Using Stock photography

What is Stock Photography?

Stock Photos are photographs that you can buy and use in your own projects, without having to commission a photographer. Stock Photos are already taken, edited, and ready to use.  This saves a lot of your time and money. The photographer makes their photos available for licensing, meaning you can pay a fee to get the right to use it in your designs legally. One of the most popular license types is that of Royalty Free, which gives a wide range of usage rights for a very low cost.

Many photographers submit their photos to stock photo agencies that offer big digital catalogs full of images that you can purchase online and download directly from their websites.

Stock images are not limited to photographs, you can find illustrations, vector files, video clips. soundtracks, and more.

How do I use stock images?

There are different allowed uses depending on the license. The most common are Royalty Free and Rights Managed images. Royalty Free license allows for a wider range of uses, while Rights Managed images are the same, but limit it to one use per license.

Here are some various uses for stock images that are most common to most license types:

Marketing and Advertising

  • Commercials — TV, Web, etc.
  • Printed materials
  • Product packaging
  • Film and video
  • Brochures
  • Catalogs


  • Presentations
  • Branding material
  • Letterheads
  • Trade booth displays
  • Social Media

Promotional (not for sale)

  • Flyers
  • Posters
  • Greeting cards
  • Postcards

Entertainment and Editorial

  • Book and eBook covers
  • Book and eBook illustrations
  • Magazines and newspapers
  • Blogs and online publications
  • Broadcast
  • Video
  • Theatrical presentations
  • Newsletters


  • Graphic design
  • Web Design themes and elements
  • Digital wallpapers
  • Decor – home, office or any public space

Personal use (not for sale)

  • Posters
  • Prints
  • Reproductions
  • Art

Copyright/Ownership & Licensing

Most stock images are copyrighted, and for this reason you cannot use the photographers image without their express permission, and without paying them the due royalties or crediting them when required.

It is very tempting to just download photos from Google, with the exception of the Public Domain and some Creative Commons images, most images on websites are copyrighted. You can infringe on the author’s copyright and get into legal trouble. For free to use stock images, use trustworthy sources such as UnsplashFlickr Creative Commons and Getty.  Here is Our Top 5 Free Stock Photo Sites.

When you buy a stock image, you are buying a license to use the image in certain allowed ways. You are NOT acquiring the ownership of the image. The author still owns it, your just paying the right to use it.

1) Amos Struck, “How do Stock Photos Work? Great Beginners Guide to Stock Photography” Stock Photo Secrets, 2011-2021,
2) “Why is Copyright Licensing and Attribution Important to Researchers?” Enago Academy, May 22, 2018,
3) “Obtaining Copyright Permissions” University of Michigan Library, Oct 27, 2020,