Learn all the basic terminology of stock photography, from the very basics, such as “what are stock photos” to more advanced licensing terms, such as “indemnity”.
Editor’s note: This page is for educational purposes about stock photos only. All the links on this page lead to other pages on Photutorial that explain various aspects of stock photography in more detail. You will not be redirected to 3rd party pages.
The basic of stock photos
- Stock Photos: Stock photos are high-quality images available for licensing and use in various media. They’re created by stock photographers to depict common subjects, themes, or concepts and sold on stock photo platforms.
- Stock Photos vs. Stock Images: Stock photos refer to professional photographs, while stock images are a broader term, including vectors, illustrations, and graphics. Both are used interchangeably, but ‘stock images’ encompasses more variety.
- Stock Vector: A type of graphic that uses mathematical equations to render an image, allowing it to be scaled indefinitely without losing quality. Formats include SVG, EPS, and AI.
- Stock Illustrations: Digital or hand-drawn artworks available for licensing and use, similar to stock photos but typically more stylized or abstract.
- Stock Photo Asset: A stock photo asset is an individual image or visual content piece available for licensing from a stock photo platform. These assets include photos, vectors, illustrations, and other types of digital graphics.
- Stock Photo Site: A stock photo site is an online platform where photographers upload and sell their images. These sites provide a vast library of high-quality images, graphics, and illustrations that customers can license for different uses. Synonyms: stock photo website, stock photo agency, stock photo provider, stock photo marketplaces.
- Free Stock Photo Sites: Free stock photo sites are platforms that offer images at no cost. These images can be used legally, often under a type of Creative Commons license or because they are in the public domain. Some usage restrictions may still apply, so it’s essential to check each image’s licensing terms.
- Stock Photographer: A stock photographer is a professional who produces high-quality images for stock photo sites. Their work covers diverse subjects, aiming to meet the needs of various industries like marketing, media, or design. A stock artist is someone who contributes vectors, illustrations, and paintings. Synonym: stock photo contributors.
- Stock Image Library/Collection: An image library, also known as a collection, is a curated set of images or visual assets. Found on stock photo sites, these libraries can be categorized by theme, subject, style, or photographer, easing the search process for users.
- Microstock: Microstock refers to a branch of stock photography where images are sold for relatively low prices, typically licensed non-exclusively and royalty-free. Commonly used platforms include Shutterstock, iStock, and Adobe Stock.
- Macrostock: Macrostock, or traditional stock photography, involves selling high-priced images, often with exclusive or tightly controlled rights. These high-quality images are typically used in high-end advertising or large marketing campaigns. Examples of macrostock agencies include Getty Images and Alamy.
- Free Stock Photos: Stock photos that are free to use either commercially or non-commercially but often still require attribution to the original creator.
- Paid Stock Photos: Paid stock photos refer to high-quality images available for purchase on various platforms. Users pay a licensing fee, which allows them to legally use the images for specified purposes, depending on the license terms.
- Premium Stock Photos: High-quality stock photos that require purchase. These images are typically produced by professionals and come with a price tag.
Stock photo licensing definitions
- Licensing: Licensing involves obtaining permission to use copyrighted materials like stock photos. Users pay a fee to the copyright holder, typically the photographer or the stock photo site, to use the image under specific terms.
- Exclusive vs. Non-Exclusive License: An exclusive license gives the licensee sole usage rights to an image, while a non-exclusive license allows multiple parties to use the image simultaneously.
- Single-Use vs. Multiple-Use Licenses: Single-use licenses allow one image usage, while multiple-use licenses permit the image to be used in several projects or platforms.
- Copyright Infringement: The use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display, or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works.
- Royalty-Free (RF) License: A Royalty-Free license allows unlimited use of an image after paying a one-time fee. However, it doesn’t grant exclusive rights; others can also license the same image.
- Royalty-Free Extended Licenses (RF-EL): Extended licenses, also known as enhanced licenses, grant additional rights beyond the RF license, such as the right to use images in products for resale. Synonym: Extended license, Enhanced license.
