Shutterstock Labs: How to Find Perfect Stock Images and Videos

Ryan Dube 08-04-2015

Shutterstock is one of the premier places on the web for getting the creative images that you need. However, with their recent image search and image/video editing tool additions, Shutterstock has made it easier to make better use of the media you discover there.


I don’t just say Shutterstock is a premier place because they give us an amazing deal on images The Top 8 Websites to Sell Your Stock Pictures You can make some money with photography by creating and selling stock photos. Considering how expensive cameras, lenses, and accessories can be, it's a great way to offset those costs. Read More (they do), but in all honesty the images you’ll find there are some of the higher quality images around. It isn’t too difficult to find those “authentic” photos that look more like something you’d actually find in real life, and not so much “stock” modeling nonsense 5 Easy Ways To Grab Free High Resolution Stock Images With Your Email Finding a great photo isn't that hard. Using that perfect photo can also come without sweat and cost. The five sources here ease your hunt because you simply subscribe to them with an email. Read More .

Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of that too, but if you search you can find the really good stuff. And now, Shutterstock offers even more ways to search for, organize, and manipulate the images and videos that you find on the site, at a special area of the site called Shutterstock Labs.

Why You Need Shutterstock Labs

After exploring Shutterstock Labs for a while, and discovering a whole list of useful gems and tools throughout (which I’ll show you in a bit), I decided to get in touch with Catherine Ulrich, Chief Product Officer at Shutterstock to get the real picture behind the development of Shutterstock Labs.

In all actuality, Shutterstock Search already provides advanced search capabilities to find photos on the site, so why add all of these additional tools?



Catherine explained that the point of Shutterstock Labs was more of a “beta” area for users to try new things, without the risks that are inherent in setting a feature live on the main site.

“We use Shutterstock Labs as a place we can expose innovative content search and editing tools to our customers. Having Labs independent from our production site allows us to share projects with customers, test and iterate tools, and move projects forward quickly while also minimizing risk. I think of it as one of the many ways we empower constant innovation which ultimately results in delivering more value to our customers.”

So what will you find at Shutterstock Labs? First, let’s take a closer look at two of the more interesting advanced search tools called Palette and Spectrum.

Shutterstock Palette

Palette is an interesting tool that’s probably most useful for people like website designers 9 Weebly Websites That Actually Don't Suck Weebly offers uber-simple, drag-and-drop website creation and free web hosting. Not all sites end up looking well-designed. But let's look at some of the best examples of Weebly websites. Read More , or anyone working on creating a professional brochure or pamphlet. The idea is that people often need images of things that include colors which compliment (or at least don’t clash) with the existing design.



In the Palette tool, you can search for images by keyword — just like on the main site — but you can also choose specific color palettes, and the only images that get displayed to you will be the ones that contain those colors.

For people who are experienced with design Lucidpress: The Free Online InDesign Alternative For Your Creative Needs What is a casual designer to use as an InDesign replacement? Lucidpress is absolutely gorgeous. A lot of graphic design skill has been put into it for helping casual designers make fantastic documents. Read More , spotting images that fall into the color palette range that you need is more of something that comes with experience, but by using Palette, amateurs or designers who are new to the business can make sure they aren’t making any mistakes.

Shutterstock Spectrum

Spectrum is a lot like Palette, in that it is another “color search” tool. However, with Spectrum, the idea is that you’re looking for images where the majority of the image contains shades of the color you want to focus on.

There is a slider bar that displays the entire spectrum of the rainbow. You move the slider to the place in that spectrum that you want to focus on and all images displayed will fall into that spectrum.



I am not a heavy graphic designer by any means. My expertise has always been web design, and in that area I’ve always struggled trying to find images that compliment the overall design of the site.

A tool like Spectrum would really come in handy for this kind of thing. You know you have a general theme for whatever design project you’re working on, so setting the slider bar of the spectrum tool in the range you need reveals a whole world of wonderful images you can integrate into your design. What a time saver!

