4 stock photography considerations for UK SMEs

We talked to Niall O’Loughlin, marketing manager at 99designs to gain expert advice on using stock photography on your small business website.

It is essential for UK businesses to spice up their content which is why graphic designers are so keen to utilise the power of stock photography. Images make content more palatable and provide a break from what would otherwise be paragraphs of tedious text.

stock photography

1. What are stock images?

These images are professionally designed/photographed images which are then sold or licensed; the person or company purchasing the images is known as the ‘licensee’ or buyer.

Designers often turn to stock images when developing designs for their clients because creating professional images is time consuming and expensive. The images found on 99designs are given two classifications:

  • Photographs: There are a number of distribution companies such as ShutterStock, Getty Images, iStockphoto and Corbis. You can choose between thousands of images and choose the one that is perfect for the design you’re trying to achieve.
  • Vector Images: These are not photographs; instead, they are scalable graphics which are licensed. Again, you have a vast choice available.

2. How do I know when a designer has used a stock photograph?

In simple terms; they are supposed to tell you! When designers notify you, they must also have a link to the image to allow you to find the source and quickly purchase a license as seen below.

3. How to license a stock image

There are typically two stock image license types:

  • Royalty-free: Once you purchase this type of license, you can use it a number of times without being forced to pay any further fees. However, you should look at each individual license’s terms and conditions to see if there are any restrictions.
  • Rights-managed: This type of license usually comes with strings attached as its use can be limited; restrictions include geographic location, industry and the length of time you are allowed to use the image.

The cost of licenses can vary dramatically but generally, you’re likely to pay £15-30 to license an image. Before you decide to skip the fee and use the image anyway, bear in mind that if you are found to be using a stock image without a license, you can be fined thousands of pounds. Don’t think you can get away with it either; most stock images have coded tracking information that makes them easy to track even if the image happens to be modified.

If you want a stock image but don’t know which license to use, play it safe and get in touch with the owner for proper coverage. Hopefully, we haven’t scared you off the idea of stock imagery; most organisations that use stock images in their marketing materials have no legal problems so there is no reason to be frightened.

Stock images can turn a mediocre design into something exceptional so don’t ignore their potential. Before you proceed, it’s a good idea to know what these images look like so you can recognise them immediately.

4. Spotting stock images

The simplest method is to check for a watermark on the image which will usually indicate its source.

In most cases, photos included in a design will be stock images. Unless a designer takes the photograph himself, it’s fairly likely that the image came from a stock photography website which means a license is required. Get in touch with the designer and ask him where they sourced the image while also getting a link to this source.

Trying to determine whether non-photographic images are stock is a bit trickier. There are reverse image search platforms like TinEye or Google Images which can be used to upload the image and perform a search against billions of other images. If the image doesn’t appear in the search, it’s probably original.

If you’re still hesitant, ask the designer where he got it from or get in touch with the 99designs Customer Support team. In the event that a designer offers to get the stock image’s rights on your behalf, please note that stock image licenses are usually not transferrable and the copyright contract of 99designs doesn’t provide for any such transfer. While designers should be aware of this, you must assume responsibility and buy the image license yourself.

While this may seem like a tiresome endeavour, it will likely only take a few minutes and failure to do it can have serious repercussions. When it comes to your business, it’s best not to take shortcuts so go through the right channels to ensure you benefit from a trouble-free design for the foreseeable future.

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