The complete guide to buying stock photos


Stock photography has been around for almost 100 years now and has evolved from a couple thousands of images to billions all around the web. The industry has developed and thrived through the years and it is now possible to get a picture of pretty much anything you can imagine.

With so many possibilities, stock photography might be considered difficult to navigate. What rights do you have over an image? For how long will you be able to use it? Where to even start?
Keep reading to get the answer to all your questions!

What are stock photos?

Stock photos are images or illustrations licensed to users according to their intended purpose. For example, an image intended for editorial use (for books or a magazine) might not have the same licence as a picture used for an ad or a TV commercial.

Through this licence, the photographer “lends” the picture to the user, and permits its use as intended. Therefore, the photographer still owns the copyrights to the image although it is sometimes possible to buy a picture with exclusive rights, meaning only you will be able to use it.


Why should you use stock images?

Now you know what stock pictures are but why and when should you use them?

Whether you are a business owner, a marketing agent or a designer, using pictures in your next project is often a must. You might want to use a business picture to represent the company’s services, or old archive images to give a vintage look to your marketing.

However, hiring a professional photographer can be quite the expense. You need to hire not only the photographer himself, but also the set, the decor and props as well as potential models. In addition, it can be quite time consuming too, especially since you will still have to sort out the licensing here as well.

Stock pictures therefore come at a much lower cost in terms of both time and money. Stock photography agencies make the licensing agreement very easy for all parties, and finding the right picture is actually fairly easy, especially when you know what you are looking for.

Plus, getting stock images doesn’t necessarily mean generic looking pictures. Since there is an immense variety of images on the web, billions of different pictures, you are sure to find unique imagery. Some images can even be restricted, and you may obtain the exclusivity of use. It only depends on the type of licence that the photographer is selling the image on.

There are therefore many perks to using stock pictures, namely:

  • Great variety of pictures
  • Collections constantly updated
  • Possibility to get archive images
  • Cheaper than a professional photoshoot
  • Easier licensing process
  • Stock photography experts available to advise on or find any picture for you

In short, stock photography may be very interesting, especially when creating is not your core business.


Difference between RF and RM images

There are several types of image licences and the most common are undoubtedly the Rights managed (RM) and Royalty free (RF) licences. But what exactly are they and which one should you aim for?

One of the most common questions we get is: Are Royalty free images free to use? The short answer: no. Although it is a common misconception, royalty free does not mean that you don’t pay anything to the owner of the picture. It simply means that you do not owe royalties over time to the owner as you make a unique purchase, enabling you to use the image for an indefinite period of time.

With royalty free images, you simply choose the image size you need, and you can use that picture anywhere you want, however many times you want. Because of this flexibility, RF images are very popular today.

That is one of the main differences with the Rights Managed licence. This licensing model restricts the use of the image in time. For example, you may purchase the image only for 2 years of use, after which you will not legally be allowed to feature the image anymore. Consequently, this licensing model is often chosen by photographers when their pictures are featuring models or celebrities, but also famous monuments and recognisable landmarks.

So why choose Rights Managed images over Royalty free pictures? Well, in addition to featuring certain subjects that you will not find under a royalty free licence (celebrities etc), they also enable you to get exclusive rights on the pictures’ use, meaning nobody else will be allowed to use the pictures you bought.

We can therefore say that both models have their own perks and which one is best for you really depends on your project and your visions. Let’s summarise with a comparative table:

Both might have limitations in terms of its usage. That is to say, some images might be available only for editorial use and not for commercial use, for example. Which one will you go for and why? Let us know!


Editorial vs commercial use

Before figuring out exactly which licence you need, let’s define each term.
“Editorial” means anything seeking to share information or to communicate an opinion. It relates to any document about history, current events and real life in general.

On another hand, “commercial” is usually associated with anything intending to promote, monetise or sell. That can be in the form of an advert, a promotional poster or website images for example.

There are, however, a few gray areas. Blog articles or newsletters, for example, may only be considered editorial if the content is sharing information without any intention to sell, no matter how subtly it is put.

