From gorgeous white desk flat lays to nature shots with towering mountains that inspire to go outside, we are incredibly lucky to live in a time where anybody can be a photographer.

However, most of us are smart enough to know that we are not, in fact, photographers. So we end up using the almighty Google to help us find the right photo for the right post.

STOP. Just STAHP.

You are about to be shelling out thousands of dollars in copyright infringement fees if you don’t reel it in there. So let’s take a step back. Before we get into whether or not you can evenuse that fancy image you found, let’s talk about exactly what’s at stake here.

Lawsuits and lots of money.

And guess what? You can be held liable, even if:

  • You didn’t know, or it was an accident.
  • The photo is licensed to your web developer. (You have to have your own.)
  • You take the photo down.
  • You have a disclaimer saying you don’t own the images.
  • You found the photo online.
  • You link back to the photographer. (Nope, attribution isn’t always enough.)
  • You don’t make money with your blog.

And you know what else? Photographers have won lawsuits where people have down any of the above, and bloggers have lost insane amounts of money over what is often a relatively small error that results in a big deal lawsuit.

Mildly terrifying, right?

From figuring out whether or not you can use a image on a product you plan on selling to knowing whether or not you need to attribute a photo to someone, navigating the realm of what photos you can use when and for what gets tricky fast.

That’s exactly why, if you’re not a photographer or graphic designer, you should be using stock images.

You may be asking, given how scary this sounds, “Can I use a stock photo for Project X?“

As an experienced stock photo user, the short answer is – it depends.

This guide will help you figure out how you can avoid headaches – and potentially even lawsuits – later by finding the right stock photo for the right project the first time. Let’s get started by discussing what exactly a stock photo is and how you can use them.

And just so we’re clear here y’all, I’m not a lawyer. What I am is experienced in working on the web. Also, I’ve had my work stolen before, and I know how bad it sucks to be on both sides of this situation. We can all be better citizens of the web with a little extra consideration for the person on the other side of the screen.

Using stock photos can save you a ton of time - here's how to do it the right way,

What is a stock photo?

 

In a nutshell, it’s a cost effective way to get images to use for your projects online without having to hire a photographer. Photographers who specialize in stock photography take images that can be bought or used.

When you think of the term “stock photo,” the image that may come to mind is of a white dude in a suit smiling in a boardroom. Or perhaps it’s a photo featuring token diversity in some sort of corporate setting. In any case, they can get a bad rap, but thankfully, times have changed. You can get stock photos of almost anything (for a price).

Stock photography is booming because it’s a way of enhancing your brand in a way that’s affordable, accessible, and easy to do for the majority of businesses.

How can you use stock photos?

 There are many use cases for stock photos. Here are a few examples to get your wheels turning.

Social media 

One way to use stock photos is for social media images. I created this quote template for Instagram using Canva – and it took about 2 minutes.

 

Here’s an example of a visually pleasing quote using the same photo, only this time I created it for Facebook with those image specifications.

Blog images 

Now, what about blog images? Can stock photos be used for those? Absolutely! (Just don’t use a random photo you find on Google or you could get sued. More on that later.) Here we are using the same image, except this time, we’ve added our post headline to it.

 

In addition to social media and blog uses, stock photos can also be used on your website, for selling products, and more. The possibilities are endless – however, there are wildly different rules for different photos. So how do you know if you can use a given photo for a given project? It’s not as scary as it sounds. You just need to learn a little bit about copyright labels.

Copyright labels

 

I could explain these all to you, but this image from Vound and Intella in partnership with Ghergich & Co. does it better than I could.

Copyright Infringement: Images You Can and Can’t Share on Your Blog

 

Copyright Infringement: Images You Can and Can

 

This gives you a basic overview, but it still probably will leave you wondering. Given all this new information, “What images CAN I use?”

If you want free photos with no fuss, you’ll want to stick to Creative Commons images, with respect to whatever rights reserved are retained by the owner of the image. You can learn more about the different kinds of Creative Commons licenses here.

Hot Tip – The Fair Use Doctrine is the category where people seriously screw themselves. It applies to things like teaching, criticism, and journalism. It does NOT apply to you and your blog.

In addition to copyright labels, there is the additional complication of licenses.

Types of licenses

 

When you use or buy a stock photo, it is usually clear in the terms what kind of license you get with the image. We’re not going to go into all of the different photo licenses there are, but we will cover the ones that will be most relevant for you.

 

Non-exclusive license

 

A Non-Exclusive Licence gives the buyer the right to use the photo, but means that I as the seller am free to sell the photo or otherwise use it in a way I see fit. This is the kind of license thinkCHARMED operates under, where anyone who purchases a subscription to our photo library can use them freely (as long as they aren’t selling the image itself).

 

Exclusive license

 

An Exclusive license is exactly what it sounds like. The buyer purchases the rights to a photo, and no one else, including the seller, may use it. Large companies tend to purchase exclusive rights to images to protect their brand image. These photos tend to be very expensive.

 

How to avoid problems when using stock photos

 

Double check the license and acceptable use policies for the photo

 

Seriously. Read the fine print.

 

Give credit

 

People love seeing their name in lights – and they love when you share your work. If you’re not sure about whether or not you can use an image with or without credit, always err on the side of flattering someone.

 

Hot Tip – “Can I reblog this image I found on Instagram?” Yes, you can. Thanks to Instagram’s ToS, you can reblog without fear of repercussions. That said, there is some etiquette involved. This article suggests a couple of apps to make it easy.

 

If in doubt, ASK.

For real, though. Is it worth getting slapped with a giant fine for breaking a copyright law?

Buy photos

Stay with me here – let me explain.

Why buy photos?

No licensing issues.

If you want to make sure you don’t have licensing issues, buying your stock photos is the easiest way to know you’re covered. Because these photos come with clear terms, labels, and licenses, it removes the uncertainty using other people’s photos can bring.

Better quality

Free photos tend to be free for a reason. This isn’t always the case, but quality is more consistent in paid photos.

Less in use

If you’re getting images from Unsplash, Death to the stock photo, or other free conglomerate sites, you’re going to start noticing something. You see the same photos… everywhere. How are you supposed to differentiate as a brand with identical photos?

How to buy images

 

There are basically two different models when it comes to how stock photos are bought and sold.

By the photo

This is the most common way to buy stock photos. Here’s a roundup post with several options that are pretty standard. 

Stock photo subscriptions

Stock photo subscriptions are the most cost effective way to purchase stock photos. Depending on the type of service you go with, you’ll either get a certain number of images every month digitally delivered to you, or you’ll get a certain amount of credit on a site that allows you to purchase a given number of photos. There are some great subscription options here.

Have more questions about stock photos? Drop them in the comments below.