Stock imagery is professional photography of anything from people to landscapes and still life that can be licensed. These images can be purchased for use on anything from personal projects to commercial projects.  However, each image comes with very specific licensing and usage rights, so I’m going to break it down for you.

Why do I need to purchase stock images?  Can’t I just take them from Google?

Photography, like music or movies, is subject to copyright infringement via the internet.  Using a photo that you don’t have permissions for in anything from an advertisement to a blog header can result in some nasty legal battles.  Sure, you can pull images off Google for your desktop background or personal projects.  But, any time you plan to use those images for your business, on your website, in emails or in marketing, you’ll need to be sure you have commercial rights to those images.  Commercial use is anything that can be attributed to your business, whatever that business may be.  The same way it is illegal to download movies from the internet, it is illegal to use a photograph without purchasing the rights.  There are several different kinds of licensing, as well as some free options, so don’t fret!

Royalty Free vs. Rights Managed Stock Imagery

When purchasing a stock image, there are two primary types of licensing you will see: royalty free and rights managed.  Royalty free is the cheaper and easier way to go, for sure.  Royalty free means you pay a one-time rate to purchase the image, and can use it again and again.  Rights managed images are a single-use purchase, and the rate is determined by use, size and number of views.  The rights on these images expire, and agencies search the internet for images infringing on their rights.  Royalty free grants you access and use to the image for many platforms and uses, and lasts forever.  Don’t get yourself in a legal battle because of a rights managed image, it’s just not worth it!  It’s best to read the terms and licensing for an image before you purchase it so you’re aware of the usage rights and attributions that are necessary.

Creative Commons

The Creative Commons is a public copyright that allows for the free use of images for any purpose.  Read the licensing of the Creative Commons here.  It’s not just limited to photography, as there is a variety of areas and partners that participate in the commons.  The goal of the Creative Commons is to create a large, professional and vibrant network of usable digital assets for free.  Artists and photographers submit their work to the Creative Commons as a way to help each other out, gain traffic and attention and to share their work with others.

The stock imagery that falls under the Creative Commons license is free for you to use wherever you want – for personal OR commercial use.  However, the photographer may ask for you to attribute it or link back to them because it is free.  The best part is that you are free to edit, modify and distribute the photos in any way you’d like!  Finally, check out this list of my favorite sites to source Creative Commons imagery: