Searching for Images or Clips

You are able to search through the images and clips in a number of different ways. The various search filters are available in the left hand panel of the search result page. On other pages, the most common search options are also always at hand in the search widget visible when you click on the keyword search field.

Keyword Search

The search engine on the SPL site scans the keywords, titles but not the captions. By default any search works in 'Fuzzy' mode and you can change it to 'Exact' mode in the sidebar on the search results page. A fuzzy match relies on a process called 'stemming' which reduces words with different suffixes, plurals etc. to a simplified form. This tends to collapse varying uses of the same word to a common prefix (e.g. 'educate', 'educating' and 'education' all become 'educ').

The phrase you enter in the 'Keywords' field can be written using the familiar Boolean operators 'and', 'or' and 'not'. Brackets can also be used to force the meaning of your phrase. For instance, one could search for 'galaxy or nebula', 'cell and not cancer', 'human and (appendix or liver)', 'mathematics or (physics and not theoretical)'. If a phrase contains spaces without operators, then the words will be joined with 'and' before a search is made. E.g. the phrase 'polluted river' will default to 'polluted and river'.

If you are aware of SPL Reference numbers, you can search for images directly by using the number as a keyword phrase. The search method in this case should be 'Keyword or image number' and you should note that Boolean operators will not work.

Search Filters

You can limit your keyword searches to one or more of our main seven categories:

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • Flowers
  • Healthcare
  • History
  • Science & Technology
  • Space

Other filters available are "High resolution images only" and "HD clips only".

Sort Result

There are three ways in which images or clips can be ordered:

  • Relevancy (default)
  • Bestsellers
  • Date added

The default ordering uses a mixture of the other two so that the images appearing in the first pages contain a mixture of best sellers images as well as recently added images that don't yet have any sales history.

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Working with Lightboxes

Lightboxes are areas that you can save images to between visits to the SPL site. SPL sales staff also have access to your lightboxes, so if you need to discuss a potential order, both you and the staff at SPL can view the same lightbox simultaneously whilst you talk. SPL sales staff also have the ability to create lightboxes, based on your search needs, so that you can view them in your Lightbox area.

New lightboxes can be created at the top of the Lightboxes page, whilst the details of existing lightboxes are displayed in the body of the page, along with the first six images in that lightbox. To view a lightbox, click on the relevant 'View Lightbox' button.

Once you have a lightbox set up, you can add comments by using the 'Add Note' function. To order some or all of the images that it contains select the 'Order Now' button. You can email a lightbox to an email address specified by you so that the recipient can view the images in your lightbox. You can email a lightbox to more than one recipient by separating the various email addresses with a comma. If your lightbox has some comments, these will appear to the email recipients. Finally, if the recipient of your email has an account on the SPL site, they will be able to add your lightbox to their collection of lightboxes. Lightboxes can also be deleted or renamed via the respective buttons for each lightbox.

Lightbox View

Your lightboxes have two viewing options: 'Thumbnails', where images are displayed as thumbnails; and 'Caption', where images are displayed larger and with accompanying caption, credit line, and SPL reference number. The two views can be accessed from the navigation bar above the main display area.

Within each lightbox images can be selected through the use of checkboxes, and functions performed on these selected images via the options at the top of the page. You can 'Select all' or 'Deselect all' using the links in the navigation bar at the top of the page. Images within a lightbox can be added to your current order, deleted, or copied to one of your other existing lightboxes. You can also change the number of images that you wish to view per page. A lightbox select menu allows you to jump directly to one of your other lightboxes. In the Caption view there is also a facility to add a comment to each individual image.

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File Sizes

Images can be ordered as digital high resolution or low resolution files. Royalty Free images are available in a range of file sizes from 0.5MB to 50+MB. At present RF images are not available for direct download from the site. Once you place an order for RF images an SPL member of staff will deliver the files to you. Clips are also at this stage not available for direct download, apart from the low resolution, watermarked QuickTime preview. Unwatermarked, broadcast quality clips will be delivered to you either by FTP or DVD.

Media Details

If you have selected to receive images as digital files, you can choose low resolution or high resolution formats. If you select low resolution, you can download the images after checkout has been completed, from a link on the order completed page (this is only available to approved users).

If you select high resolution files, you can receive images on a CD (delivered by post or courier), or directly from the website after checkout has been completed, from a link on the order completed page (this is only available to approved users).

High Resolution Images

Approved customers can download high resolution files that are already on the site. A licence fee will be charged for the images used in your project. Other customers can order high resolution files to be sent via CD/email. If you would like to become an approved customer, please telephone us on +44 (0) 20 7432 1100. For images that are not yet available at high resolution on the site, you can still order them as high resolution files, but there may be a delay of a few hours or longer or up to two days, depending on the number of images, before they can be delivered.

Although we make every effort to supply you with the images you have ordered, from time to time it may not be possible to find the exact image you have specified. In these instances we will always contact you to discuss providing you with an alternative image.

Motion Formats

We receive clips in a wide variety of formats, and we master them all to standard formats as they are ingested. The original and the master formats are explained in the clip's window. You can download the watermarked preview file of any clip by clicking on the link saying, “Download watermarked comp”.

Whatever the format of the original clip, we master it to match the following parameters:

  • QuickTime file (.mov)
  • 100% Photo JPEG compression
  • Progressive scan (deinterlaced if required)
  • Square pixels

The only exception is for clips that contain a transparent layer (an alpha channel) for compositing purposes. The Photo JPEG codec does not support this layer, and these clips are stored and delivered with Apple Animation codec.

Once you are a registered user, or use the e-commerce function, you can download these master files from our website. If you require the original version of the clip, or any other format, please contact us, at

Special Requests

If you have any special requests regarding image selection or delivery, then please enter your comments into the area provided. This information will be sent with your order to the SPL sales staff. For instance you can use this field to let us know if your project has any specific deadlines or if you have particular requirements for the size of the files or their format.

Delivery Addresses

At this stage you should check your delivery details, and if necessary change either your order contents or your personal details.

If you have chosen to receive images as high resolution files on CD, you must select your method of delivery: by post or by courier. You can also choose to receive images as they become available, or in one single delivery.

Search Service

If you don't find what you are looking for you can take advantage of our free Search Service. We have a team of experienced researchers working Monday-Friday from 9am-6pm (GMT) who can send you a selection of images or clips. There is no charge for this service.

Licence Compliance

Science Photo Library strives to protect the interests, intellectual property, and livelihoods of the contributors with whom we work, and for this purpose has mandated PicRights, ImageRights and StockFood to manage copyright compliance on our behalf.

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