If you're at that point where it would be nice to have a few stock photos on hand, but you're not quite ready to start shelling out your own money to buy the rights, this is the tutorial for you.
For those of you who don't know, stock photos are royalty-free photos which you can purchase from stock photo companies. They're usually pretty cheap (but they add up...), come at very high resolutions, and are relatively bland.
You know those pictures of toaster ovens or piggy banks that they sometimes use in the paper? If they're not pictures of the actual story, they're usually stock images that the newspaper buys.
As a hobby, I do pro-bono graphic/web design for nonprofit groups*, so I don't exactly have a stock photo budget. Sometimes the organizations I work for have their own stock photos that they've purchased, but occasionally I have to ask them to buy me a photo or two for a project.
A few well-placed stock photos can be classy, but I really recommend trying to use actual photos whenever possible. Stock photos should be your backup, or for when you need a polished, bland look, like for sample products or places where you need a background visual but don't have anything real.
That disclaimer aside, they can be very helpful to have on hand, and who can argue with the low, low price of free?
*Are you a nonprofit or not-for-profit group? Need some graphic/web design work done? Let me know; I might be able to help you out.
Step 1: Step 1: Search for Offers
Most of the deals you'll find will be discounts like 20% off purchases over a certain amount or free credits. However, keep an eye out for phrases like "20 out of 30" or "free download." These ones may not require a credit card or an actual purchase.
The deal I'm using for this Instructable is http://www.istockphoto.com/hpfree.
Step 2: Step 2: Sign Up for a Free Account
You can create a spamshield email at Yahoo or Gmail, or use your real one. If it's a reputable site, they won't sell your email, and you can opt out of their newletters, etc.
After you've got your account, head back to the special offer page and click on the link for the free photos.
Step 3: Step 3: Preview Your Image
If you want to be smart, you can look at all the images first and decide which ones you absolutely must have and which ones you know you don't want. Then you can start with the most necessary and work your way backwards. For me, the problem wasn't wanting too many, it was not wanting enough.
But if you're impatient, you can always just jump right in...
'CAUTION: Not all of these offers let you preview the images before you download them!!! For some, just clicking on an image initiates a download. So make sure that the first one you download is one you really want, just in case.
After deliberating for a reasonable amount of time, I chose the corny photo of the guy at the computer, because I know that after one sight of his beautiful smile, my customers will be hooked.
Clicking on it leads you to a page with a long license agreement. READ the box in the upper-right corner. It spells out the basics in pretty clear terms. The main thing that might trip you up is that you can't put these images on anything you're selling. Don't use these on your fancy new T-shirt line or on your company retreat's $20 commemorative mousepad. However, these are fine for promotional materials, sample materials, and your own personal artwork.
Step 4: Step 4: Oh, Wait...
You can put your real info (they won't spam you), or make some up.
Step 5: Step 5: Download and Save
Now the image is yours. Horray! One image has been deducted from the amount you have left, and a download is initiated.
Nice sites like iStockPhoto will let you try the download again if it goes wrong the first time.
Hit the "go back" link to return to the rest of the images.
Step 6: Step 6: Lather, Rinse and Repeat
Nice sites will tell you how many downloads you have left. Keep this number in mind as you go, so that you're not left scrambling to narrow your choices down to the final five.
If a site has multiple free download offers, it might make sense to look at them all at once, because some of them may offer the same images. That way you know exactly what your options are.
Step 7: Step 7: Celebrate! (and Back Up)
Celebrate for an appropriate amount of time and then back up your new photos onto a data CD, external hard drive, or memory stick.
This is VERY IMPORTANT. If you accidentally delete or alter these photos, you can't get the original back (unless it's from a nice site like iStockPhoto that gives you a 24-hour-window). Make sure that you have at least once backup copy before you do anything with them.
Okay, I think that's it. Post any good offers, coupon sites, or stock photo sites in the comments.