A picture says a thousand words: Tap into the world of stock photos

A while ago I did a post on photo tips and ideas for language and literacy programs. In that post I gave some ideas on the types of things you can take pictures to marketing and promote your language and literacy program.

Really though, unless you have someone on staff who was has excellent photography skills, your photos may lack professionalism. Using stock photography has some advantages for marketing. Not only are you guaranteed to get excellent quality, royal-free images, you also don’t have to worry about getting students or their parents to sign waivers allowing you to use their image to promote your school.

There are a number of companies out there that offer stock photos, as well as images and sometimes audio tracks, too. Either you buy credits which allow you to purchase photos on a pay-as-you-go type of arrangement, or you buy a subscription for a certain period of time. Buying credits is a good way to test out the system for not very much money, just to learn how it works.

Once you get to the site, type in a key word that matches the image of what you’re trying to portray. You’ll usually get thousands of images, some of which will work and others won’t. Words I’ve used for marketing ESL and EFL programs include “multicultural”, “students”, “international”, “school” and so forth. Get creative with your key words if the results aren’t giving you what you’re looking for.

  • Getty Images
  • Jupiter Images
  • Fotolia
  • iStock – The photo from this post is from iStock. Every week they offer a freebie for members. This particular freebie was very appropriate for languages and literacy, so how could I resist?

The size of the photo you buy depends on what you are using it for. For website use only, you can get away with smaller images. If you’re using them in printed materials such as brochures, school prospectuses, etc. then you’ll want a higher quality image.

Once you’ve purchases the rights to a photo, you can use it for a variety of purposes, providing you stay within the agreements. For example, don’t go and re-sell the image by putting it on merchandise such as coffee cups or T-shirts that you charge money for.

Some people have said to me that using stock photos seems insincere because the subjects aren’t real students or staff from your school. That is true. It is one trade off of using pro quality stock photos. Ultimately you need to decide what you want – and can – do for yourself. Also, have a look at what your competitors are using in their photos. If their images are pro quality, you may be looking at stock photos.

For me, using stock photos for at least some of your marketing materials, is a good investment of resources.

Do you have a favorite site for photos that’s not listed here? Leave a comment, so others can find out about it, too.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

2 Responses to A picture says a thousand words: Tap into the world of stock photos

  1. Dan says:

    This article should be very useful to not only language teachers but also online marketers in any kind of product promotions.

    I used to get images from shutterstock.com when I was involved in the marketing dept couple years ago. I am sure you’ve heard of it. If not, you can visit and take a look at it. And Getty Images has been also very well-known to web designers in Korea.

    Even though I am not a language teacher, it’s really worth reading your articles from time to time. Those are very helpful even to me learning English as a second language. I appreciate it.

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