On the lightbox

How do you find that perfect image for a specific design task, be it creating a cover for a novel, designing limited-edition vodka packaging or putting together a road show of inspirational imagery for a global firm? Suzanne Hinchliffe puts a range of top image libraries to the test

Using image libraries to find the right picture can be a hefty task for designers – that old idiom relating to needles and haystacks springs to mind. With a range of different stock libraries holding thousands of photographs and other imagery, finding the right visual can be a complex trade between designer and stock library. Dan Perlet from Corbis explains that on receiving the brief and review from a client, image libraries will clarify some initial questions before compiling a lightbox of up to 100 images. The process is then repeated until the client finds what it is looking for. Even so, we’ve decided to set libraries a quick fire task to reveal a snapshot of the creative images available. Designers from editorial, packaging and branding have set fictional briefs below, challenging a range of libraries to interpret and find an image to respond. The results are pleasingly varied.

Editorial design

Samantha Johnson, Picture editor, Penguin

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark is a darkly comic novel set in an Edinburgh school in the 1930s. Miss Brodie is a strong-willed schoolmistress in the prime of life looking to mould the girls into equally strong, unconventional young women. She is a woman of around 40, with auburn brown hair and a taste for perfectly fitted figure-enhancing tweeds who educates her girls’ sexual and political development with tales of her lovers and trips to Italy to appreciate the art and the Fascisti. The cover image should be bold, colourful and feature either the heroine of the title or one, or a group, of her girls.

Carel Willink, Gemeenteremuseum, Mrs. Sylvia Willink/Bridgeman

Source: Carel Willink, Gemeenteremuseum, Mrs. Sylvia Willink/Bridgeman

Bridgeman Art

The low viewpoint and stance of the figure, positioned in front of an austere building, encapsulate both the domineering character and the school setting. Her penetrating stare and confidently co-ordinated outfit suggest the confident, uncompromising and controlling character of this schoolmistress and the influence she has on the pupils. The bold blue 1930s-era dress and the symmetry of the reflection draw the eye into the book cover.

Annie Collinge Stone/Getty Images

Source: Annie Collinge Stone/Getty Images

Getty Images

This bold image by Annie Collinge touches on themes that mirror those in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – a woman who is charismatic and inspiring, but also mischievous. The woman in the image depicts this complexity – she’s glamorous and poised, but the hair over her face evokes an undercurrent of anxiety and unease.

Constantin Joffe, Conde Nast Archive/Corbis

Source: Constantin Joffe Conde Nast Archive/Corbis


This commanding image invokes the character of Miss Jean Brodie, who is a strong-willed, unconventional teacher who doesn’t mince her words. Her obscured face adds further mystery and anticipation to lure readers, while hinting at her sensual nature.

Built Images/Plain Picture

Source: Built Images/Plain Picture

Plain Picture

As Plain Picture is a contemporary image collection it is difficult to find images to fit a brief that has a particular period attached to it. When thinking about the story, character and spirit of the book it is good to use images that have a suggestion of something. Tweed is very iconic of this era and reflects Miss Jean Brodie’s strong character.


Rob Ball, Designer, The Partners

Kantar is one of the world’s largest research agencies. It believes that transforming data into insights will inspire some of the biggest brands to change the world. To inspire its 26 000 staff to think differently about the world, Kantar is commissioning a series of images around the theme ‘inspiration on your doorstep’. The images will form part of a global road show around Kantar offices, as well as an ongoing digital gallery. Images must be based on cities in the Kantar network. All images must reflect something inspirational that is happening in each location. Inspiration can be big or small. It’s up to you to find it. Surprise us.

Simon Weller Collection, Photonica/Getty Images

Source: Simon Weller Collection, Photonica/Getty Images

Getty Images

This image of loose bricks laid out like building blocks elicits a sense of seeing things in a new way.  The fact that they’re ordinary bricks on a Beijing street that might otherwise go unnoticed only enhances the idea of inspiration on your doorstep.  The ordered, herringbone pattern of the surrounding bricks laid out like a line graph also hints at Kantar’s motto of ‘transforming data into insight’.


Source: Pool/Reuteurs/Corbis


This image of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is vivid, while showing everyday people tied together through joint experience. The photograph surreally captures people coming together, doing an activity en masse, in a way that is humbling, inspirational and motivating.

