6 iStock Image Search Tips to Easily Find High-Quality Stock Photos

Discover the secrets to finding the perfect images for your projects with these 6 iStock image search tips! 

Say goodbye to feeling overwhelmed by the vast number of stock photos available on the web and fighting against the daunting creative block. Instead, unlock the benefits of iStock‘s user-friendly search features and high-quality library.

Let us show you how to quickly and easily find photos that will take your marketing materials to new heights. Get ready to improve your workflow and captivate your audience like never before!

Finding the Perfect Image: a Crucial Step in Creative Workflows

Visuals are a powerful resource for marketing and branding. Photos, in particular, are an unparalleled tool for capturing viewers' and potential customers’ attention. 

The right images can instantly convey a message or emotion and help connect the brand with the audience, establish a brand identity, and differentiate it from competitors –for example, they can help brand your business as inclusive and respectful of all cultures. The wrong images, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect and turn potential customers away. 

Therefore, selecting the perfect images is essential for creating impactful marketing materials and achieving marketing objectives. 

With their extensive and rich depositories of ready-to-use images, stock photo sites are ideal for small and medium-sized businesses needing compelling photos for their campaigns. However, such large catalogs can sometimes make locating the perfect picture for each project harder and the creative process overwhelming. 

iStock (previously known as iStockphoto – see our iStock review for more details) stands out in the space, as they have advanced search capabilities and various bonus services, all oriented to helping customers find the right image faster and easier. 

And the best? They're super affordable images, and you can save more than ever using our special iStock promo code with up to 25% off!

Search for images on iStock right now using the iStock search bar below:

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iStock Image Search – A User-Friendly and Efficient Search Tool

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iStock‘s image search engine is designed to offer a comprehensive and user-friendly experience. With multiple approaches to help you find the best photos within their large catalog split between budget-friendly and exclusive images, you will surely find the ideal image for every design. Keeping in mind the iStock license is one of the most convenient deals for commercial use photos, this is a service worth using to find photos.

iStock's Enhanced Search with keywords is a fantastic feature that makes it easy to quickly find the needed images by simply typing in a few words. Additionally, iStock's reverse image search powered by AI image recognition allows you to upload an image and find similar ones instantly, saving you time and effort.

What sets iStock apart from its competitors is its comprehensive set of filters and tools that make it easy to refine your online image search results and find the perfect visual for your project. 

If you need more clarification on what you're looking for or what would work best for your design within the large depository of images, iStock's Visual GPS and curated collections provide additional resources to help you find the best-performing and most inclusive and trendy pictures for your project.

Next, we’ll give you tips to use the iStock image search to find specific images or photos.

Please note that these tips work to search for iStock videos as well.

#1. Search by Keywords – It’s as Straightforward as It Sounds

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Searching for something is often done by describing what you need to someone or something that knows where to find it. This is exactly how you search for stock photos on iStock using keywords. 

On iStock, you can use the search bar at the top of the screen to find pictures that match your description. All you need to do is type in what the image should look like, and the search engine will return thousands, if not millions, of results that meet your criteria. It's that simple.

What sets iStock's keyword search apart is its integration of Enhanced Search technology. This means that you can use everyday language to search for images on iStock. You don't need to think of specific keywords, separate them with commas, or use any other unnatural methods. Just think of what the image should look like, type in a descriptive sentence, and let the magic happen.

For example, if you're looking for images of a red cabin on a snowy mountain, you don't need to type in a long list of keywords like “cabin, mountain, snow, red, winter, landscape.” Instead, you can simply search for “red cabin on a snowy mountain” and find the images you need. We did just that and found the results very precise and varied. 

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iStock keyword search is a straightforward and effective way to find the best photo for your design without having to do too much. 

#2. Do a Reverse Image Search – It’s Fast and Effortless

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iStock has a valuable stock photo search feature that allows you to use an image or a video as a reference to find similar pictures in their library. This feature uses AI image recognition to check your sample photo against the agency's catalog to find the closest visual matches. To use this feature, you only need to click the “Search by image or video” button on the right side of the search bar and then drag and drop the picture you want to search for (or select it from your drive). The software will do the rest and show matching results within seconds. 

