Stock images are a helpful tool for creative professionals, but navigating all of the different licensing options and paid sites can be tough. We break down the basics of copyright, licensing, and then share Aaron’s top 5 favorite free stock image websites!
Whether you’re a photographer, editor, or other creative professional, stock images can help you with your work. Need to communicate your vision to client? Use stock images to help communicate looks, ideas, and mood. Creating a composite image? Find some additional elements for the scene with stock. Building a website and need some images to help fill it out? You get the idea.
Stock images are great for a wide variety of projects. And more importantly, they’re the best way to stay within the bounds of copyright law.
Copyright & Licensing
Once a photographer captures an image, they own the rights to that image. That means that using it without their permission comes with both ethical and legal concerns. Stock websites give photographers and creators an easy way to collaborate in a copyright-responsible way.
When you download a stock image, whether paid or free, there will be associated license terms that you’ll be expected to understand and follow.
Royalty-Free: You pay a one-time fee that gives you permission to use the image in any way that you want. You do not have to pay the creator every time that it’s displayed. This license will usually not allow you to distribute the image file, you can only display it on a website, print, advertising, etc.
Rights-Managed (RM): More limited than royalty-free, rights-managed will allow you to use the image a specified number of times within a specific region of the world. The benefit to this type is that it will often give you exclusive rights to use the image, meaning nobody else (like your competitors) can use it within the same region.
Extended License: There are a wide variety of extended licensing options, but the general idea is that it gives you more options for distributing the image.
Creative Commons: Creative commons allows you to freely use an image without paying the creator. However, there are different types of creative commons licenses. Some require attribution, meaning you must give appropriate credit to the original creator. Some sites, like the ones listed below, allow you to freely use images without being required to give credit.
This is a very brief summary of some of the licensing options out there. It’s not meant to replace the terms that are listed on free or paid stock websites. No matter what site you use, be sure to read through all of their licensing terms and understand which apply to you!
Aaron’s Top 5 Free Stock Websites
Need some free stock images? Here are Aaron’s top 5 websites to get great, free stock photos:
If you can’t find the exact image you’re looking for on free stock websites, paid stock sites can save the day. Adobe Stock has a massive library of stock images and a variety of licensing options to meet your needs.
There are a couple major benefits to using paid stock. The first is that the image quality tends to be higher on average. There are some great quality images on free stock sites, but you’ll find the images on pages like Adobe Stock to be a bit more reliable. You’ll also find a bit more variety in the types of image file types (jpg, png, etc.) The second major benefit is that paid stock libraries will be significantly larger, increasing the likelihood of finding the exact type of photo you need.