Part 3 of the Photomanips for Beginners series deals with the other essential thing you will need besides software: images. If you don’t (want to) shoot (all of) them yourself, don’t fret, there are lots of stock photos available that you are allowed to use in your art.

There are two possibilities here for you. The first option is to take your own photos, of course. This has the upside that you do not need anyone’s permission to use them (unless you want to use pics of people of course), though you do need to be careful when it comes to trademarks, landmarks and in general photos taken in locations that are not public grounds (such as museums, zoos etc) – there the owners might not allow you to use the pics you take commercially – or at all.

The fact that everyone these days has access to a camera in their phone, and also DSLRs are pretty cheap, is a big plus. When I started manipping, I didn’t have a digital camera and was relying only on what is called stock photography. And even today, I still rely on that to build a versatile archive – because let’s face it, especially when you do this as a hobby, you will not have the possibility to shoot everything you need for every project yourself

Free stock image from my "Linderhof" stock pack.

Taking your own photos vs. using stock

It’s one of my big goals to get more independent from stock, especially since some stock images get used over and over, sometimes in a similar fashion, sometimes more versatile. But in any case, having your own original images to work with will make your manips a little more special. And you can take the pictures from the angles and with the lighting you know you will need.

Having said all of that, I’m never going to get to where I only use my own images exclusively. And not just because I don’t have the means to get all of what I might need, but also because I find using stock gives me a certain distance to the subject. For example, when using my own pictures taken on holidays, I often only start to actually use them (esp. landscapes) years after coming back, because only then I can put aside the memories attached and see the image in a different light and create something from it. Stock images also often give me a creative boost, when i see something I really want to use and it just takes a life of its own.

Secret Passage || model Elandria | stone wall MajkaHarolds | lake and tree chasmdeep (no longer online) | woods cynstock | door and stairs WelshDragonStockNArt | statue kuschelirmel-stock | plants Wesley-Souza | stones right pueang | stepping stones Mocris | lanterns E-DinaPhotoArt | gem CAStock | bruses revn89 and redheadstock

Above you can see an example of how many different images can go into one single manip. Only one of these is my own (the statues) and all the rest are stock images from different parts of the world – very difficult to get all of these yourself, if you ask me.

By the way, I think the whole “well, if you didn’t take all of the pics yourself, your art is not worth as much”-spiel is a big load of bullshit. For one, creativity does not equal work put in. And for two, a manip actually is a lot of work no matter who took the pictures: poor technique will show really quickly in a manip. So if you manage to put together a bunch of pictures with different lighting and make them seem as if they belonged, the work is the same, no matter who took the pics – pushing the shutter is comparatively easy from a technical point of view (take it from someone who was kinda floored the first time she shot using an off-camera flash).

Where do you get stock images from?

You can get a great selection of free photos in deviantArt’s resources section, on pixabay, unsplash or pexels. There are also stock sites where you pay either per image or for a certain amount of images per month (and different amounts for different sizes and licenses depending what you need), for example shutterstock, Adobe Stock, iStock, and countless others. Google search is not a valid option. Search engines index everything, and by definition, nothing actually belongs to them, so you cannot credit google or use it as a stock search.

Which brings me to the ever-present issue of copyright. As a rule, everything is copyrighted by the person who created it the moment they create basically all over the world thanks to the Berne Convention.

While all your images are without doubt copyrighted the minute you take them, there seems to be a specialty in the US, where you can (and some people say should) register your work with the US Copyright Office. The benefit is irrefutable proof of ownership in case something gets stolen.

So unless you have permission, you cannot use the photo you “found”

But getting permission is easy: you get it either directly from the copyright owner either by asking if you can use a certain image or via some sort of “overall permission” given on a website. On dA, you will find that each person uploading stock to the site has their own rules attached to their images. Just as I have a Terms of Use page outlining what you can and cannot do with the images. This is a basic form of licensing (even though no money is changing hands, it is still a contract you ener into by downloading the pics). You get the images, I get my rules followed.

In case of stock sites (all listed above except dA – deviantArt is an art site with a stock and resources section), the permission giving is handled by the terms of use of the website that fixes the same set of rules for everyone. By uploading, the photographer agrees to the ToS just as you do when you download.

There are two important things to keep in mind when using stock:

  1. Follow the terms of use

No matter how you get permission (even by asking personally), there will be rules attached. Follow them. Nothing is more frustrating than being called out or even being forced to take something you’ve put a lot of work into

  1. Be wary of using copyrighted images by mistake

There is always a chance to get a “bad apple”. Even with curated collections, where not everyone is allowed to upload without anyone checking, there is always a chance that some fraud is trying to pass off other people’s images as theirs. Either to make a quick buck or just for attention. So in order to avoid having the real copyright holder making you take down your image (or even suing you – because not knowing is not really an excuse), you should be careful what you use.

This is a bit of a gut-feeling thing more often than not, and more of a problem for free stock than if you go with the bigger, well known site. But what I have always found to be a good indication on deviantArt is that if the account is new, very varied, no interaction from the user, only a bunch of images uploaded… chances are this is too good to be true. Real photographers who want to give you stock for free usually want something else out of it: they want to see what you do with the images, want to get in touch with a new audience, etc. They will not just dump a whole bunch of single shots of different models in a dA account… just doesn’t happen. At the very least they will leave contact info, a website you can check or social media accounts.


The above is all about your legal obligations. Now there’s another side to the photomanip community. There is a sort of etiquette that I want you to think about adopting. It’s not mandatory, but I think it’s good practice (like in engineering ;))

I always try to be as clear about where I get my resources (not just images, also brushes etc) from as possible. I will go as far as to point out that some of the stock was taken by me. Why? Because I think there is nothing wrong with using resources available, it does not diminish my images to be clear about where the raw material came from.

So, in closing, choose your stock wisely (but I promise it is not hard to stay legal!) and most importantly:

Have Fun!

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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