What is stock photography and do I need a license?

All websites need photos, but some businesses don’t necessarily have anything to photograph. If you are an attorney or a financial professional, you know what I am talking about. Lighting in offices is notoriously terrible, and some people don’t like to be photographed. It is in cases like these that designers find themselves using stock photo sites to tell the story.

What is stock photography?

Stock photography is any photos that a photographer has taken to sell or give away for use on other people’s projects. Not all stock photos are free, so important is knowing where to get good quality photos and what the different licenses allow.

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My photo of a cactus bloom on Pexels

There are a ton of websites out there offering both free and paid stock photos. Some of these sites are subscription-based services where you can use as many photos as you want, while others are priced on a per-photo and sometimes by size/resolution basis.

Free Photo Sharing Sites

Pexels – I use Pexels most of the 3 free photo-sharing services I am covering. In fact, it’s the only one where I have an account and share images too. Not only do they have amazing 4k photos, but they also have some really great video clips. These photos are shared but professional and amateur photographers alike. The photos’ quality is top-notch, and the users are from all over the world, giving you are vibrant palette to choose from. Pexels is more like a social network than the other sites being covered, not quite an Instagram, but they have fun photo challenges, photo-stats, and leaderboards.

All photos are free to use and do not require attribution. You can modify them and really be as creative as you want with them.

Unsplash – A lot like Pexels but without the videos. When I can’t find what I am looking for in my own archives or on Pexels, Unsplash is always my next stop. They have a wonderful assortment of beautiful photos from all over the world. They provide an easy-to-use search function and some keyword starters to help you get your search going.

All photos are free to use and do not require attribution. You can modify the photos from Unsplash, but you can not sell them or compile them for use in a way that competes with Unsplash.

Pixabay – Pixabay looks like it has a ton to offer, not just stock photos but illustrations, videos, and even music. The photos tend to be a little more on the “stock looking” side than the photos offered on the other two websites, and I swear you have seen some of these images as bundled wallpapers with your OS. Searching was a real letdown. I would only try here for images as a last resort or looking for something really corporate.

All contents are released under the Pixabay License, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist – even for commercial purposes.

Paid Stock Photos

Adobe – While Adobe is known mostly for their amazing software suite, they have equally impressive stock photography and video portfolio. No matter what the project is, you will likely find an image or video to suit your needs. Adobe has a couple of different plans available, with the most economical $29.99 per month for 10 stock assets.

The license for Adobe is stock products is too complicated to summarize here, so please click here to learn more.

Getty – Arguably the largest photograph and image collection in the world. If Getty does not have an image to suit your needs, it may not have been shot. They not only have great images, but they also license viral videos and images of celebrities for use in your creatives. It can get pricey, but sometimes it is worth it for the right image.

Getty is another site with too many requirements and limitations to list here so please click here to learn more.

A word about photo licenses

Photos are intellectual property. In most cases, a photo is owned by the person who took it. That person can copyright the photo and seek damages if caught commercially using the photo without permission. In other cases, photos are owned by large corporations who actively sell use licenses and litigate the unlicensed use of their photos. Getty is one of the larger organizations in the photo licensing market. They are very litigious and own a considerable amount of images and archives. The bottom line is don’t use photos you don’t own or have the legal right to use. Google Images is okay for getting ideas, but never use images sourced from there.

Other creative licenses

Keep your eyes open for Creative Commons licenses as well. These are for creative works made available for others to build upon legally and to share. For more information on Creative Commons, click here.