The unsung heroes of photo-illustration

If there’s one area of the art world that I feel doesn’t get enough credit, or enough love it would be stock photography.

For the past 13 years I’ve been a member of DeviantArt, and on DA they had a thriving community which comprises of artists creating photo-illustrations (also known as photomanipulation) and artists who create stock images. In recent years this community is disbanded to a certain degree, people have moved on from DA compared to what it was like a decade ago, but there’s still a lot of active members within the community.

What is a stock image you ask? It’s an image that has been produced for the simple purpose of being re-used by artists whether it’s in photo-illustration, traditional/digital painting (as a reference) or used commercially in ad campaigns or book design. Every piece of art I create comprises of several separate images, that when blended together forms a completely new image.

Most stock providers on DeviantArt offer their images free for personal use and there’s a requirement to credit these stock providers whenever posting an image using their stock. So perhaps because of this I have a great respect for stock providers, much more than I would had I been just purchasing stock from pay sites such as istock or shutterstock.

I’ve made some great friends through using their photography in my art and it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be where I am today without that vital resource.

Throughout this article you can take a look at some of my favourite stock artists that I use consistently, you can also follow the link in each caption to their DeviantArt page!

For anyone just starting out and wondering which would be better – using stock images or using all your own material, there’s pros and cons on both sides of the scale.

One of the main reasons why using stock imagery is a good idea is the simple fact of convenience. You want to create an image of a secret agent shooting someone on a moon-like planet with an explosion in the background? If you wanted to photograph all that yourself you would need to hire models, purchase/make costumes and props, go to a location that is moon-like (and get the right weather/light) and find the supplies to blow something up (which would most likely be illegal). Well instead of possibly committing a crime, you can find all of those images online and for free.

Also, don’t forget you may be creating a piece of art, but stock providers are just as much artists as you or me. They need to be able to work a camera, light a set, create costumes and pose among a whole host of other variables. If any artist has tried taking an image to be used as stock you know it’s not as simple as pointing and shooting. Angles, height, light, perspective and weather all play a part in how usable an image is, there’s a knack to it that only experience can sort out.

Don’t forget this is their livelihood just as creating your art is yours. They have no purpose (stock-wise) if no one is using their images so why not promote your community and use images already out there and waiting to be transformed into some incredible art? Granted, if there’s a stock image you need to use and you can set it up and take the photograph yourself, there’s nothing wrong with that either.

One of the obvious pluses to using stock providers in your art is variety. Variety in location, and variety in models. You want a jungle? Glacier? Mountain range? Venice? New York? You can have it all, and without the price tag of an around-the-world trip. Now, where models are concerned (at least on DeviantArt) there’s not a lot of variety in terms of age/race so that is something to be conscious of. I don’t use premium sites (I can’t afford their payment plans) so they could possibly have a better variety of models.

One of the biggest downsides to using stock providers, however, is the fact that you are beholden to their rules (not really a big deal, but still it’s worth mentioning). Every stock provider has different terms of use for their images. Some allow commercial use for free, some charge (the fee can also change depending on which stock provider you use/type of commercial use). Some allow prints, some don’t. Some allow reposting on social media, some don’t. So there’s a lot to figure out when it comes to which stock providers to use. I’ll be honest, I’ve passed over some stock providers purely down to the fact that I feel their terms of use are unreasonable.

Now that all sounds a bit dramatic, I’d say 90% of stock providers’ rules match up, only a few have differing guidelines so it’s not the worst thing in the world. Of course the stock providers need payment for using their stock in a commercial setting (book covers/album art/poster etc.) and everyone’s fee is different and can be dependent on the type of job, so that is something you need to factor in when giving your client a quote.

Of course, to use all your own images in your art means you control every aspect of the design, no extra costs/rules to follow but on the other side – you have to produce all your own images, which can be a lot more work/money compared to sourcing the images from stock providers online.

Eventually I would like to become completely self-sustainable and produce all my own images for my artwork. The only thing stopping me is the fact I have a full time job, and on weekends I create art, so there’s really not a lot of time to go travelling around the country to take stock photos. Although if there’s anything I can photograph myself I do.

On DeviantArt the sheer variety of stock images is astounding and I doubt I could get some of the same shots unless I was to travel all over the world. Sometimes it takes a minute to sift through some of the lesser quality stock but even still, it is an invaluable resource for any digital artist.

So next time you see an awesome piece of digital art – just think somewhere in that beautiful creation lies a stock image or two that was created by another artist for this very purpose – to create.