- Rights Managed (RM) License: Rights Managed licenses grant specific usage rights, such as for a particular medium, time period, location, or print run. The fee depends on these usage details.
- Editorial License: Editorial licenses permit the use of images in non-commercial contexts like blogs, news articles, or documentaries. These images often feature recognizable people or brands without model or property releases.
- Creative Commons License: Creative Commons licenses allow free usage of images under certain conditions, often requiring attribution to the creator and possibly restricting commercial use or derivative works.
- Public Domain: Images in the public domain have no copyright restrictions. They can be used freely for any purpose without requiring a license or payment.
- Royalties: Royalties are payments made to the image’s creator or copyright holder every time the image is used, typically seen with Rights Managed licenses.
- Commercial Use: Commercial use refers to the use of images in ways intended to generate profit, such as in advertising, marketing, or merchandise.
- Editorial Use: Editorial use refers to the use of images in a news, commentary, or educational context, such as in newspapers, magazines, or textbooks.
- Exclusive Rights: Exclusive rights grant a licensee sole permission to use an image, ensuring it’s not sold to anyone else during the exclusivity period.
- Non-Exclusive Rights: Non-exclusive rights mean the image can be licensed by multiple parties simultaneously, even if they’re using it for similar purposes.
- Usage Rights: Usage rights specify how, where, and for how long an image can be used. These terms are outlined in the image’s licensing agreement.
- Indemnity/Legal Coverage: Indemnity, in the context of stock photography, refers to the protection provided by the image licensing agency against legal issues related to the use of the image, such as copyright infringement, privacy violations, or defamation.
- Web Impressions: In a licensing agreement, web impressions refer to the number of times an image can be viewed online. Some licenses limit the number of web impressions an image can generate.
- Print Runs: Print runs, in a licensing agreement, refer to the number of copies in which the image can be used. Larger print runs typically require an extended license.
- Merchandise: Merchandise refers to goods that feature licensed images, typically sold for profit. Use of images on merchandise usually requires an extended or enhanced license.
- Resell: The act of selling a licensed image to another party. Most stock photo licenses, such as Royalty-Free, do not permit reselling the image itself. However, you can usually sell a derivative work that incorporates the image.
- Attribution/Credit (line): refers to the acknowledgment given to the original creator of a work, such as a photograph or illustration. It typically includes the creator’s name, and in some licensing models, it’s a requirement for using the work legally.
- Model Release: A legal document signed by the subject of a photograph granting permission to publish the photograph in one form or another.
- Property Release: A legal release signed by the owner of property used in a photograph granting permission to use or publish the photograph in one form or another.
Stock photo pricing definitions
Stock photos keep changing their pricing models to compete with others and maintain the most competitive stock photo prices.
- Single Image Purchase: Buying a single image for a set price is often used when you need just one specific photo. This is generally the most expensive option. Synonym: pay-as-you-go pricing.
- Image Pack: An image pack allows you to purchase a set number of images at a discounted price, compared to buying them individually. Generally more expensive than subscriptions but cheaper than single image purchases. Similar to credit packs, which give you a certain amount of credits.
- Credits: A form of virtual currency on stock photo sites, where each credit can be used to download certain images or access specific services.
- Subscription: A subscription allows access to a certain number of downloads per month or unlimited downloads for a recurring fee. This is the most cost-efficient option.
- Unlimited Subscription: An unlimited subscription gives users the ability to download as many images as needed for a set monthly or annual fee. The budget-friendly version of standard subscriptions.
- Annual Discount: A price reduction offered for paying a subscription fee upfront for a full year. Usually around 20%.
- Prepaid Discount: A reduction in price given when a certain amount is paid in advance, typically applied to subscription plans. Usually around 20%.
- Coupons/Promo Codes: Special codes are provided by stock photo sites for additional discounts on purchases or subscriptions. Coupons range from 10% to 30%.
- Volume Discounts: Price reductions are applied when purchasing a large number of images or subscriptions. Based on the size, discount range from 10% to 90%. Synonyms: bulk pricing/bulk discounts.