Mike Liu/Fotolia

Source: Mike Liu/Fotolia


This image embraces the theme of change that so encompasses the Kantar brand. The city backdrop, coupled with the light effects, bring an urgency and speed to the picture, which encapsulates our need for insight and inspiration.

Paul Dymond, Lonely Planet/Plain Picture

Source: Paul Dymond, Lonely Planet/Plain Picture

Plain Picture

This was a fairly broad brief as the end user has offices in many cities across the World. The word inspiration is also very subjective. We’ve tried to go somewhere in the middle choosing this image of the Tsukiji Fish Market, which showcases our more abstract and forward thinking images, while retaining the core value of the brief itself.

Ria Novosti/Science Photo Library

Source: Ria Novosti/Science Photo Library

Practicing synchronised swimming. Aerial view of swimmers training before a junior-league synchronised swimming competition. Photographed at Trud swimming pool, Moscow, Russia.

Science Photo Library

We tried to keep to the brief choosing images with a positive vibe. This sunny, refreshing and upbeat image of synchronised swimmers is very lateral in its interpretation, though this is often the nature of our content.

Ocean Photography, Getty Images/Veer

Source: Ocean Photography, Getty Images/Veer


We approached the search from the perspective that inspiration may be found on any proverbial doorstep. The resulting image of a tent illuminated on an urban rooftop depicts both found and created inspiration, and conveys the notion that we are not limited by our environments when it comes to recognizing inspiration and innovation.

Packaging design

Silas Amos, Creative director, Jones Knowles Ritchie

We have redesigned Eristoff Vodka to give it an edge. In large part this is symbolised by the icon of a Russian timber wolf. Advertising has made the wolf a central part of the communication, with various dramatic expressions of the wolf broadly presented in the brand colours. We now want to create a photographic secondary pack, using a card box as an outer container, for a limited edition. What we are looking for are striking, simple images of wolves, or metaphorical ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’.

Emmanuelle Bonzami/Veer

Source: Emmanuelle Bonzami/Veer


The eye-catching dark yellow eyes of this wolf elicits an immediate emotional response. Consumers of Eristoff Vodka will be moved by the beauty, power and composure of this wild predator. The close-up image with expressive detail around the eyes matches the striking and edgy qualities desired for the campaign.

Andre Schuster/Plain Picture

Source: Andre Schuster/Plain Picture

Plain Picture

The image is simple but intriguing. It aims to encompass the  dark feel of the rest of the campaign, and as it is for a limited edition, we found an image that would look different on the packaging. The woman covering her face with a wolf’s mask looks fairly surreal and eye-catching – with the intention of promoting the vodka.

Ria Novosti/Science Photo Library

Source: Ria Novosti/Science Photo Library

Science Photo Library

Grigori Rasputin rose to power in Imperial Russia by acting as healer to the royal family, but he wasn’t quite what he seemed. Rumours circulated about his promiscuity, drunkenness and willingness to accept bribes. Eristoff Vodka uses a Russian timber wolf and therefore needed a simple image of wolves – or a metaphorical ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, like Rasputin was.


Source: Corbis/Fotolia


This image was chosen because we believe, through the varying shades and presence of blue, it reflects the strong brand awareness already established. The image also provides a context where  the spirit of the brand can thrive. With the open space and mood setting in the shot, we believe the image brings the wolf concept to life.

Moving image

Trevor Chambers, Start Creative

Idea: Every Second Counts
Focus on youthful people of all cultures, single and groups, tell the true story of a moment in time with a number of stop motion pictures capturing the interaction and the wider story of the moment, never posed or set up. Shots should be capturing a moment of interaction that is full of light, rhythm, and entertainment, never static or dull. Show the fast paced, instant, interactive world we live in, full of the colour of media overload. Mobile phones, TV’s, PC’s, being used with motion, touched, interacted with, lived with, powerful, inspiring images.

© Oliver Rossi/Corbis

Source: © Oliver Rossi/Corbis


The sense of capturing a ‘moment’ seemed to be key to this brief and there was a requirement for a ‘stop motion’ feel to the images. The image chosen features a woman listening to music outdoors, as the brief asked for singles as well as groups. We assumed the focus on interaction referred to interaction with technology as much as with other people.

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