I love iStock Photo Dot Com. I seriously love it.It does cost a little bit of money, but more than worth it.
Another site I love is sxc.hu - it's mostly free. People load their pictures on their for everyone to use! Gotta love the creative commons agreements. For the longest I just called the site S-X-C until a friend of mine mentioned that she was checking out the SEXY site... never realized the whole similar sounding word and initials before... my bad.
Another great place to grab creative commons, royalty free pics is if you do an advance search in Flickr and you check off these appropriate boxes on the bottom:
One thing I don't like about stock images is and should be a simple rule for anyone that goes into the design/production world.
Don't pass off someone else's work as your own.
For instance, let's say someone does a composition like this one...
And then they say that it's TOTALLY UNIQUE. UNLIKE ANYTHING ELSE that's out there. They give it to the client promising NO ONE else has this image. The client then finds this same image on tonnes of other peoples websites, brochures, business cards, etc. What do you think that client would want to tell the design team they hired? That design firm/team would be outright liars. Unless they were the ones that loaded the image/vector to the stock site, they are lying. They are calling someone else's work their own.
SO, am I saying don't use stock photos/vectors - NO! I would be contradicting myself. I say use stock photos and vectors. They can be a huge time saver. They can save you huge travel costs for that one shot of Iceland you will use ONCE. **One thing I love about buying stock vectors is seeing how the person(s) did their work on the Illustrator file. Always cool to see the project files!
BUT, begin making your own resource library. Create stuff ALL THE TIME, for yourself. 1. It will help you get better at your work because you will try new things. 2. You will build up a library of some cool stuff that you can look back on what you did.
So don't rip off stock and call it your own. Use it when needed, but take a chance and do your own work. You'll only be better for it.
Cheers, Matthew A. Hawkins