Exclusive rights for a stock photo are only necessary for a few situations. Learn about licensing fees, types, how they work, and what your project will need.
If you’re hesitant to invest in stock images, it might be because you don’t want to buy the rights to an image, only to see it show up in another business’s ad or marketing materials. Don’t worry – there are many ways you can avoid a situation like this.
Many people believe the only way to avoid this is to purchase exclusive rights for a stock photo. And, while some stock photography agencies – like Dreamstime – allow you to do that, it may not be the only option for your project.
In this guide, we’re breaking down stock photo licensing types, where to find stock photos under those licensing types, and show you how to tell what kind of image licensing your project will need.
Purchasing exclusive rights for a stock photo means you are claiming an image for your own from that point on. This means that the image may have been used in the past by others, but won’t be able to be used by anyone else in the future. No one else can ever use it, for any project, and you hold the rights to it forever. As you can imagine, these rights come at a higher cost.
While purchasing exclusive rights for a stock photo can be pricey, it’s – in many cases – much less of a time and financial commitment than hiring a professional photographer, models and finding the right location for a photoshoot to get the images you want for your business.
It’s important to note that, while buying exclusive rights for a stock photo gets you ownership of that image, it often does not include copyright. That remains with the original photographer of the work.
Exclusive rights might be the right choice for you if you are selecting an image to use in prominent branding materials, like your logo, or if there is a very memorable image you only want to be associated with your brand.
- Best for: Situations where you want the exclusive rights for a stock photo forever and want to be the only one to ever use it, without the chance that a competitor will, too.
Where can I buy exclusive rights for a stock photo?
Not all stock photography agencies offer exclusive rights for a stock photo as an option, so here are three stock agencies that can help you get what you’re looking for:
iStock, a prominent name in the stock photography industry, offers a unique service, iStock Signature. This service caters to brands seeking one-of-a-kind visuals for their campaigns. The exceptional curation, flexibility in licensing, and surprisingly affordable pricing sets iStock Signature apart in the world of premium stock images. If you're aiming for exclusive content, this segment of iStock could be your ultimate solution.
Read our article here to learn more about iStock Signature and its potential to enhance your brand's narratives.
We invite you to read our comprehensive review of iStock Signature and don't forget to take advantage of our special, time-limited coupon code.
Shutterstock – Custom Pricing for Exclusive Rights Images
Also well-known in the stock photography industry is Shutterstock. If you want to purchase exclusive rights for a stock photo through their platform, Shutterstock will work with you and the original image creator to work out a pricing agreement. You’ll have to contact them directly to use their content exclusively.
Dreamstime – Exclusive Stock Images On Demand
Dreamstime’s exclusive SR-EL license permits you total ownership of any images you purchase under it. They even commit to removing those images from their stock library within 72 hours of purchase to help protect your exclusive rights. Dreamstime is also the only agency that permits you to trademark images purchased, which makes it an ideal source for brands or businesses developing new or revamped logos.
Getty Images – Huge Library From a World-Renown Source
Getty Images is arguably the most recognized stock photo agency in the world. Well-known for its wide library of subjects and decades in the stock photography industry, Getty Images does permit the purchase of exclusive rights for a stock photo. To buy, you’ll need to contact Getty Images directly for more information.
If exclusive rights are more than you need, a rights-managed license might be what you’re looking for.
Rights-managed is one of the most common image licensing types for commercial use stock photos. Stock images under this license agreement are typically priced on a per-use basis, so for each project you use the image for, you pay a fee.
For example, you can pay to be the only one to use an image in a brochure for a certain amount of time. If you also want to be the only brand or business to use that image on a billboard, you’d have to pay again for that right.
Rights-managed stock photography is available for larger-scale companies who want exclusive rights for a stock photo to use in a certain way and for a limited amount of time.
While this can add up and become pricer than the more common royalty-free stock photography license, it also allows you exclusive rights to that image as long as your rights-managed license agreement is good for. This license type is typically less expensive than purchasing exclusive rights for a stock photo while maintaining many similar benefits.
For example, let’s say you are working on a website for a Mexican restaurant chain. If you don’t want to compete for Mexican restaurant chains to start using the same image on their websites, a rights-managed stock photography license can prevent that.
- Best for High-profile companies that don’t want competing brands to use the same image they are in a specific marketing campaign, but don’t need the usage rights to it forever.
Where can I buy rights-managed stock photos?
