What Are Stock Photos? Comparison of Free vs Paid+License WARNING – WEask.tv Q8

Oct 11, 2019 | Tools & Services, Web Design | 0 comments

Question 8 in our WeAsk.tv series is one that seems fairly simple. However, there are more working parts than you might expect to this ridiculously simple question.

The question comes from a client email where they literally asked:

What are stock photos?

I’ll admit that, at first, I assumed the answer was common knowledge. But why would it be? Of course, I would think it’s common knowledge, I work with stock photos on an almost daily basis when building sites for clients, but many, many more people have little to no reason to utilize them at all.  So, it makes sense this would be a natural question.

I hope to lift a bit of this confusion by explaining what they are and how you can use them on your site. I’ll also point you to some places where you can find stock photos, explain the difference between free and paid options, and illustrate how using stock photos incorrectly actually cost me thousands of dollars!


What are Stock Photos?

Stock photos are images, often created by professional photographers, sold for a fee. Some stock photos are called royalty-free images because you don’t have to continue to pay a fee every time you use them. But don’t let that fool you!

Each stock photo comes with a different license which can vary depending on whether you are using the image for personal or commercial purposes. Some are free-to-use because they’ve been placed in the Public Domain while others have specific attribution requirements and fees. Sometimes these licenses can be murky. Make sure to read and understand the license requirements for a stock photo before using it.


Where Can I Find Stock Photos?

I use iStock for my photos. It’s owned by Getty images and is one of the most popular sites for stock photos. You can purchase images one off and it also works on a credit system. You buy the credits on a subscription basis and apply credits toward the purchase of an image. Some images cost more than others, but on average you will pay around $10 per image.  You’ll save a bit when you purchase a subscription.

Shutterstock is another popular option. It works in a similar fashion to iStock with credits and prepaid image pack plans. The prices are quite a bit cheaper here, but I’ve found that iStock has higher quality images and larger selection which is why I still prefer them.

There’s also Photodune which is even cheaper with images averaging around $2. But again, you are sacrificing quality and selection.

Of course, it doesn’t get cheaper than free, and there are plenty of those options as well. While free, the selection at Pexels is going to be incredibly limited compared to paid options. Check out my video above where I give examples of the differences in quality and selection. Also, you must do your homework to ensure that the images are free-free and not just royalty-free.

For more options for stock photos, check out this list of the top 20 stock photo sites.

Which brings me to a warning…


What Happens If I Mis-use Stock Photos?

Learn from my mistakes on this one. A few years ago, I ran into a major issue with Getty Images. I had used royalty-free images on a website that has long-since been deactivated. I received a letter from Getty that I owed them nearly $2500 for the use of those images because they were royalty-free but not totally free.

Now, this may seem like an unfair request for an honest mistake, and many others would agree with you. In fact, there are lawsuits against Getty for this exact practice, which people consider copyright bullying, going as far as dubbing it the Getty Extortion Letter.

There are also plenty of bad actors out there who make photos appear to be free, specially so that they can send a letter threatening large payments or legal action just because you used them.

Royalty-free licenses don’t necessarily mean the images can be used for commercial purposes. So again, please be careful. Nowadays, I purchase nearly all of my photos, even for personal use. That way I know exactly what the license is and don’t run into this same issue again.

I hope that clears up any mystery surrounding stock photos and where you can find them. Once you do, I also offer tips on how to best utilize them. So, be sure to check out Best Website Images Sizes for Websites & Blogs – Guidelines & WHAT I USE.

And be sure to visit WeAsk.tv to submit your own questions!

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