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What are Stock Photos Used for?

Matic BrozUpdated May 17, 2022

Stock photos are used to enhance graphic designs, websites, and presentations. Stock photography is widely used in advertising and marketing, commercial and non-profit projects, personal projects, as well as on business websites, social media, and blogs. Stock photos are so popular because they are affordable and easy to find.

1. Marketing and advertising

Graphic designers create promotional materials such as posters, magazines, ads, brochures, and banners. To grab the attention of potential customers, they use stock photos. But finding just the right image for the design is difficult, so graphic designers tend to gravitate toward stock image sources that help them with that difficult task.

2. Commercial and non-profit projects

Stock photos are often used for resale as a part of another product, such as prints on T-shirts, packages, calendars, and mugs. Often, these uses require an enhanced royalty-free license, which is more expensive than the standard license and provides broader coverage.

3. Personal projects

Individuals use stock photos to decorate their homes, presentations, gifts, and other personal projects. People usually don’t even use images legally in their projects as there’s no practical way of checking it.

4. Website and blogs

Web admins always look for new ways to enhance their websites, landing pages, or informational blog posts. Images are a great way to illustrate points and add some color to otherwise dull websites.

Why Use Stock Photos?

Using stock photos instead of hiring a photographer has several advantages:

  • Cheaper
  • Faster
  • Greater selection of image

Using keywords and smart filters when searching stock photo website databases allows users to find the photos and videos they need quickly. Hiring a photographer and sending them to a custom photoshoot, on the other hand, can take days. It doesn’t make sense to send a photographer abroad to take a photo of a foreign country.

Hiring a professional photographer is also prohibitively expensive for small businesses. On the other hand, stock photos are much cheaper and only cost a few cents or dollars per image.

Who Can Use Stock Photos?

Anyone can use stock photos, as long as they own the rights (also called “License”) to use them. While licenses often differ in the nitty-gritty details, they fall under two categories based on their purposes:

Commercial Use

Images licensed for commercial use may be used for profit, which includes the use in advertising and promotional projects. If you use images for commercial projects, you may not exceed the limits outlined in the copyright law. The limit is 500,000 copies, prints, or views for most uses. If you want to exceed this number legally, you should purchase an extended license version that doesn’t limit the number of uses.

Commercial use images are most often used in:

  • Marketing and advertising
  • Products for resale (packaging, mugs, T-shirts, etc.)
  • Social media
  • Decorations and promo material
  • Branding

Editorial Use

Images licensed for “editorial use” only may not be used to generate profits through advertising or promotion of products and services. Instead, editorial images are used in informative content.

  • Documentaries
  • Textbooks
  • News articles
  • Blog and websites

It’s important to note that a commercial image can be used for editorial purposes, but not vice-versa.

How to Use Stock Photos Legally?

To legally use a stock image, you must ensure that it’s been appropriately licensed for your project by the copyright holder or a distributor who licenses on behalf of the copyright holder. In most cases, a commercial royalty-free license is sufficient to cover a commercial project.

Can you use stock images for free?

Stock photographers decide whether they want to give away the rights to their photos for free or for a small fee. As a result, you’ll find free stock images in repositories like Unsplash or Pexels and paid stock images at Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, and iStock, to name a few.

Are stock images free for commercial use?

Images licensed under Public Domain (PD) and Creative Commons 0 (CC0) licenses may also be used freely for commercial purposes. However, these licenses don’t provide legal protection as with the royalty-free form. Indemnification serves as the financial compensation generated by the licensed image.

Do I have to attribute the author?

Some licenses require the credit line to be specified, and others don’t. Choose a stock photo license that doesn’t require a copyright notice for commercial purposes, as this can be detrimental to the success of your campaign.

Can you get sued for using stock photos?

You can get sued for misusing an image. However, such legal problems are usually resolved with a small financial compensation in paying the proper license and sometimes a processing fee. However, if you refuse to cooperate, you can be sued.

Can I use stock photos on my website?

Stock photos licensed for commercial use may be used on websites for commercial and informational purposes. In contrast, editorial images may only be used for informational purposes, such as in news reports and documentaries, and never on websites that make a profit.

Can stock photos be used for book covers?

Stock photos may be used in books and book covers but usually require an extended form of royalty-free license that also grants unlimited reproduction rights. However, most experienced authors use custom designs for their book covers, which is the most critical selling point.

The Verdict

Stock photos used to be very generic and could be spotted from a mile away. But over the years, stock photographers and their distributors have realized that users want authentic-looking photos that don’t look stocky. This new way of thinking and producing stock photos has opened new uses. Nowadays, you can find stock images as a part of every design.

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About the author

Matic Broz profile image

Matic Broz is a photographer, graphic designer, and stock photographer. For over ten years he's been helping photographers improve their photos and graphic designers find the best images for their designs. His work has been featured by Lifewire and PetaPixel. In his free time, he enjoys photography, hiking, and petting random dogs. Read more

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