As far as the difference between these two tools, Catherine explained that Palette allows for schemes of multiple colors, while Spectrum is a way to focus on a primary color.


“The easiest way to think about the difference between the two is that Palette is based on color schemes (up to five), as compared to Spectrum where the primary color selected on the scale will dominate the image selected. In addition, Spectrum only works with photos, while Palette covers photos, vectors and illustrations.”

She also pointed out that the tool required depends on a customer’s needs. A marketing firm looking for images to include in an ad campaign may require images that contain multiple color schemes while a web designer looking for images to enhance a design theme may need images that focus around one hue.

Bottom line, choose the tool that suits your needs.

Shutterstock Sequence

With Shutterstock Sequence, you basically get to become a movie editor The Best Free Video Editors for Windows Free video editors have become viable alternatives to paid software. Here are the best free video editors available for Windows. Read More , patching together “sequences” from video and music media that either originate from the Shutterstock site itself or from your own movies that you have stored on your computer.


The ability to do movie editing online isn’t exactly new. In fact, we’ve covered a number of online movie editing tools 4 Free Tools For Online Video Editing Video editing online has helped to turn everyone into armchair filmmakers. Here are the best five editors on the web. Read More before, so the value of this tool isn’t so much its function as it is the huge library of Shutterstock’s available sequences that you can make use of in your video creations.

What was initially confusing to me, and subsequently cleared up by Catherine, was the pricing scheme. If I used my own video and audio content, then combined it with Shutterstock content, what would I have to pay for in the end? The bottom line: you can create, save, and share the content, but you’ll need to pay if you want to download what you’ve made.

Once your compilation is together, you can save it and share it with a unique link. When you’re ready to purchase, there are three options. You can add the clips and tracks to your carts via the tooltip within the timeline, as well as through your search results where there is a cart button beneath each clip, or through the modal which contains more details on each clip or track.

Pricing on these clips, as of right now, is about $49 for music clips, while video pricing ranges from $19 for a low-resolution video clip up to $79 for HD video clips (or even more for a 4K clip). If you’re a heavy buyer of clips, Catherine assures that there are volume discounts.

Shutterstock Instant

The best way to understand the Shutterstock Instant tool is that it is identical to Google Instant How To Permanently Disable Google Instant & Google Suggest Read More , except it’s for images.

The bottom line is, as you type in your search term, it displays the most relevant images from the Shutterstock website as you type, plus it provides a dropdown of similar terms that you probably mean to search for.


It’s actually a pretty useful tool. So useful, in fact, that I may personally switch over to using Shutterstock Instant rather than the site’s main search page for finding images to insert into my own articles.

Because it uses the same sort of relevant search phrase algorithm as Google Instant, it makes finding images related to your topic easier — because you may not really know the exact search term to find the images you want, but the Instant dropdown can help jog your memory.

Shutterstock People

The People search tool is to people what the color search tool is to the color spectrum. With this tool, you can choose the number, gender, race and even the age of the people who are shown in the photo.

For example, if you want images that feature two East Asian people, just use the two dropdowns for number and ethnicity and you’ll be presented with a boatload of photos that fit the parameters.


When I first saw this tool, my first thought was that this was some kind of really cool image recognition algorithm that was able to identify ethnicity and gender right from the photos. Pretty cool stuff! Unfortunately, according to Catherine, the solution used by Shutterstock was a bit more mundane.

“It [age, gender, and ethnicity] is based off the data our contributors provide us when they submit the images for review.”

In other words, metadata. Duh. I think I’ve been writing for the Future Tech MakeUseOf section a little too long…

As you can see, the tools offered at Shutterstock Labs enhance the process of searching for images quite a bit. At the very least, it offers you a few more fun ways to sift through the thousands of images, vectors, illustrations and video clips found there.

Are you a Shutterstock user? Do you think the Labs section adds value to the site? Would you use them more often than the main search page? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Related topics: Image Search, Stock Photos, Video Search, Web Design.

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