Marketing & Branding Advice, Technical Tips

Are You SURE You Can Use That Photo?


Have you ever needed a photo to go with a blog post, or fill a void on your firm’s website, or spice up a Facebook or LinkedIn post? It’s so easy to jump online and search for an image, everyone does it. And since you are not using it to “sell” anything, it’s OK to post it, right?


Whether you are posting an image to a social site or printing it on the side of a product package, it is imperative that you understand how image rights work. Photos are almost always owned by the photographer. The photographer can release the rights to photos on a case-by-case basis.

Here are three easy ways to be sure you can legally use a photo:

License a Royalty-Free Image

“Royalty-Free” basically means that if you pay a fee, you purchase the rights to use the image. There are some restrictions that vary depending on where you purchase the shot and how you can use it, so be sure to read the licensing agreement. Note that “Rights-Managed” images are typically licensed for a specific use (like on a website, in a brochure, in a magazine ad), for a specific size (full page, half page, quarter page), for a set duration (one day/month/year), and for a defined quantity (500 brochures, a magazine with a 500,000 circulation). My two favorite royalty-free stock photo sites of late are iStock Photo and Stocksy.

Use Google Images, But Carefully

  1. Go to Google Images and enter the search term you are looking for. In the example below, I searched for “clock stock photos.”
  2. Next, click the “Tools” tab.
  3. In the sub-nav menu that appears, select “Usage rights.”
  4. From there you will see two options: Creative Commons licenses, and Commercial & other licenses.
  5. Select “Commercial & other licenses.” You’ll notice that Google has added a “Licensable” tag that appears as you mouse-over the photos.
  6. Choose a licensable photo, click on it, and then proceed to the website where you can license the photo for use (this often requires a credit card payment.)

Clock Google Image Search

Hire a Photographer, or Take a Picture Yourself

When your budget allows, it’s wonderful to work with a professional photographer to capture a unique image specific to your needs. If I see a particular photo on a photographer’s website, I sometimes email the artist to see if he/she will license the shot to me (I identify the image, what I need it for, and how much I have to spend). Offering to include a credit line or (even better) a link to the photographer’s website is always beneficial. Or, try taking a photo yourself, or asking a budding photographer to help out. But be advised: if your photo includes a recognizable product (like an iPhone), a company logo, a person’s face (without their permission), a private property (office or residence), you should not use it.

By following one of the three options above, you can rest assured that the photo in your article, post, email, or newsletter is legally safe to use.

Vanessa’s article first appeared in SMPS Boston’s Outlook, May 13, 2015.

In Your Inbox