- Price per image/price per download: Cost per image is calculated as: “the number of downloads”/”cost for those downloads”. We use it to compare bulk discounts of subscriptions and image packs.
- Subscription Price: A recurring fee that allows access to a set number of image downloads per month.
- Standard Price: The regular price for purchasing a single image or subscribing to a service without any discounts or promotions.
- Extended License Price: Additional cost associated with acquiring extended rights for an image, allowing broader usage. Typically from $60 to $200, but can exceed $1,000.
- Bulk Pricing: A discounted rate for purchasing a large number of images or credits at once.
- Usage-Based Pricing: Pricing model where costs depend on how the image will be used (e.g., commercial use, print, digital, etc.). Usually associated with Right-Managed licenses.
- Custom Pricing: Pricing tailored to a specific customer’s needs, often used for large businesses or unique usage requirements.
- Tiered Pricing: A pricing model where costs per image decrease as the number of images purchased or downloaded increases.
- Flat-Rate Pricing: A pricing model where a single price provides access to a specific service or number of images.
- High-Resolution Pricing: The cost associated with downloading a high-resolution image, which is typically higher than for low-resolution images.
- Low-Resolution Pricing: The cost associated with downloading a low-resolution image, often lower than high-resolution images.
- Exclusive Pricing: Pricing model for images that grant exclusive usage rights, typically higher due to the uniqueness and exclusivity of the image.
- Non-Exclusive Pricing: Pricing model for images that can be licensed by multiple users, typically lower than exclusive images.
- Individual Image Pricing: The cost of a single image when purchased outside of a pack, subscription, or discounted offer.
- Stock Photo Bundle: A curated collection of stock photos, typically revolving around a certain theme or subject, available for purchase as a group. This can often provide cost savings over purchasing the photos individually.
Image quality definitions
- DPI (Dots Per Inch): DPI measures the number of printed dots within one inch, impacting print quality. Higher DPI typically means better detail and sharpness in print.
- Pixels Per Inch (PPI): PPI is similar to DPI but refers to digital displays. It measures pixel density within a digital image, influencing its clarity and quality on screens.
- High Resolution (Hi-Res): High-resolution images have a large number of pixels per inch, resulting in high-quality, detailed, and sharp visual content.
- Low Resolution (Low-Res): Low-resolution images have fewer pixels per inch, leading to less detail and potentially blurry or pixelated appearance, especially when enlarged.
- Image Resolution: Image resolution refers to the detail an image holds, often represented by the width and height in pixels or PPI.
- Image Quality: Image quality is a subjective assessment of an image’s visual characteristics, including sharpness, contrast, color accuracy, and resolution.
- Image Format: The format in which the image file is saved, such as JPEG, PNG, or TIFF.
- Clear and Crisp Images: These images have high resolution and sharpness, offering detailed and unambiguous visual content.
- High-Quality Images: High-quality images exhibit excellent resolution, sharpness, and color fidelity, and are free from defects like blurring or pixelation.
- Sharpness and Detail: Sharpness is the clarity of detail in an image, affecting how well individual elements can be distinguished.
- Pixel Density: Pixel density, measured in PPI or DPI, refers to the number of pixels within a given area, impacting the image’s detail and clarity.
- Megapixels (MP): A megapixel equals one million pixels and is used to describe the resolution of digital cameras. More megapixels usually means better image quality, especially for larger prints.
- Image Size and Dimensions: Image size refers to the physical dimensions of an image (height and width), usually measured in pixels, which can influence its resolution and aspect ratio.
- Print Resolution: Print resolution refers to the quality of the printed image, determined by the DPI. Higher DPI values lead to better quality prints.
- Web Resolution: Web resolution typically refers to low-resolution images (72–100 PPI) that are optimized for display on digital screens. These images load faster on websites while maintaining sufficient visual quality.
- Metadata: Information embedded in an image file that can include data like the camera model, exposure settings, GPS coordinates, and copyright information, in addition to the file size, image resolution, and color space.
- Watermarked Images: Stock photo sites often place watermarks, which are semi-transparent overlays, on their images to prevent unauthorized use.