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Stock Photos – The Basics You Should be Aware Of

Images are used as part of promotional tools by everyone, from large corporations to small eCommerce stores.

Billions of images are seen all around the world on websites, newspapers, and magazines. The question is, where do these images come from?

You might be surprised to know that most of them come from stock photography. Of course, advertising anything like beauty products, smartphones, or cars require brand-specific photos that need to be specifically created for that purpose. But most other kinds of promotional pieces requiring visuals use stock photography.

Stock images are available to license as either royalty-free or rights managed. If you are looking to purchase images from a stock photography agency, you should have a basic idea about what they mean.

Before I go into the basic details of royalty-free and rights-managed images, let’s look into the catch of using images from free photo websites.

The Risk of using Images from Free Photo Websites?

You might be thinking about what is the need to purchase images when you have so many websites offering free high-quality photos.

The issue is that a number of websites giving out free photos do not ensure proper verification. A photographer may upload another person’s work on a free photo site, and the website might make it available for download without verifying if that person was the copyright holder.

If you end up using such an image, you can land in trouble. You may end up facing legal issues especially if the photo is used for commercial purposes. Also, you must be careful when using images in which people’s faces can be recognized.

You cannot use these images unless there is a legal right waiving document (model release) where people agree that their image can be used.

What are Royalty-Free Photos?

You may have heard of the term royalty-free photographs. 

The question is, are these photographs free of cost as the name seems to suggest? And what does it really mean to purchase royalty-free photos? 

In stock photography, the term royalty-free is attributed to images whose creator grants the rights of reselling the photographs to an agent (usually a stock photography agency)

The stock photography agency can resell the images to a buyer at a one-time cost. Whenever a photograph is sold, a certain agreed-upon commission is paid to the photographer.

The buyers can use the images for as long they want without paying any additional amount (also called royalty) to the photographer.

By purchasing royalty-free photographs, you do not need to worry about the copyrights of these images, and you can use them for as long as you want.

Do You have Exclusive Rights to the Images You Buy?

Purchasing royalty-free images doesn’t give you the sole rights to these photographs.

The content creators are the copyright holders who can sell their work via other agencies, and they may also send their photographs directly to individuals.

Restrictions to Royalty-Free Images

Some restrictions usually come with royalty-free images, which you must be aware of.

  • If you are looking to use the images for commercial purposes, then you may need to purchase an extended license. This means you cannot use the image to be printed and sold on items such as T-shirts, Mugs, bags, etc.
  • You can’t resell the image to other agencies or individuals because you are not the copyright holder.

The above restrictions are the most common ones. Still, there may be other limitations that may vary from one seller to another. It’s essential that before purchasing royalty-free images from an agency, you read their license terms.

What are Rights Managed Images?

If you are looking for exclusive rights to a photo for a particular project, you have the option to purchase a rights managed license for a stock image.

Under a rights-managed agreement, you can get exclusive or non-exclusive rights to a photo. But once you have used the image for a particular project, you would need to re-license it for use in a new one. 

For Example, you may purchase an image and use it for advertising your online store via posters. But if you want to use the same image on a brochure, you would need to purchase a new license agreement stating the rights for brochure distribution.

Intended Use of Rights Managed Images

Prior to purchasing a rights managed image from a stock photo agency, you must explain what the purpose of the image is. Usually, you will be required to give out details such as 

  • Length of time the image is to be used
  • Location the image is to be used/distributed in
  • Purpose of Use
  • Image resolution and size

Looking to build an image of your company and do not want other businesses using the same photographs? 

Then rights managed photos with exclusive rights are worth going for. However, you would need to pay more as compared to royalty-free images.

Do Stock Photo Agencies Offer Free Images?

Since you may not have the need or budget to purchase photos, most stock photo agencies also provide free of cost images. 

In some cases, the agency may give the photo at a lower resolution for free. Still, you would have to pay to get the high-resolution image.

But keep in mind that these images are still under copyright, and you should review the license terms prior to their usage.

I hope I’ve been able to provide some insights into stock photography that perhaps you were not aware of before.

About the author


Amos Struck

Amos Struck is a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. He focuses on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors, and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. He is a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. Amos is passionate about technology, marketing, and visual imagery. He also holds a keen interest in WordPress related news and articles. He is a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. Amos is passionate about technology, marketing, and visual imagery. He also holds a keen interest in WordPress related news and articles.