that they are preferred and so they do try to provide images for every possible brief. Sometimes, though, briefs become too finely detailed. So how can you find these elusive images?

Here are our top five tips for searching for the perfect image:

1 Start specific, then get more general as you search
First see if you can find exactly what the brief is asking for (don’t forget to use the layout to see the context on the page). If you can’t find anything with exactly those search terms, broaden the search to similar situations. If you still can’t find something that precise, look into exploring the concept and see if you can find something that fits the theme or something that is close enough that only minimal text changes need to be made to match.

2 Use the filters on the photo library websites
Almost every library website allows you to use filters. These can help you specify things like age, ethnicity, landscape/portrait, editorial use only or even the number of people that need to be in a scene. They’re valuable tools that can really help you drill down through pages of search results.

3 Use one image’s keywords to help hone your own search terms to find similar images Most, if not all, photo libraries use metadata to search. If you find one image that’s close but need a few more options, the keywords for that first image can be used to hone exact search terms to find similar images. Some libraries even have a ‘Find similar images’ button.

4 Stay disciplined and organised
You could spend days searching for the perfect image, but if you’re anything like us, you’re working to a per image rate. Give yourself a specific amount of time on each image, and if a brief starts to take longer, come back to it after you finish the others. You may even find that you’re able to think of completely different search terms later.

5 Consider your options
There are some people or items that just can’t be licensed from approved sources. In these cases, there is usually some capacity, depending on budget, for attempts at third-party licensing or otherwise re-briefing the image. Instead of a single breakfast table with lots of specific items, think about using a montage of single images. Maybe an image you found fits every aspect of the brief but doesn’t meet strict market requirements – could a designer manipulate the image to adjust sleeves or raise necklines? If you can’t find a good enough photo for a particular brief, could you find something more conceptual that covers the same ideas? Think about how the image relates to the text and give your client some thoughts on what other options they have.

Experience and organisation is key

Good picture research is more than just algorithms and keywords – they’re simply not a substitute for knowledge and experience. A good picture researcher understands what they’re researching, what market it’s going into and how the pictures will fit in with the design. That understanding doesn’t happen overnight. As with most things, the best way to get the most out of your picture research is to have more experience.

Even when you’re not on a specific job, get to know your go-to photo libraries and the people who work there. Look through books you like the look of and find out where those images came from. Become friends with imprint pages and spreadsheets. Track your workflows and keep detailed records of agreed spends, licensing costs for each library and key budgeting information. The more you can detail, the more you’ll understand how to become more efficient.

How do you approach picture research? What are some of your favourite photo libraries, and how do you tend to use search terms? What methods do you use to stay organised with long briefs and multiple third-party needs? As we continue this series, we’ll be discussing the more practical aspects of photo research, including licensing, copyright and usage, and why you can’t always just use any image on the internet.

In the next post, we’ll expand on making the most of picture research by looking in more detail at the benefits of having the picture researcher and designer in the same room. If you want to know anything in particular about what designers can do to manipulate images, let us know in the comments section!

If you have any projects with Creative Content requirements (photos, artwork, video, audio, animation, etc.) coming up that you need help with, or if you have any questions about the types of services we offer, please get in touch!