HomeNewsA quick guide to using stock photography in your business…

A quick guide to using stock photography in your business…

You know those times when you’ve written a killer blog post or have a series of social media posts to schedule which need images or graphics before you can hit publish? If you’re a talented photographer or graphic designer, that might not be a problem. But, for those of us without those skills, we tend to turn to the internet.

However, caution needs exercising! Photographers have copyright on their images from the moment they take the photo, regardless of whether they’ve been marked as copyright or not. In practice, this means that you’re in violation of copyright if you find an image on Google and right click to save and use it without permission. Photographers have ways of tracking where their images are being used so, don’t be surprised if they contact you and ask for image credit (at the very least), send you a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter, invoice you for the cost of the image (which tends to higher than their normal fee if you’ve been in violation), or take you through the legal system.

So, if you’re looking for a legal alternative, check out the stock photography sites which have images ready and available for immediate use.

What is stock photography?

Stock photos are images taken by photographers and uploaded to one (or several) online photography agencies. Some of these agencies sell the images on the photographer’s behalf (eg. Shutterstock and Getty Images), whereas others allow people to use those images free of charge (eg. Unsplash and Pexels).


Why use stock photography in your business?

The main advantage of using stock photography sites is to source images at a relatively low cost (or even free of charge) to use straight away.

They have thousands of images in their database and those sites with good search functions will help you to find exactly what you need. The images can then be used as photographs or included as part of a graphic design in online editors such as Canva.


The problems with stock photography

If that’s fired your enthusiasm to use stock photography sites, there are a few pitfalls which are worth considering before you get going.

Firstly, the image you choose could have been used elsewhere, multiple times, which can make your company look inauthentic. Remember that showing a personal touch can help to build trust and give your brand personality.

Also, sourcing images on stock photography sites takes time and you could end up making do with something which is ‘kind of right’ rather than using a tailor-made image which helps to convey the emotions behind your business and your brand.

However, one of the biggest issues you’ll come across is the complex licencing behind stock photography which means that you could actually unintentionally violate the licence for using a particular photograph.


How is stock photography licenced?

When using stock photography, you’re buying a licence to use the image but the copyright (ownership) is not yours. There are 4 main licencing types which you may encounter.

Public Domain: These are images which can be used without licence or attribution to the photographer. You may find this information next to the image.

Royalty Free: This is a licence where you typically pay a one-time flat fee and get user rights for as long as you want and across different mediums without needing to re-purchase.

Right Managed: These allow for a one-time use of the image as specified on the licence. You can negotiate the use of the image, the time and the place with the stock agency, which could include exclusive rights (meaning that your competitors cannot use the same image). However, if you want to use the same image again in the future, you’d need to purchase another licence.

Creative Commons Zero (CC0): These tend to be used in the free stock image sites and allow legal use in commercial projects but don’t cover the user for image infringement relating to privacy, private property or copyright. You therefore need to be aware of how content is policed on the stock photography site you’re using.

Bear in mind that this is just a brief glimpse into licencing, so do your homework before using the sites. You can also learn more about the specific licence for your chosen site by clicking on the relevant section of their website.


Using a photographer vs stock photography

All businesses need something visual, whether it’s for personal branding or showcasing your products and services, and a photographer is the best way to source original content which represents your brand exactly how you want.

We spoke to Business Village tenant, Alex Hollinworth, who provides “commercial photography which takes brands visually to the next level”.

One of his clients saw a 160% increase in online turnover after changing their imagery. He works with companies across the UK and suggested that people “get in touch, it might be more affordable than you think”.

It’s clear that if you’re looking for authentic and relevant images which haven’t been seen elsewhere, hiring a photographer will beat stock photography every time.


Tips for using stock photography sites

That said, stock photography sites do still have their place. However, before diving in, take a look at these tips first:

  • Check the licencing model on the stock photography site
  • Verify who owns the site and how they monetise it
  • Check where the images come from
  • Verify the legal status of an image before using
  • Choose images which are contextually relevant
  • Ensure your images don’t look like stock photographs
  • Avoid the use of recognisable people, private property, logo’s, trademarks and landmarks
  • Consider your budget
  • Check with a site such as Tin Eye to see how many times an image has been used prior to purchasing


Finding the best stock photography sites

Search for stock photography on Google and you’ll find lots of choice, plus many articles which cover the features of different sites. Listing all of them here would be an article in itself, so we encourage you to do a little research.

However, here are some of the better-known stock photography sites:


  • Shutterstock – subscription plan or on demand images
  • iStock – subscription plan or single images
  • Getty Images – prestigious site with Right Managed licences plus royalty free images.
  • Adobe Stock – graphic design bias and subscription only
  • Pixabay – free images for commercial use with CC0 licences (plus a staff member reviewing submissions for both quality and legality)
  • Unsplash – free high quality, modern images on a custom licence (CC0 type) – also linked to the social media scheduler Later.
  • Pexels – free images with a modern feel on a CC0 licence – also have some public domain images.
  • Life of Pix – photos are donated by photographers to public domain so there are no copyright requirements.
  • Canva – some free images, but more choice on Canva Pro, which can be used while designing graphics on the platform



Before deciding on whether to take your own images, hire a photographer or use a stock photography site, we recommend going back to basics.

Think about what you’re trying to convey with your image and then choose authentic and realistic images which share that message. You may find the perfect image on a stock photography site and, if so, ensure you do your due diligence first so that nothing comes back to bite you later.

Get in touch with Kevin Steel and find out more about how The Business Village can help you and your business.