Now, you should figure out if your project will be more of a commercial or editorial nature to find the type of licence you will need. The exact rights you will be given when purchasing an image will depend on what you plan on using with it. In reality, if you purchase an image under an editorial licence, you will not legally be allowed to use the image for an advert for example.

As a result, when buying stock photos, you have to indicate exactly how you intend to use the image. The price is then adjusted accordingly, which means you only pay what you need the image for. Nothing more, nothing less.

Quite often, editorial images benefit from a lower price. Watch out for such discounts if your project involves a book, a magazine or a newspaper!

Furthermore, certain images are only available for editorial use only. It might be because it features a brand or it may simply be a restriction set by the photographer as it’s a press picture.


The most common uses of stock photos

Stock photos have been around for so long it’s actually a challenge to find something that does not feature any. Plus, with a great variety of pictures, you can use stock photos on pretty much anything.

The most common stock photos uses include:

  • Flyers
  • Posters
  • Websites
  • Logos
  • Adverts
  • TV Commercials
  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Blog articles
  • Decoration
  • Products (cups, pillows, puzzles…)
  • Banners

And so many more! Unleash your creativity. There are no limits to what you can do with stock photos!


What image size do you need to buy?

No matter what we say, size matters, especially when buying royalty free stock photos. Because of the licensing model, the price will depend on the image format and purchasing an image in 764 x 509 pixels will be cheaper than in 3182 x 2122.

So which image size is adapted to your project?

Well, one headache free way to deal with it is to always buy the largest size available. When we’re talking about royalty free images, you can simply adjust the image to the different formats of your project. You may reuse the same high resolution picture for a large banner and for a smaller leaflet.

Otherwise, if you prefer to save your money and go for the minimum size your project allows, note the following:

  • Website & Online recommended image size: 750 x 500px
  • Flyers, leaflets and other small prints recommended image size: 2800 x 1867px
  • Banners, posters, and other large prints recommended image size: 5400 x 3600px

Just be careful not to get images that are too small while trying to save money. If you have to stretch your stock pictures, your design will appear very pixelated and that will reflect poorly on your business.


How to search for stock photos and find the best pictures

With the almost endless number of stock photos you can now find online, you are sure to find beautiful images. The question is: how can you find the one for you in only a few clicks? There are a few ways you can find stock photos efficiently. For example you may find them through:

- Stock photo libraries

Although the exact logic may change from library to library, the way you search for images is always pretty much the same. By looking for certain keywords, you will find creative and editorial images alike. The more you refine exactly what you are looking for, the better results you will get.

In addition, many stock agencies like Imageselect offer pictures sorted by categories, related searches, additional filters by colour or number of people, and many other features to make your search easier.

- Social media (instagram, pinterest…)

Social media feeds have long been a source of inspiration. In addition, many stock providers hand pick their most beautiful images to share on social media. Take Imageselect’s Instagram for example. A real gold mine!

- Google Image

Surprisingly, many people still search with Google Image to help in their picture search. However, not all images featured on Google are free to use, or even available at all for commercial purposes. Before using any, you should know which photos from Google Image you can use, so you can also avoid any legal trouble down the line.

Those are a few ways you can find images for your next project. And if you still struggle to find the image you want, you can always contact our team. We will help you secure the perfect picture!


Are stock photos expensive?

The price of stock images vary from one provider to another. Some work on a subscription basis, other providers base their prices on how you will use the images, and others are even free. It is therefore quite easy to explore and see what formula works best for you.

If you have a limited budget and don’t care if other businesses use the same pictures as you, free stock photos might be a solution. You might be interested in knowing when exactly you need to pay for stock images as, sometimes, you might just get away with free images.

If you are looking for premium pictures or need something more specific however, well established stock photography agencies such as Imageselect might be preferable. You also have the advantage of having a partner that can help you with exclusive rights, finding a specific image and advising you on your project in general.


Enjoy your stock photography adventure!

We hope we answered most of your questions around stock photography! Don’t forget to consult our blog for more useful articles and inspiration materials! You can also just shoot us an email with your inquiry. We will answer it within a day!


(Jan 27, 2022) Clemence Servonnat Getting started

Resent posts