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How picture libraries work

The growth of digital technology

With the rapid spread of digital imaging and web use has come a huge change in the way images are sourced through the Internet. Picture researchers of vast experience and encyclopaedic knowledge have been challenged by younger researchers who can undercut them on cost and whose greatest strength is their ability is to find the right image quickly on the web. It has also become more and more possible for the amateur – and that includes many authors seeking pictures for their books – to get on the Internet to track down and buy exactly what they need. As in so many other areas, the web has opened up vast possibilities to everybody.

Picture Libraries

The picture agencies have responded accordingly, with huge online databases of images and much improved search facilities to help you find what you are looking for. For photographers, artists and designers, as well as the picture libraries themselves, it has also raised many issues relating to copyright and licensing. If you are looking for an image it's transformed the whole business, bringing what you want just a few clicks away.

Where to go

The following is a list of some of the picture libraries and what they offer. It is British-based and not exhaustive, so please email us with a note of any others you’d recommend.

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New website for the largest global aviation photo library. You can purchase prints, posters and images online for delivery anywhere in the world. A powerful search facility enables you to locate a specific aeroplane, airline, location or operator. A plane-spotter's dream.


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This huge site has one million images, acting as a portal with content from more than 2,600 worldwide photographers and agencies. It specialises in royalty-free material, though not exclusively.


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Italy-based photographers' collective specialising in topical photojournalism, documentary and editorial photography.


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Contemporary collection of sporting images from around the world shot by their of award winning photographers. Supplies shots of live sports events to news-desks around the world. You need to register to browse and find what you need.


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UK based image library specialising in the performing arts. With an online digital collection of 250,000 high quality and well captioned images plus many thousands of slides and negs waiting to be scanned. Free specialist searches by experienced and knowledgeable picture researchers, providing clients with instant access to a further 2.5 million images across their entire collection in addition to a series of UK and overseas private archives.


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Lebrecht Photo Library's new website covering fine arts in the history of many cultures, a specialist archive for art and artists. Extensive coverage of Russian, French, Italian and British art.


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Claims to have every author who ever published a book, which may be an exaggeration, but it does have over a million author photos and they're available as high-res downloads.


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50,000 colour photos and a black and white archive pictures covering aviation, skyscapes and travel.


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With over four million images, this offers to take you on a 'stroll down memory lane' to find images from the BBC's archive, including its new online Image Gallery.


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A unique resource for picture buyers, graphic designers and publishers, enabling you to license thousands of high quality images from the British Library's unparalleled collections. Especially good on writers and historical images.


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The British Library has just drawn on its huge archive to set up some fascinating new collections to explore online, organised into different subject areas. They have just added over a million images from their 17th, 18th and 19th century books to their Flickr site.


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Over 3 million images, from 12,000 photographers. $1 downloads or a subscription of $35.95. Free weekly downloads with masses of new images.


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An Australian picture library with over 40,000 images online and a further 80,000 on call. Strengths are Australian topics, landscapes, cities, people, national parks, flora and fauna.


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Useful American site set up by picture researchers frustrated by the difficulty they experienced in finding good historical images. Low flat fee for images, no licensing fees and an interesting range of material.


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Huge library of well over one million stock images of all kinds from just £1, with useful 'find similar' button to help browsers.


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More than 2.7 million images from 140 quality stock photography publishers at one site, together with royalty-free clipart pictures, illustrations, stock video clips, maps, and more. 10,000 images from the National Geographic collection.


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Describes itself as 'the world's leading provider of images, film and digital services'. Material available includes the Hulton Archive.


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This draws on the magazine's historic visual archive, dating back to its foundation as the world's first illustrated newspaper in 1842. In the process of digitising its archive, it offers over 2 million images on social history, transport, leisure, war royalty, film, politics, personalities, disasters and much more.


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Previously known as the Lebrecht Music CollectionPreviously known as the Lebrecht Music Collection, this library has recently launched a new website focusing on classical music. Through its association with libraries in France and Germany it can offer 8 million images in music and the arts., this library has recently launched a new website focusing on classical music. Through its association with libraries in France and Germany it can offer 8 million images in music and the arts.


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This well-regarded library has just celebrated its fortieth anniversary and specialises, appropriately enough, in history. A family business, it takes conservation of material seriously and has over 135,000 images - perfect if you're writing history titles or biography.


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Online image bank of infographics from The State of the World Atlas by Dan Smith. Useful resource for students, academics, teachers, journalists and businesses, the store will soon contain maps and graphics from their entire State of the World Atlas series. Download via Paypal, low resolution images start at $1 and high resolution images from $50.


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This library represents more than 100 photographers specialising in wildlife and nature, with 250,00 images available.


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Specialist library covering sport, specialising in football, rugby, the Olympics, cycling and tennis.


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This is an independent creative photographic agency specialising in images of Ireland. It features the work of accomplished photographers who live or spend a lot of time in Ireland. Their categories are Stock Photography, Travel Photography, Landscape Photography, Images/Photos of Ireland and Photojournalism.


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This is an independent creative photographic agency specialising in images of Ireland. It features the work of accomplished photographers who live or spend a lot of time in Ireland. Their categories are Stock Photography, Travel Photography, Landscape Photography, Images/Photos of Ireland and Photojournalism.


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Rapidly growing and fairly new UK picture agency which functions as a photographers' community and concentrates on everyday images. It already has over 100,000 live images from over 11,000 photographers. The site's royalty-free images easily available online and if you are a photographer you can upload you own images to sell your work. Their images are royalty-free with prices starting from £1 for web and £10 for print.


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This big library has clocked up half a century in the business of providing ‘quality stills with a certain edge’ and has over 1 million images available online, with 1,000 being added every day - and a library of 15 Million photos.


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The place to go for thousands of pictures of birds.


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Huge gallery over 200,000 stock photos by more than 15,000 photographers which are free to use.


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Royalty free site where photographers can also earn 50% from the fees for their work.


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This is a good place to start. This helpful site has a useful page on Using a Picture Library, explaining the fee structure and how the system works. It also has a brief summary of copyright and a key section for photographers and artists on how to handle their work.


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Featuring Simon Marsden's atmospheric photos, this is the place to go if you want Sinister Villages and Decaying Cottages or Eerie Lakes and Cruel Seas.


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If you're looking for pictures of writers, this is the place to go.




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