I've been searching for photos for a site I'm working on for the past few days, and I feel compelled to comment again on this subject.
I have looked at at least a hundred photos in the past two days that would have been perfect -- except that they were cropped too blasted closely. Especially when there are people in the picture, I don't want their foreheads, shoulders, ears, elbows, fingers, or whatever cut off. If I do, I'm perfectly capable of doing so myself, thank you; but I can't manufacture what the photographer decided to cut off before even uploading the photo!
This is really, really annoying, and I suspect part of the problem lies with the editors favoring tightly-cropped photos because they are more visually appealing. The problem is that I rarely use the picture as-is. The designer looks at pictures in a different way, usually trying to find pictures that visibly illustrate some concept that already has been written in words; and the thing that we need to illustrate, in many cases, isn't even what the photographer had in mind when the picture was taken.
When I'm in designer mode, I almost never use the picture as it appears on the stock photo site. I usually only want a little piece of it, and I will buy the size of the picture that allows me to crop to that little piece while retaining adequate quality. Again, I can always crop to the point of focus that I need, but I can't un-crop a photo that's already been cropped prior to upload.
Another annoying tendency I've been noticing is that too many pictures are only available in portrait orientation. I usually need landscape orientation for in-line images. Sometimes I can crop the piece I need out of the picture -- but again, only if it's not been too tightly-cropped by the photographer / uploader.
Stock photos that are too-tightly cropped is also the number two complaint of other designers I know. (Number one is too many photos of the same stuff, like people in office settings; and too few pictures of oddball stuff.) It is a constant source of puzzlement, as well, because we can't figure out why stock companies find this so hard to understand. Don't you want to sell more photos? Give is what we need, and you will!
On a positive note, let me point to a picture that turned out to be perfect for what I needed today:
I'm building a site for a pest control company, and the specific page deals with pest control in schools. The paragraph relates to the centrality of inspection to school pest control, and I wanted a picture to illustrate the idea that even the kids themselves are important to maintaining a pest-free school, and that they're encouraged to look for and report pests. The kids are "deputy inspectors," as it were.
This picture was perfect. Here's why.
1. She's cute and has the right expression: Not overly serious, but not silly, either. She looks inquisitive, like a normal little girl; but also focused and fascinated by the unseen item she's examining.
2. Landscape format. In thumbnail at 300 x 225, the height matched the paragraph to which it was anchored quite nicely.
On the site I'm building, the thumbnail gradually transitions to a 600 x 450 image when hovered, and pushes the text out of the way; until un-hovered, at which point it transitions back to thumbnail. The visitor is inspecting the inspector, in this case. With this kind of effect, the picture at its full size needs to be interesting enough to hold the visitor's interest. It engages the visitor, which is what I want it to do.
3. Perfectly cropped! I cut off a bit of white space on each side to bring it into the aspect ratio I needed, but that was all I had to do. (By the way, that's another reason not to crop too closely. Sometimes we need to change the aspect ratio a bit to fit a site. This picture gave me enough white space to do that.)
If this child's elbow, head, or hair had been cut off, I would have reluctantly rejected the picture. I didn't need her whole body, because the focus was on the inspection concept. But I wouldn't have wanted to amputate parts of her body that are, in fact, within the conceptual focus I was trying to convey: A kid inspecting for something.
4. Just enough distortion (her eye through the lens) to make it visually interesting. That sort of thing grabs the visitor's attention.
5. It had never been downloaded before, which I prefer because of uniqueness value. There are many excellent photos that I pass on because they've been used a bazillion times before.
This picture is as close to a perfect match to what I was looking for as I've come across in a very long time. Kudos to the photographer, and thank you.