For example, we used a beautiful mountain landscape that was snapped with a smartphone during a holiday and found thousands of similar pictures in iStock's library utilizing this feature.

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If you come across a picture that you think would be perfect for your project, but you don't know the author to ask for permission to use it, or it's unavailable for license, or it's out of your budget, then iStock reverse image search can be an excellent solution for you.

Similarly, if you have taken a photo yourself, and you like the concept and composition, but you know it needs more professional quality to use in your design. Istock reverse image search can help you find similar pictures in their library.

It’s a swift and effortless way to find what you want in a stock photo. 

#3. Use Image Search Filters – to Precisely Refine Results  

Whether you search by keywords or with reverse image search, you'll quickly notice the pages upon pages of results that iStock shows you. Such a quantity and variety of images can be overwhelming, and dismissing the results that don't quite have what you want would take forever without the iStock search filters. 

These tweakable parameters help you circumscribe results to see images with precisely what you need and nothing more. To the standard filters for media type, orientation, or popularity, iStock adds much more advanced concepts such as geographical location, number of people, age and ethnicity of the people, and even a color palette filter. Each of these has several options to select. 

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Filters are available for both keyword and reverse image searches and are a great aid in simplifying the image selection process. 

#4. Check the Curated Collections – Full of Expertly Handpicked Pictures

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Despite iStock's excellent search features, finding the right image can be challenging when you're still figuring out what kind of picture would be best for your project. However, iStock has got you covered with their curated collections.

At iStock, you can browse through galleries for popular topics and styles and special themed collections for seasonal and other relevant concepts worldwide. The company's dedicated image experts carefully handpick images in categories and collections, making finding the best visuals for your project easier.

For instance, the “Sweater Weather” collection is a personal favorite of ours, featuring indoor winter photos that perfectly capture the warm and cozy feeling we all crave during the cold season. 

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There's nothing like browsing through these inspiring collections to overcome creative blocks and find the perfect image for your project.

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If you're looking for inspiration, iStock has a fantastic resource for visual trend research called Visual GPS. It's interactive, user-friendly, and highly effective. This resource is free on the iStock website and is a search engine for visual and conceptual trends. It uses the agency's extensive search data and expert analysis –including those of its parent company, Getty Images–  to give users clear pointers on the best-performing content for every topic imaginable.

Don't worry if that sounds overwhelming. It's pretty simple. Just visit Visual GPS, type in the topic you're interested in, and let it run. You'll be surprised at how useful it is. You can adjust the parameters of your research, such as choosing a specific time frame or region to analyze or compare two topics simultaneously.

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The results of your trend search will give you valuable insights, such as the level of interest in the topic over time, related search terms (which can help with copywriting and SEO), a breakdown of interest by industry and region, and a selection of the most popular imagery within that theme. You can even license photos directly from the Visual GPS results and open a gallery of similar images to any suggested ones.

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The iStock Visual GPS is a powerful solution for identifying the most compelling images for your marketing materials without spending time or money.

#6. Exploit iStock Image Editor – Craft Perfect Visuals 

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This last tip is about something other than searching, but it can still help you find the perfect stock photo for your graphics. It's about using the iStock image editor. 

This online image editing tool is free for all iStock users. You can launch it directly from any image page to customize its appearance right then and there, even before licensing it! 

The iStock editor allows you to perform basic but relevant edits such as cropping and resizing, adding text, applying filters, and adding your company logo or custom graphic element. Once you're happy with the result, you can pay for a license, and the edits will be automatically applied to your photo. 

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You would be foolish not to use the iStock image editor to personalize your images and make them perfect for your purpose.

BONUS: Image Search Insights from an iStock Expert

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Joel Summerlin, Senior Product Manager, iStock

For this article, we were able to get valuable input from Joel Summerlin, Senior Product Manager at iStock, who answered our most relevant questions surrounding the iStock image search and what makes it stand out from other agencies. Read the full interview with Joel below!

Ivanna Attie: What are the latest improvements to iStock search, and how do they impact the user experience? What can we expect to see in the search feature in the future? 

