Some people only discover the world of stock photos when they first find themselves needing images for a project. A new website for their company, imagery to revamp social media channels, marketing campaigns, and so on.
And while many can immediately recognize the value in stock images for creative design and commercial projects, they are often unsure about how stock photos work and how can they be used.
Is it your case? Then you're in the right place!
At StockPhotoSecrets we've put together a super simple yet in-depth guide with all you need to know about stock photos, from what they are to how you can benefit from them, to where to get them. Dive in!
How Do Stock Photos Work: A Comprehensive Guide for New Buyers
Stock photos are photographs that you can buy and use in your own projects, without having to commission a photographer and therefore spending much less money and saving a lot of time.
Let's get the details straight:
What are Stock Photos?
Stock photos are photographs that are already taken, edited, and ready to be used. But are stock images free to use?
A big and resounding NO. The photographer or author of a stock photo makes it available for licensing, meaning you can pay a fee to get the right to use the stock image in your designs legally.
One of the most popular license types is that of Royalty Free, which gives a wide range of usage rights over one stock image for a very low cost. Royalty Free images are also amongst the most affordable. But there are other models, such as the Rights Managed license that is more controlled and also more expensive.
Commonly, authors submit their photos to stock photography agencies, companies that offer big digital catalogs full of images that you can pay online and download directly from their stock photography websites. You buy from the agency, and they split the profit with the photographer.
Stock images are not limited to photographs, you can find illustrations and vector files –including design templates for social media or print materials, customizable infographics, and illustrations–, plus video clips, soundtracks, and more.
What are Royalty-Free Stock Photos?
You probably guessed this one. They are photos under a Royalty Free license. This license is one of the most popular in the stock photography industry, because of its flexibility and low cost. Royalty free images are by far the most convenient resource for creatives.
A royalty-Free license is customized for every stock photo site, but in general terms, it gives you the right to use any image in commercial, editorial, and personal projects, without any limitations regarding geographic area or duration.
Plus, it's a one-time-only fee (This is what its name means, which should NEVER be mistaken for them being free photos: Royalty-Free photos are NOT FREE).
This means that you pay for the image once, and you get to use it however you want, wherever you want, and for as long as you want. The best is that as the same image can be licensed over and over, the license price tends to be very low, within $1 to $15 on average, and even less than $1 each with subscription plans.
It's important to note that what you are buying when you buy stock photos is a license that gives you the right to use them in your work. You are not acquiring ownership of the image, the author still holds the copyright for it.
Where Can I Buy Stock Photos? Are there any Free Trials?
The best place to buy stock photos is at stock photo agencies online. The most popular ones have digital stock photo libraries with millions of images to choose from, all high quality and ready to be downloaded in a few simple clicks.
Note: Make sure to choose a legitimate stock photo company, that is trustworthy and serious about their business.
Most of these catalogs on stock photo websites are searchable by keywords and include advanced filters for narrowing results, so you not only have a variety of content but also easy access to it.
Best of all these stock photo companies have very affordable prices, and options to buy images one by one, or in bulk and save in the long run.
How Can I Use Stock Photos?
When you buy Royalty Free stock photos from reliable agencies, there are very few restrictions on what you can do with them. Here's how to use stock photos legally:
You can use stock images for all kinds of marketing and business-related purposes: landing pages for your products, social media images for your channels, newsletter images for your campaigns, and even stationery design.
You can also use them in editorial work, such as in publications and book illustrations, for example. If the photos are labeled as Editorial, you can only use them for this end (never commercially). Plus, with an extended license (available at most agencies too) you can also use the images in products for resale, earning your potential income.
There are virtually no creative limits for editing stock images. From removing backgrounds to replace them or creating cutouts, to cropping, resizing, color-changing, and beyond.
The limitations in the usage of stock photos mostly refer to illegal or morally questionable topics. You cannot use images in content that refers to illegal activity or sensitive matters, like racism or violence. And of course, you cannot resell or redistribute the photos as they are, to anyone. Remember, you are not the owner of the photos, you only own a license to use them.
Stock Photos Basic FAQ
Here we answer the most common questions about stock photos, including some quick tips to use them right:
How do stock pictures work?
Stock images are pictures already created and available for license at stock agencies. You acquire a license that gives you permission to use a stock image in certain ways, including commercial usage.
How can I legally use stock photos?
By licensing them. You buy them from a stock photo agency and download them directly from its website. That way they're covered by the stock photo site's license agreement and you can use them in all the ways accepted by royalty free licenses, including commercial purposes such as marketing materials and more, legally.
Can you make money through stock photos?
Yes, can sell your own photos at stock photo agencies and make money from buyers purchasing licenses to your images online. If you are interested in this, read our honest guide to selling photos online.
Why you shouldn't use stock images?
Stock imagery has its detractors. Some people will tell you not to use stock photography because bad stock images ruin your brand, because everyone ends up using the same photo for the same purposes, or because image licensing is confusing.
While it might be true that getting custom imagery for your visuals has its advantages, the reality is that stock photo sites today have high resolution photos, and most stock photos in any serious stock library feature real world setups, natural poses, and modern concepts that hit your target audience efficiently.
Is a royalty free image better than a free stock image?
Yes, 100%. While other websites out there offer stock photos you can download and use without paying, there are a few things to know.
1. Free images are still licensed. They're usually under Creative Commons licenses that enable free use
2. The free photo sites don't always police the images people offer on their platforms. Many images available on them might not have a proper model release for the people it depicts, or not be authorized by the copyright holder. Thus, despite being licensed, they're still not legal to use – this may be less risky for editorial purposes but it's a big risk for commercial use
3. They are not always high quality photos and you may not find the creative assets you need at these sites
Are rights managed images the same as royalty free?
No. Rights Managed licenses are different than royalty-free. These are custom licenses, tailored for the intended use of the buyer. The contract includes details on the mediums, the regions, the number of projects, and the duration for which you intend to use the picture. And you may also get exclusive use of the image for a certain period of time (something you can't do with royalty free photos). For this reason, they come at a much higher price point.
Sometimes, it's possible to find the same images under royalty free and rights managed license options.
What's In for Me in Using Stock Photos?
What is not in for you, should be the question! By using stock photos, you can solve a lot of your graphic design needs at once, in a very efficient and low-cost solution.
For one, you can get the high quality images that you need right away, without having to wait for a photographer to shoot them, edit them, and hand them to you. They are online and ready to be downloaded and used. Add to that, that they are a high-converting resource for all marketing purposes, and as varied and current as they could be. For example, you can find great photos of diverse people without having to dig much for them. And you can find the perfect images to address specific target groups, like baby boomers or millennials, or particular subjects like families or business-themed images, all in one place.
Secondly, they also save you a lot of money. The cost of hiring a professional photographer to do a custom shoot for you is way, was higher than the $15 or so that you would spend buying a stock photo. Let alone that if you get a subscription, or you buy a bunch of them at once, you can get them for as low as a few cents each.
And lastly, stock photo companies do a great job making it easy for you to find the stunning photos you are after. They incorporate advanced search engines with reverse image search and even AI-powered technology, among other perks, so you can navigate all the photos they have and identify the perfect one for you in a matter of seconds.
Using stock photos you can have professional-looking designs for your adverts, your website, your presentations, and many other projects, without breaking the bank and without taking any legal risks.
It's a super useful resource for small to medium businesses, startups, beginner professionals, and any other person needing professional, high-quality photography right away and at affordable rates.
If you are interested in finding a manual for the correct use of stock photos, our brand-new guide to rules for using stock photos might be a great help for you.
What are you going to use stock photos for? Let us know in the comments!
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