The lovely picture here is by someone whose screen name is Lurdeza and I downloaded it from Stock XChange to use on my recently-built counselling website. For me, it evoked exactly what counselling is about - someone walking from the shadows into the light. And, on the practical side, what made it even better was that the photo was free.
In the last few months I've discovered a number of sites offering free images - and the quality of many of them is outstanding. As well as Stock XChange, there's Stock Free Images and Wikimedia Commons - and I've even found the odd useful image on Microsoft Office Imagery.
So, with all these great images around, why would anyone want to pay for photos? Well, of course, even with the vast selection available, sometimes it's very difficult to find exactly what you want. For example, when I was making a PowerPoint video to advertise my book Say Goodbye to Sleepless Nights, I had great difficulty finding a decent photo of someone looking tired. Also, it has to be said, the top image websites (such as iStock Photo) demand very high quality and levels of expertise. I was looking at the iStock Photo requirements the other day. First of all, you have to read the manual (which is quite technical) then you have to answer questions on it and, finally, you have to submit three examples of your work. I suspect that not everyone who applies is accepted!
So, as with everything else, I think it's horses for courses. If you have a project that needs high quality photography, it's worth paying for the best there is available. But if you just want the odd photo for your website or your blog, there's plenty of good stuff out there. It's important, of course, to read the small print. Some images are only free for non-commercial use. Mostly, even if free, they require an attribution. And, having read an article recently about the problems that arose when the copyright holder changed the licence on one of his photos, it seems worth keeping a record of when you downloaded each image.
Sometimes clipart is more appropriate than photos for what we're doing and, just recently, someone told me about two sites - IconFinder and FindIcons - that offer neat little drawings of everything from calculators and piles of coins to fruit and flowers, plus buttons, arrows, ticks, crosses and the like.
The final question, of course, is whether it's all worth it. Do images really make a difference? Well a recent experiment showed that, if used on a sales page, images would increase the conversion rate by a hefty 62%. And, to me, this suggests that, rather than being distracted by the images, people are more likely to be drawn into what is written. So, from now on, I think you can expect to see more images here!