If, like me, you’re not blessed with an A-list income, then you will be familiar with the anguish that comes with the search for cover art stock photos.
These sites are huge, but their search criteria are nonsensical, and the results you get often bear no resemblance to the words you type into the input box. You type in ‘spooky corridor’ and you get pictures of grinning kids playing on a beach, and you think, “what the fuck has this to do with a spooky corridor?” Much sighing and scratchings of the head later, you give up in disgust or settle for something you know is not what you wanted.
The problem is caused by those who upload the photos. When they upload their photos, the site asks for keywords. These keywords are the words you and I use as search criteria and should reflect the subject of the photo to make sure we get what we search for. They want you to pay to download their photo above anyone else’s. To try to make sure this happens, they will type in keywords that bear no resemblance to the subject of the photo, so that as many searches as possible will bring their photo up on our screens. It’s a bit like authors putting their horror novel into the ‘historical romance’ or ‘chick lit’ categories to make sure more people see it when they search Amazon. It’s bad practice and it should be illegal. The stock photo sites should punish these people buy banning them from using the site.
There are many stock photo sites out there, and a lot of the same photos will appear in them all. Finding the right stock shots can be a lengthy procedure, so don’t leave it until the last minute. Make a list of every single word and phrase you can think of that describes the image you want, even vague abstract terms such as ‘spooky, gloomy, sad, otherworldly’ etc. As soon as you find something that is near what you’re after, click on the shot to get to its download page. Lower down that same page, there will be a ‘see similar images’ option. Click this and you will get a new search of images similar to that one. By this method of searching similar images, you can often find your way eventually to the shot you want. Download comp images before paying for the final shot, and play around with your photo manipulation software. Only when you are happy that the images give you the final result you’re happy with, pay to download the full size version.
I am going to be self publishing a horror novel in time for Halloween this year, and the search for stock images for the cover was causing me much despair. I searched and re-searched both stock sites I usually use, to no avail, and in the end I searched a site I usually avoid due to its high costs. Within minutes I found the perfect shots and was so relieved I actually did dance around my living room with glee. Never rule out a site because it’s too expensive, keep it for last resort searches. It’s better to pay a little more for the right shot, than less for one that doesn’t really fit. A few hours with Gimp and I have a cover I’m happy with, and one that is near to what I originally imagined for the book.
Stock photo sites are a nightmare to negotiate, but with time, planning, and strategy, you will find what you need.