What are Stock Photos Used For? Expert Answers to your Questions!

Stock photos. The term is a bit self-explanatory and even if it's not as evident, explanations on what stock photos are not hard to come by (if you want the best, check ours of course!). But once you know what they are, more questions are raised: what are stock photos used for? Why would anyone want to get stock photos in the first place? What's their use, who do they benefit from, and how? Where can I get photos which are not stock photography?

Well, we are named StockPhotoSecrets for a reason! We have all the answers to these inquiries, and here we will share with you all the insights on the possible uses for stock photos and their main benefits for businesses, designers, and publishers. Read on!

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What Are Stock Photos Used For?

Stock photos are used exactly the same as commissioned photos: to enhance the effectiveness and the impact of different content targeted at various audiences. 

Stock photos are largely used in all kinds of commercial, editorial, entertainment, and artistic endeavors because they have a higher impact on these projects' target audiences.

As the saying goes, “a picture's worth a thousand words”. And they certainly do! Every day, more and more of the latest research point out that human being has a greater and more meaningful response to images than to text or sound. Visual stimulation improves communication, making it a more effective and efficient way to send out messages to a large public.

Because of this, photography and still imagery is a key to branding, marketing, advertising, publishing, and artistic productions. If you want to catch the viewer's eye, you must use images. Stock photos are a very convenient resource for this.

Why Are Stock Photos Used?

There are two main reasons to use stock photos for your projects instead of hiring a photographer to shoot custom photos for you:

  • They save time: stock photos are already created, post-edited, and ready to be downloaded and used.
  • They save money: stock photos, especially those under a Royalty Free license (which you can learn all about here), come at a much, much lower cost than that of hiring the services of a photographer.

With stock photos, you simply pay for an image, download it and use it (it can take as little as seconds!) instead of having to wait for a photographer's turnaround time, which can be significantly longer according to the project's specifics. Plus Royalty Free is a one-time-pay license model with very flexible usage rights, and the price falls at way under $10 per image, versus the hundreds or even thousands it would cost to commission a photo shoot. There are other additional benefits, but these two points are enough for every day more customers to choose stock photos for their projects.

How to edit stock photos: 13 Pro Image Editing Tips for Beginners

How are Stock Photos Used?

Stock photos have endless potential uses, but they all fall within two main and very distinctive categories:

Commercial Use

Commercial usage of stock photos refers to any project where the main goal is to generate profit. For stock photos to be suitable for this use (and most of them are), they must have all rights cleared, including model and property releases. But how to make money with stock photography? Some of the most common commercial uses for stock photos are:

  • Marketing & Advertising
  • Branding
  • Social Media & Online Presence
  • Artistic Productions & Creative Projects (Decoration, etc.)
  • Corporatize Identity
  • Business Supporting Material (Presentations, etc.)
  • Products for Resale (T-shirts, Packaging, etc.) – This use requires an Extended license, about which you can learn more here. 

The realm of possible uses of stock photos in this category is almost as big as your imagination goes. Your website design, your next marketing campaign, your business presentations, your social media posts, the banners and posters to decorate your store, a new t-shirt print to sell in your e-shop… You name it, stock photos can do it.

Editorial Use

Editorial use of stock photos implies using them to illustrate or accompany editorial content, and not pursuing profitability directly. Some main editorial uses are:

  • News coverage: newspapers and magazine articles, broadcasted news reports, etc.
  • Illustrating and accompanying content: articles for magazines, blogs, textbooks, etc.

Given its not-for-profit nature, editorial stock photos include a lot of topics and content that cannot be used commercially due to their rights not being cleared: images of large crowds of people, famous landmarks and landscapes, trademarked events, celebrities, and recognizable people, etc. where model and property releases are absent. If you were to use any of those photos commercially, you would need to have those rights cleared first.

Remember: while most commercial-labeled stock photos can be used for editorial purposes, the opposite is NOT valid. You can NEVER use Editorial stock photos for commercial projects.

Knowing these main uses is key to knowing how to use stock photos legally.

Where are Stock Photos Obtained?

One of the best places to get professional stock photos are online stock photo agencies. These are image banks specializing in selling Royalty Free photography, and they provide a very serious and reliable service.

You cannot forget that stock photos (as every other photo or image, really) are subject to copyright, property right, and privacy rights laws, so having a professional company verify the legal status of the photos they offer is key. Same for quality: all agencies review the photos they will later put up for sale, granting their technical suitability and commercial value.

Plus, all stock photo agencies (or the ones worth knowing) have their large catalog of images, some with up to 100 million of them, available online on their websites. You can search and download photos from their libraries with a few simple clicks.

Even more, they sell stock photos at very affordable prices. With on-demand options ranging from $1 to $15 per photo, and subscription plans costing as little as $0.26 per download, they are a very convenient resource to get images for your projects without breaking the bank.

Check our list of the Top Stock Photo Agencies to buy from, and don't forget to visit our Coupons list to find exclusive offers and deals to save more on your purchase!

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Now you know what is stock photography used for, why, how, and where to get them at the best possible price, and with the best bonuses, it's all about getting hands down to business and buying some cool images for your next designs!

Amos Struck
Amos Struck

I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography like WordPress plugins. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

  1. How is a potential user of photographs supposed to know if they are “stock photos” such that a license would be needed?

    • In general users should know that they can not use a single image without either permission (written or verbal) or with a proper license. No need to know if this is a stock photo or not. Stock photos are just easier to use – comparable to a ready to eat food item where a normal photo would need the permission of the photographer etc.. It would take much longer to get it. So it’s more like “fast food” to “farmers market” where you negotiate a license deal per photo with every different photographer. Hope that helps!

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Stock Photo Secrets