Looking for and choosing stock images can be one of the most overwhelming aspects to creating composites. Knowing which stock sites to use, searching within the stock sites, choosing photo sizes and resolution, deciding which images will work best for your particular composite, learning licensing and rules, etc. can make the whole process time consuming and confusing.
Doing an online search for “stock websites” will pull up so many options that your head may start spinning. To help with the selection process, I have listed my personal favorite stock sites below. If you happen upon a site that you love, be sure to bookmark it so you can go back when you're ready to begin your composite.
Before I discuss my favorite sites, I want to mention one very important thing. Before downloading an image ALWAYS read all of the licensing and rules and make sure you are willing to follow them. The worst thing that you can do is head straight to your search engine image results for that zebra photo that you’re looking for and download that image for your work. I understand that a lot of newer composite artists are not aware that using search engine images is wrong, but it's best to learn this blunder early on.
First, the photo resolution on images downloaded from a search engine is very low so the photo quality will be poor. Also, you will be essentially stealing another artist’s work and it is ILLEGAL! The last thing that we want is for other people to steal our work and take credit for it, so please do not do it yourself!
Adobe Stock is at the top of my list of favorite stock sites. The image quality is great, and you have the option to save previews of the stock before you commit to downloading. This feature is awesome because Adobe Stock is a premium site where you may pay either per image or a monthly or yearly membership fee. By saving a preview first, you are able to bring the stock image into Photoshop and get an idea if it will work with your other images before you commit to downloading it. The site is very easy to navigate as well.
Pixelsquid is another stock site that I adore. Again, it is a premium site with the same monthly, yearly or per image options. The options on this site are amazing! Pixelsquid allows you to flip and turn each piece of stock to get the perfect angle for your image. You can download PNGs with the shadows on or off and you can also save the PSD files if you like to go in and adjust each layer to your liking. These features are seriously life changing for a composite artist.
Captured by Carrie Photography & Product Shop is an excellent site for the variety of stock that it offers. The site has everything from animals and objects to textures and backgrounds. You can find single items as well as bundle packages of stock, and all at amazing prices. Most of Carrie's items are already extracted, which I LOVE because it saves so much time when creating composites and speeds up my workflow. Captured by Carrie also allows you to find a variety of lighting options on the stock pieces. You can visit her store here.
Freeimages.com is another favorite of mine and is my go-to stock site when I'm looking for landscape images and natural surroundings. This site gives you the option to choose your file sizes. Because I know that I will be making very large prints of my work, I try to choose the largest file sizes that are available. Some sites do not give you size options, but others do. Freeimages.com also has some great options for animal photos. The drawback to using this site is that some of the images are not the best quality, but the stock files are free, so beggars can’t be choosers, right? There is still enough awesome material on there that I am willing wade through a few not so great images to get what I want.
Each stock site will have its own rules and licensing. Most premium websites will offer Standard and Extended licensing and the definitions will be slightly different for each site.
Typically, for us composite photographers, standard licensing means that we can create up to X amount of copies using the stock image in our new creation, but we may NOT use the stock as is. This means that we cannot use the original, unaltered stock image to create something like a poster, t-shirt, or coffee mug and then try to sell that product.
For extended licensing, the stock sites will remove the x amount of copies restriction and allow you to create products for resale.
Again, these are just general guidelines to stock image licensing. You should always read all of the licensing rules and restrictions to be sure that you are following them correctly. If you are ever hesitant or confused, contact the website directly before downloading and using the stock images for your composites.
You can either choose your stock image before or after your photo shoot, depending on your particular session and what works for you. Just remember to always keep lighting in mind as this is the one thing that you cannot naturally recreate in post. Trying to change your shadows and highlights will be a lot of work and chances are very high that you will not have a natural looking outcome.
When choosing stock, try not to disregard an image because of color tones. You can always change tones in editing. Also, always keep an open mind when stock hunting. You may find an image of an animal that you like and will work for your composite, except the animal's legs or some other body part on the animal don't match your vision. You can always add a different pair of legs from another piece of stock. Don’t limit yourself. If you are creating an entire composite, then you can certainly alter and composite an animal or some other piece of stock to fit your needs.
If you are going to shoot your own stock images, it will be much easier for you to get the angle and lighting that you would like for your composite. If you decide to use pre-made stock images and backgrounds, then check out the ones I mentioned above or take a look at some additional resources listed below:
If you want to see how to properly use the stock images to create a composite, check out my tutorials here.