There’s a lot of misunderstanding about stock photography.  This article is less for photographers and more for designers and out clients.  With that said, I’ve heard many people use the wrong terms when describing stock usage rights.

Royalty-free Does Not Equal Free

Let’s tackle the biggest misunderstanding. Don’t confuse royalty-free and free. A royalty-free image must still be purchased. This is how the photographer and distributor make money.

Royalty-free images can be a big savings because you can eliminate model releases, talent charges, location fees, travel, and many other costs associated with a photo shoot. However, keep in mind that someone had to pay those charges in the first place, and selling their pictures is their livelihood. Remember to pay for what you use. It’s the professionally responsible way, as well as the law.


Factors When Choosing a Stock Photo Service

Professionals find it is often necessary to purchase images to complete their projects. Whether its a shot of a sports car for a magazine layout, a photo of a handshake for a PowerPoint presentation, or the Chicago skyline for the cover of a book, stock photo services can help. But finding the right stock photo service is a balancing act. You must consider several factors when making a choice:

  • Cost. There is a lot of competition out there, and photos are priced accordingly. Some services offer annual subscriptions; others charge per image.
  • Resolution. Sites charge more for high-resolution images. Be sure to know how you’ll use the image. Web site designers will pay less for an image than someone designing an annual report. A Web site uses low-resolution images, whereas the report will be professionally printed and require high-resolution photos.
  • Exclusivity. Does the image need to be yours and yours alone? Or is it OK if the photo is also used in someone elses project? Images that have their usage rights managed cost significantly more. A rights-managed image has restrictions placed on who can use the image for a certain time period. In contrast, a royalty-free image is purchased once and can be used as many times as the designer desires.


Places to Get (or Sell) Stock Photos

Several stock photo sites are available to choose from. Here are some that offer high-quality images. Be sure to compare prices and usage rights to ensure they work for your project.  Additionally, these places also accept photographers and may be a good place to sell your work.


Public Domain Images

Id say, The best things in life are free, but that wouldn’t be accurate here. More appropriately, Why pay twice? The United States has several federal agencies that document their work and make it available to the public. This work was paid for with tax dollars, and the people of the United States own the work. Fortunately, through the Internet, the U.S. government is willing to share it with most of the world.

Ive created a portal page on my personal blog that points to the best government sites. These pages offer print-resolution images that you can use. Nearly every image is either copyright free or cleared for use, but you may be required to cite the source. Be sure to look at the terms of use posted on the site. Take the time to fully explore each site; you’ll be surprised by the wealth (and diversity) of available images.


Additionally, the folks at Pond5 have a cool search tool for public domain photos and video