Photolibraries are a valuable resource for designers. The best are a repository for the work of top photographers specialist material and images from across the globe.

While most creatives would ideally like to commission their own shots, art directed to meet their exact requirements, this isn’t always feasible. Cost and time are usually the main deterrants, with geographical location often being a big decider. Just because a blue chip client operates globally, it might not be keen to pay for a series of lavish photoshoots in exotic locations to conjure up the environments in which it operates. The right photolibrary might, however, neatly fit the bill.

As with all suppliers, the key to getting the best out of a photolibrary is to set the right search brief, with a bit of flexibility built in. If your mind is open, a good researcher might unearth an image that is even better than you had envisaged. The service you receive is vital, but it is a two-way process and it is worth trying to build relationships with libraries that you use – formally, by way of a long-term contract, or on a personal level with library staff. It’s about fostering mutual respect and understanding – and having fun along the way.

Designers can get a bit sniffy about photolibrary images. But while getting the right shot can make a design, it is the way that you use it that really counts. The best graphic design is based on a strong idea and rarely relies solely on the quality of a single image. Several award-winning groups use photolibraries regularly and it’s often hard to tell which shots are commissioned and which ‘borrowed’ – witness the work shown in Design Week’s quarterly Stock Shots series.

Whether you use a photolibrary or commission shots, it’s worth remembering that you are dealing with material produced by a fellow creative, the photographer. The professional approach is to respect the photographer’s work as you incorporate it into your own. Only ‘cowboy’ designers will abuse the position – and deserve to pay for their actions through the legal process. Fortunately, there are very few.

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