Joel Summerlin:

  • Enhanced Search: Enhanced search is a change to the way Creative content search works. Traditional image/video search engines use strict keyword matching, which requires every keyword you use to match something in the image/video metadata to return a result. Our advanced technology goes beyond traditional keyword matching to find plentiful and relevant results for nearly any Creative content search – including longer, more descriptive, and more natural search queries.  
  • Combined Image-Film Search: Easily find the right video or stills for your project. We show the best video and stills files in a single search result page.  
  • Upcoming: Improvements to regional relevance. As a global company, we’re working to deliver search results that are more targeted to your region. Whether it’s showing models that are representative of the local culture or paying attention to regional trends and preferences, we are training our search systems to be more responsive to the needs of our customers around the world. 

IA: How are user feedback and search data used to advance iStock’s Enhanced Search? 

JS: Users provide important feedback just by searching and interacting with the results. Although we don’t track user information at the individual level, the aggregated data that is generated by millions of searches and clicks can be used in Machine Learning models to better understand and predict how searches relate to images. Every time you search, you make the system a little smarter. 

IA: What is being done to ensure inclusive, diverse results and avoid stereotypical and/or biased content? 

JS: Backed by data and insights from iStock’s VisualGPS research, it starts with the content that we source. Getty Images has spent over a decade working to break down stereotypes and create a more authentic visual view of concepts such as gender, LGBTQ, religion, race, mental illness, and disability across media, advertising, and social media. Just as images have the power to shape ideas, we believe they have the power to move the world – elevating diverse narratives that can alter perceptions, evoke empathy, and build community. 

We measure and monitor the diversity and inclusivity of our search results, and we work actively on surfacing authentic imagery, considering multiple aspects of visual representation such as race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, body type, and religion. 

IA: How does iStock’s search engine perform in niches or regional topics? And how about in languages other than English? 

JS: We use aggregated, region-specific customer signals to influence results. This means that our search can understand differences between, say, our Japanese customers and our Brazilian customers based on how they search and interact with our content. 

Our search algorithms can be tuned for different regions, and our new enhanced search feature uses Machine Learning models that are specifically tuned for non-English languages and non-US regions. 

IA: Security and Privacy – In an era of increasing concern about privacy, how does iStock ensure the security of user data, especially search history and preferences? What measures are in place to protect user privacy? 

JS: Getty Images takes security and data privacy seriously. Customer data, including search history and preferences, are secured within our infrastructure, and access is limited to a limited number of authorized individuals with a business need. Customers have the ability to see and manage their preferences within their user profile. Our Data Privacy policy is made available on our site at this link.

IA: From your perspective, what aspects contribute to the user-friendliness of your search, especially for those with limited experience? 

JS: Our new enhanced search lets you search more naturally without having to spend so much time trying to think of the “right” keywords. You can easily toggle it on and off as desired – using it when you want to see what additional results it can provide and toggle it off when you prefer to use exact keyword matching only. Plus:

  • Get search suggestions as you type. See how others have searched successfully with concepts similar to yours. This also helps you to avoid typos or misspellings. 
  • After searching, you can check out Related Search ideas to help expand your thinking and suggest other avenues to finding what you’re after. 
  • When you find an image that’s in the right ballpark, use the Similar Image search to find others that are similar – or variants that come from the same photo shoot. 
  • Search by image or video directly – you can upload a visual and find similar results. 

Thank you, Joel!

Use iStock Image Search to Find the Perfect Photos Faster and Easier than Ever

We compiled this list of tips to help you make the most of iStock's image search feature. We aim to assist you in finding the right content for your visuals quickly and effortlessly without spending any extra money.

We believe this agency's search features are great as they can speed up, simplify, and improve the creative workflow while delivering the best possible results in stock photos. 

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Did you find what you were looking for at iStock? Go start searching today!

FTC Disclaimer: Some links here may be affiliate links. If you purchase through them, we might earn a commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions are our own.

Ivanna Attié
Ivanna Attié

I am Content Manager, Researcher, and Author in StockPhotoSecrets.com and Stock Photo Press and its many stock media-oriented publications. I am a passionate communicator with a love for visual imagery and an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge. Lucky enough to enter the wonderful world of stock photography working side-by-side with experienced experts, I am happy to share my research, insights, and advice about image licensing, stock photography offers, and the stock media industry with everyone in the creative community. My background is in Communication and Journalism, and I also love literature and performing arts.

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