How to best use stock photos

In the era of ever-increasing competition, having time to add new and customized photographs for your projects can be quite unnerving. We all are aware of the importance of images in marketing. If I talk about blog posts alone, statistics show that posts that include visuals, produce 650% more engagement in comparison to ones that only have text.

While creative photography can be fun, it consumes time and money. That is why stock images can be so helpful for the busy bees out there. The question is, are stock images good for your brand? 

Undoubtedly, high-quality stock photos are beneficial in your design and branding efforts. Still, you have to learn how to best use stock photos correctly and wisely. 

Key considerations for how to best use stock images

Whether you choose free or paid stock images, there are various rules for using them. My detailed guide, “Ultimate Guide to Rules for Using Stock Photos,” covers them in detail. Let me give you a few essential considerations below:


You should not use images just for the sake of displaying them.

Remember to use images that relate to your content or brand. They should be relevant and appealing. 

Understand licensing terms

When it comes to stock images, it is crucial that you go through their licensing terms.

Some of the licensing options include; royalty-free, rights-managed, creative commons, commercial use, and editorial use. 

It would help if you did some research on the specific image which you will be using, including checking out its licensing option. 

Check legality

Whether you are using free stock photos or paid ones, it is necessary to check their legality. 

Before you use the image, check the usage clauses, the image permissions, and alteration standards. 

Look out for the credit attributions as well — some stock photo websites like Unsplash request to credit the author when you download any image; however, it is not mandatory. 

The idea behind these considerations is simple. When you use any image you don’t own, you should be careful. You have to make sure that you are not violating any copyright law. 

Talking about copyright laws, it reminds me of the case fought by Getty images. It started when the photojournalist Daniel Morel uploaded the pictures of Haiti earthquake on Twitter. 

A press agency by the name of “AFP” used these photos without permission. There was another person who used Morel’s work using Getty images without copyright.

As a result of this copyright violation, Getty images and AFP had to pay 1.2 million dollars in compensation.

Licensing options

Each stock photo website is different and has different licensing options. You have to understand the image copyright, licensing terms, and usage rules, to avoid costly legal battles.

You might be thinking that understanding licensing agreements is a tough nut to crack. I agree with you. However, if you recognize the simple components and terms, then it will support you in making better choices. It’s also quite helpful to know these details if you might be looking to sell your photos

Let me help you understand some of the licensing options. 


There is a misconception about royalty-free images that they are free. When we say royalty-free images, it doesn’t mean free. The word “free” here means that after paying the license fee, you don’t have to pay extra royalties to any agency or image owner. 

In simple words, using the royalty-free license, you have to pay once, and you can use the image multiple times. 

The images are low in cost, so they are ideal for consumers on a budget. 

Commercial use

You can use stock images for brochures, ad campaigns, websites, print, or digital media if they lie under the commercial use license. You can also use these images for blogs, videos, and social media. 

Creative commons

Creative commons is a non-profitable organization that provides free copyright licenses. It allows you to use the work under the creator’s conditions. If you use a creative commons licensed photo in which the photographer has to be credited, then you should ensure the photographer is credited.  

Editorial use

The images under the editorial use license can be used for news or articles, but you cannot use these images commercially. 

Rights managed

Rights-managed images allow you to use images for a specified period, after which you have to pay again. 

If you use the image after license expiration, then you’re infringing the terms of the agreement. 

These days, I see a lot of bloggers using images from free photo websites such as Unsplash and Pixabay. Generally, using images from these sites is harmless but I recommend that you check out the licensing details and terms and conditions of these sites before using the images. 

Some free photo sites do not have proper verification procedures to ensure that the image is from the copyright holder. And if you end up using a stolen image, you could land in trouble.

These days, there are many online tools through which photographers and image creators can track down offenders who violate image copyrights.

Here’s a parting tip, crediting the image source on your blog is always a safer practice to avoid copyright infringement.

This guest blog article was written by Amos Struck, a stock photo entrepreneur, expert and consultant who works at, a digital magazine dedicated to the stock photography industry. Follow him on Twitter @amosstruck.