A picture is worth a thousand ... dollars! How to Save Big Bucks in Purchasing High Quality Stock Photos.

by Evan D. Owen

Pictures and graphics are one of the most important elements that a company uses to create brand awareness and communicate its message. Ever wonder where those images come from? The general term for these images is "stock photos" and the evolution of digital photography has caused a revolution within the stock photo industry. In our business of selling trade show displays and designing graphics for these displays we are constantly challenged with how to develop a graphical message that is suitable for trade show graphics. Trade show graphics are considered large format printing and it has its own set of challenges, especially when it comes to finding high resolution photos that when printed look presentable. Many of you have probably taken an old 35 mm picture and blown it up to a poster size graphic only to see the quality deteriorate that it only looks good when your fifteen feet away. Imagine taking that same picture and making it 7 feet tall by 10 feet wide. Yikes!

If you're the likes or Nike or McDonalds it's no big deal to arrange professional photographers to take high resolution digital photos for any type of ad campaign, brochure or billboard. If you're the average small business in America then you have a bit of a challenge finding images that won't break the bank account. For most of our clients this is where the "Sticker Shock" of buying stock images comes into play.

So how does one get high resolution images for displays? Before the turn of the century, that is the year 2000, the world of stock photography was dominated by a few industry giants like Getty Images and Corbis and still today these two companies can supply you with just about anything. For example, let's say you want a high resolution picture of "Britain's two man bob sleigh team, competing at international sporting event, 1948, St. Moritz, Switzerland". You'll have to get this type of image from one of the major suppliers.

There are two types of images in the stock photography world. The bob sleigh image is "Rights Managed" which means you have to detail how, where and when you'll be using this image for marketing or advertising purposes. For a trade show display this image would cost you anywhere from $975.00 - $1350.00 per year for one display. This is where the sticker shock happens! The other type of image is called "Royalty Free" which means you can use it for most things and only have to pay a flat fee. There are lots of variations in "Royalty Free" so make sure you understand the conditions of using the photograph. "Royalty Free" images are usually priced in the range of $180.00 - $350.00. Sounds pretty good until you realize that you may need 10 photos to achieve the design you want.

What if there was a way to reduce that pricing to $10.00 per image? Almost sounds to good to be true, but it isn't. Digital cameras and the Internet have completely revolutionized the way high resolution images are being bought and sold and this new segment is called "Microstock". Microstock photo websites are where individuals can buy and sell their high quality images. The average consumer can easily purchase a professional level digital camera and with a little training can create all kinds of unique images to sell, especially when you use your photography skills along with the power of some photo editing software like PhotoShop. The two best known Microstock photo websites are iStockPhoto and ShutterStock. Both of these sites offer hundreds of thousands of high quality photos for large format printing purposes. These images are still "Royalty Free", but "Extended" licenses are available when you print large quantities of brochures or other marketing materials.

Detailed below is an example of a design where we used 11 photos
from iStockPhoto at a total cost of $55.00.


If you purchased "Royalty Free" photos from one of the major industry websites then the photos in the design could easily range from $1980.00 - $3850.00. If you purchased "Rights Managed" photos you would spend $10,750.00 - $14,850.00.

This cost savings has gotten the attention of the "big guys" to the extent that iStockPhoto was recently purchased by Getty Images for $50 million dollars.

So if you need high quality high resolution photos for Trade Show Displays, Exhibits or Booths or any other large format printing job make sure to check out all your options including the Microstock world.