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iStock Legos or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cheap Photography: Part 1

Recently, there's been an explosion of cheap, online stock photography web sites. For graphic designers, this has been both a blessing and a curse. While the financial benefits are obvious, the selection and quality are somewhat limited, and the good ones are often overused. It's also become more difficult to justify the price of custom photo shoots, so marketing concepts that require special photography get produced with less and less frequency. These limitations are frustrating for any designer.

Even with these drawbacks, however, I've learned to love cheap stock photos. But before I get into that, let's fire up the ol' time machine and head back a few years to kindergarten. Make sure your bike helmet is securely fastened.
(Your mom wanted me to tell you that.)

Back when we were kids, our imaginations were limitless and most of us fed this youthful creativity by playing with toys. You might have played with Lincoln Logs or Tinker Toys or built forts in the living room that drove your parents nuts. Whatever it was, I'll bet there was a lot of creative expression involved.

When I was a kid and a birthday would approach, there was only one thing I wanted: Legos. Not socks or sweaters or other dumb stuff. No. Just Legos for me, please. As many as possible. I would have rather been starving and homeless than have lacked an ample supply of my prized plastic bricks.

Legos were my creative instruments of choice because with them I could conjure up anything I could imagine. In a way, they were the perfect toys for a kid because the right combination of them could become practically anything. A single Lego would have been no big deal, but a big pile of them could be, well, you name it.

For the Lego-loving artists out there, it may delight you to discover that right here, in the very grown-up world of graphic design, something very much like the Lego still exists. You may know it by its more common name: the stock photo. Thanks to the digital revolution, some companies like iStockphoto now offer an immense selection of royalty free digital images for peanuts. Because of the reduced cost, online stock photos have become similar to my giant pile of Legos.

Remember back to when you were a tot, scouring the pile of pieces for that perfect block to finish your masterpiece? When you look for a stock photo, you shouldn't consider it a finished work. Rather, treat it like that Lego. It may not be great as is, but it can be used and manipulated along with other images to make the final design perfect.

In the second part of this article I'll present some specific, real-world examples of marketing designs that use stock images like Legos to piece together stunning designs and maximize the usefulness and diversity of this inexpensive, easily accessible resource.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to my parents' attic to lose all self-respect as I attempt to build the sweetest Lego starship the world has ever seen.

Filed Under: creative

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