Getting exclusive images - How does it work?

When getting your images online, you might be wondering what kind of rights you have over pictures. Especially when designing marketing materials such as ads or social posts, you want your brand to feel unique. But in order to do so, you might have to use pictures exclusive to your company. Why and how can you do it? Let’s find out.

Marketing fail - Dell & Gateway

Stock pictures are extremely accessible. They are cheap, easy to find, and easy to implement on your design. But here’s the problem. They are too accessible.

When you’re doing a reverse image search, chances are you will see the same image present in hundreds of different places. If you’re really unlucky, one of these will even be one of your competitors.

The perfect example is Jennifer Anderson. Back in 1996, Jennifer posed for a stock photo shoot shortly after graduating college and the nightmare started. As the image license was not exclusive and she represented the perfect “ordinary girl”, tens of companies started using her photos for their own marketing campaigns. From banks to auto insurances, through books about Christianity, her stock photos were everywhere.

The most infamous one was in 2004, when competitors Dell and Gateway used pictures from the same photo shoot in their “Back to School” marketing campaign. With both adverts looking so similar, consumers were not only confusing the two brands but also ridiculed them.

Source: CXL

Worth thinking twice about using a generic stock picture don’t you think? Or at least making sure that they are too widely used.


Is it always such a big deal?

Our favourite answer: it depends.
If you are planning on making a huge ad, then it’s preferable to use pictures on which you have exclusive rights, or at least know will not be widely used.

However, if you are planning on using stock images on a less visible part of your website for example, it’s really not a big deal. In a lot of cases, as long as you don’t make it a homepage banner or a massive advert, you should be pretty safe. There are now billions of stock pictures available online, 270 millions on Imageselect alone. Thus, chances are, your direct competitors will not be using the same pictures as you anyway.

In any case, you may still decide to “take the risk” to use stock images for a cheaper and easier design process. There are ways you can ensure to either secure exclusive rights, or pick images that are not so widely used.


Does buying a picture automatically grant me exclusive rights?

As much as we would like it to be so simple, the short answer is no.
Whether you will be the only user or not is highly dependent on what license the picture is regulated by, as chosen by the photographer or the subject.

When purchasing royalty free images for example, you are only buying for the quality of the image. Indeed, the price is often dependent on the resolution and therefore it might be cheaper to buy a 750px x 500px image than a 5400px x 3602px one.

On another hand, you can also purchase images under the “rights managed” license, which usually come at a higher price but might be available with an exclusive use clause.

How can I make sure no one is using the same picture?

Thankfully, there are many ways you can craft amazing marketing materials that look unique. From cheap to expensive methods, we identified the 4 best methods to make a one-of-a-kind advert:

1. Getting pictures with exclusive rights

Exclusive photo meaning

Getting exclusive photos means you will pay a premium price for an image, in exchange of which you will be able to be the sole user of the picture. So what are exclusive rights?

In some cases, photographers decide to grant the buyer exclusive rights after negotiation. Sometimes the terms even state that the author himself may then no longer use their own work afterwards. Although the image may have been used in the past by others, it won’t be able to be used by anyone else in the future, and you will forever be able to use the image exclusively.

How to get exclusive rights

In order to secure such exclusive rights, you must know what kind of license an image is regulated by. It might all come down to negotiating. Even if nothing states that exclusive rights are possible for a specific picture, having a quick chat with the photographer (or copyrights owner) can be a simple step to securing such rights.

Exclusive rights are usually granted under the Rights Managed license (RM), and stock photo agencies such as Imageselect may help you contact the photographer to negotiate the terms.

Exclusive photography prices

As you might expect, these rights generally come at a higher cost. However, It is usually still less of a time and financial constraint than hiring a professional photographer, models and location for a photoshoot to get the images you want.

Rights managed images might come at a higher price compared to royalty free pictures, but you only pay based on what you will use it for, depending on a few criterias:
- How long you will use the picture
- For what purpose
- How large your audience will be
- Display location

If you want to receive advice for your own project, do not hesitate to contact us. We will answer all your questions.

2. Sourcing your pictures from niche collections

If you’re reluctant to spend the extra money and especially if you need many pictures, you might consider simply getting your images from niche sources.

Although now most stock photography providers offer the same images, coming from mostly the same collections, there are a few providers out there that still offer unique images. That is especially useful if you are looking for images with a different style that you can use in a creative way.

Because you source your images from niche collections, chances are not many people use them. After all, you would have more luck at winning the lottery than having one of your competitors picking the same images.

In addition to not having so many users, such photos can help you create a unique atmosphere around your brand.

Some companies choose old images from the 20th century for example, to give a vintage and retro aspect to their brand. That’s the case of Asphalte for example, a French brand dedicated to sustainable clothing.

Source: Asphalte

Amazing to craft striking instagram posts don’t you think?

You can find pictures like this on Imageselect for example, as we have many historical picture collections such as:
- Album Art History
- Album Cinema
- Heritage
- World History Archive
And many more!

Therefore, using pictures from niche collections are great because they are:
- Affordable
- Not largely distributed
- Unique, for a one-of-a-kind style


Getting your own photos from a professional photographer

Sometimes, the best option is to hire a professional photographer. That might be because you want a picture in a very specific setting, you want to feature a specific model or product, or simply to have complete control over the images.
In any case, you will need to think about a couple of things before jumping into hiring a photographer, namely:
- Your budget
- The location of the photoshooting
- The items needed for the picture (decor, accessories…)
- Time frame required
- Rights releasing license

That’s right. Even when hiring a photographer, you will still need to be careful about who will have the copyrights of the photos. Be prepared and research which type of license suits you best before agreeing with the photographer.


Edit stock pictures in your own style

Another option is to edit the stock pictures into your own style. Edit the background, the angle, add your product… Nothing is impossible as long as you’ve got skills in Photoshop.

Actually, you might not even need to be a master of Photoshop. Sometimes just using an image as a background, or next to your message can be a great way to get the message across without making it too obvious the image is widely used.

Take this post for example:

Source: Perfecting Touch

It effectively delivers the message by using a relevant image in the background, without it adding too much noise to the main purpose of the post: advertising a new product.

By using images in a creative way, you can worry less about which image you need to pick and which right to obtain, and spend more time on the real stuff. Because you will be editing the images, you can have access to cheaper pictures, available immediately, and with less licensing constraints. You can easily edit royalty free images for example.

Do be aware though that some photographers may decide to restrict editing rights, although that mostly concerns rights managed images.



It’s not because you are using stock pictures that your campaign will look generic. It is all about how you source your images and what you create with them.

We can summarize our finding in this comparative table:

Which option are you going to go for? Let us know! We would love to hear about your projects!

(Oct 4, 2021) Clemence Servonnat Getting started

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