Adobe Stock

How to select the best stock images

Know the history and cost of your stock image

If you are selling a product, great photos can help sell the product. Many companies, nonprofits, universities, and one-person businesses do not have the budgets or the time and resources to set up photoshoots, or hire illustrators. That is where stock agencies come in.

Stock agencies are online stores where photographers and illustrators sell their images through the agency. There are also images you can find by just doing a Google search. As my fellow designer Amy Weiher says “Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free or worth using”.

The image cost depends on many factors

At Ruzow Graphics, my small graphic design firm, because I use so many stock images for my clients I have subscriptions to Adobe Stock, Deposit Photos, and the Noun Project (stock icons). A subscription is a good idea as it gives you the same images at package prices.

Usually, the photos or illustrators with exclusive licensing rights will sell for a more than those licensed with a non-exclusive license. However, a more expensive image will have fewer sales than an inexpensive one. Which means it will appear in fewer places.

You can find images from $0 — $1,000+. There is a fabulous site, Unsplash, that has free photos. They are of fantastic quality and of many subjects — the caveat is crediting the photographer when using the image. For instance, if you use this photo (choose photo), you have to put the name of the photographer either under the image or where you put other ending information. Think of it as a footnote.

One on the higher end of the price spectrum is Getty Images. They have a wide variety of images that you can buy with royalty-free or rights-managed pricing. Getty is one that is on the higher end of the price spectrum, while others such as are more conducive to small-business owners with a tight budget. 

Like the sites mentioned above, there are many stock agencies out there. Some offer only royalty-free images and, some are rights-managed. 

Royalty-free is a type of license used by stock agencies to sell stock images or illustrations. This license type grants the buyer a determined set of rights to use the image in multiple ways, for a flat, one-time fee. Usually, you download it and, you can use it anywhere. But, make sure you read the license — always read the license. Each stock agency has different terms and conditions.

Rights-Managed refers to a copyright license which, if purchased by a user, allows the one-time use of the photo as specified by the license. If the user wants to use the photo for other purposes, an additional license needs to be purchased. For instance, if I buy an illustration for my brochure, I have to pay more to use it on my website, social media, or advertising.

Make sure you read the agreement to know what image use you are buying.

And, if your graphic designer is purchasing the stock image for you — make sure you have the rights (unless it is royalty-free, then that is not necessary). And again, quoting Amy “That means if you didn’t create it, you can’t use it without permission. “

What has your image been doing?

If you are buying stock images, you might find that others are using the same ones. Royalty-free ones can be sold over and over again. So the same image might be purchased for a physician’s office and rifle sales. Know what your image has been doing!

Before buying a stock image I use a reverse photo search to see how and where that image was used before (online). I like to use While this service cannot tell you if something purchased has been used in print or on billboards, more eyes would have been on the image if it is used online, so it is worth the free cost, and few minutes it takes to use the service.

Is it worth the time and money to purchase stock images?

Stock is worth it. There are so many talented photographers and illustrators out there and stock agencies are a great way to access them for a reasonable price. And, with each photo or illustration or icon purchased, the photographer or illustrator makes money! 

If you are using a graphic designer they will know where to find the right images for your projects. But, in case you are doing this yourself, what I recommend is searching for images that are the least used or newer images. Those are usually options on each site. And, you should do a reverse image search before purchasing.

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