Many stock photo agencies offer rights-managed licenses for images, but because it’s such a large investment, we have just one recommendation for you:
Getty Images – Rights-Managed Images of Striking Quality
Highly-renowned in the stock photography industry, Getty Images is the best source for rights-managed licenses for your commercial projects. Their collection boasts millions of images from award-winning photographers from around the world. For high-quality, commercial-use photos under a rights-managed license, there’s no better source than Getty Images. Begin searching for rights-managed stock images from Getty Images now! Read our complete review of Getty Images for more information on this exclusive stock photography agency.
While they are less expensive than exclusive usage rights for a stock photo, rights-managed images are still pricey. If you are looking for a more budget-friendly option, royalty-free stock photos may be right for you.
Royalty-free is the other most common type of stock photography license for commercial projects. These are much more affordable than the two above options because they are not for exclusive use.
Royalty-free stock photos – often misunderstood for being “free to use” images – are stock photos you pay once to use, and once you’ve paid the one-time fee, you have the right to use it as many times as you like in a number of projects with very few limitations.
For example, if you are a local coffee roaster, you likely want a bank of stock photos you can use for multiple projects that won’t cost you every time you use them. Once you purchase and download your image, you can use it on business cards, posters, websites, social media posts, and ads – whatever you need to promote your business.
Worried about using an image, only to see it show up in a competitor’s marketing, too? Don’t worry – there are millions of stock photos available under royalty-free licenses, and you can find some truly unique ones out there. It is highly unlikely that a competitor will use the same image in their marketing materials, too. Just in case – you can check out the most downloaded images in 2018 for anti-inspiration.
- Best for: Small brands or businesses with smaller budgets for stock photography who want to make the most out of each image purchased.
Where can I buy royalty-free stock photos?
There are dozens of stock agencies that offer royalty-free stock photos at a great price point. Here are our top recommendations for royalty-free licensed images:
Stockphotos.com – Quality Stock Images for Small and Mid-Sized Businesses
Stockphotos.com was specially crafted with small and mid-sized businesses in mind. With images available at prices as low as $0.20 each, this stock photography agency is ideal for those looking to get the most from their money. Their library of over 8 million – and counting – fantastic royalty-free stock photos is only a click away.
Shutterstock – Large Library from a Reputable Source
Shutterstock has one of the largest libraries of royalty-free stock photos on the web. With 220 million images to choose from and counting, there’s a picture for every industry to be found through Shutterstock. You can choose between image packs or subscription services to find royalty-free stock photos that meet your needs.
iStock – Microstock Agency with Big Offerings
A microstock agency from Getty Images, iStock sells royalty-free stock photos through credit packs and subscriptions. The more credits you purchase at once, the cheaper each image will cost. This curated site is very budget-friendly, whether you need just one image or 100.
And what's even better, they have a collection with millions of exclusive stock photos you can only find on their website.
Adobe Stock – Great for Creatives and Designers
Adobe Stock is a graphic designer’s best friend. Conveniently set up within Adobe’s Creative Cloud, you can access stock photos by global creatives under a royalty-free license. You have the ability to test images before purchasing them, which makes them ideal for designers and business owners creating their own marketing materials.
Read our full review for more information and get 10 FREE images from Adobe Stock with this step-by-step guide.
Photocase – Unique and Candid Stock Photos
Photocase, based in Berlin, has ultra-strict policies for its creators, which means its small stock photo collection is of the highest quality. This is the best platform for unique imagery because it isn’t as well known as some of the larger libraries out there. Prices for these images range from $14 to $42, depending on how large of a file size you need your photos to be.
Free stock photos have the widest range of license differences. Just because an image is free doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want with it, so be sure to check the image licensing fee agreements from each free stock photo site before using them in commercial projects.
Additionally, free stock photos come in all different sizes – so some may work for print projects, but others may not. Double-check the resolution before ordering expensive marketing materials!
Where can I find free stock photos?
There are many sources for free stock photos – luckily for you, we’ve compiled a list of the 27+ best free stock imagery sites for 2019 to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. Enjoy the hunt!
Exclusive rights for a stock photo are only necessary if you want to own an image forever, and never have anyone else use it for projects – commercial or otherwise. It’s usually only necessary for large-scale companies with big marketing budgets and high national or global visibility, and the best place to source these kinds of photos is Getty Images.
If you are concerned about competitors using the same image as you but have a smaller marketing budget you can go with rights-managed or royalty-free licensed images as a more affordable option.
If you have little to no budget for stock photography, you can try free stock photos – but be warned, they are very common, have vastly different image resolutions, and you need to check image licensing agreements before making changes or using them in prominent marketing materials – like your logo.