A Basic Understanding of Photo Licensing and Other Rules for Using Stock Photos

Little girl covering eyes with citrus lemons posing in her room

What is Stock Photography?

Stock photography is defined as an archive of images that can be licensed commercially. If you sell a product or service, you automatically have a commercialized need for stock photography in order to support any required marketing collateral. Because of that, you need to license the rights to use a photo for that commercial need. ‘Every day you see pictures in magazines, advertisements, posters, online and on TV. The reality is most of the images used were not created specifically for that product, concept, or promotion. The images those companies use are stock photographs. Stock photos are ready-made images that are licensable for use in your advertising or promotional materials. This ability to search for a specific image saves time and money. At the end of the day, that is what businesses want.’ (Cited material)

How does it work?

‘Most Royalty Free stock photography archives operate on a subscription or credit-based system. Credits allow you to purchase more credits at a discount over the basic credit rate. Usually, you will run into these two pricing models: downloads of single images purchased with credit packs, or monthly or annual subscriptions. Hands down if you are planning to download multiple images, a subscription would be a smart buy for an Image Buyer. If you really just need a single image, usually the single download prices are reflected next to the available resolutions of an image.’ (Cited material)

‘Stock Photography has two sides to it. The consumer and the photographer. As expected, consumers browse images from search results and download them. Photographers, on the other hand, can submit their photography and get paid a percentage if their image gets downloaded and legally licensed. If you are a photographer that is looking to make some extra money on the side, this option is always available.’ In the stock photo industry, you should have three things handy to succeed: time, patience, and a good camera. If you have a good eye, understand light as it relates to a subject, and have a fair amount of patience, stock photography is a true numbers game that brings success. The more you shoot, the better you will become, and the more photos you will be able to sell. (Cited material)

Even though photographers normally prefer assignment work as a main source of income, stock photography is one of the many other sources of monetization for a photographer. It’s a good idea to have an open mind about stock photography as it can contribute up to 30% of a photographer’s total annualized income.

girl looking right working on computer
Blake Bronstad / Snapwire

Introduction to Photo Licensing

In our industry, we often hear about confusion regarding licensing of Premium (or traditional) Royalty-Free and Rights Managed Licensing. This section will provide information on the types of license rights available to image buyers, who they are, and fees collected on images. Always be sure to read and understand all of the license agreements from any stock agency archive before you submit to one as a photographer or buy from one as a photo buyer.

What is a Royalty Free Image? Royalty-Free Licenses (RF).

Every Royalty Free image license grants you basic royalty-free usage rights. For a one-time payment, a buyer (often referred to as an End User) may choose the photo size he or she may require and use the licensed photo over and over again for permitted uses defined in the licensing agreement such as advertising and promotional projects, websites, presentations, videos, commercials, catalogs, and broadcasting. Typically Royalty Free imagery provides 1–10 seat licenses for one End User. A seat license is defined by the number of individuals having the right to access and use the photo at one given time. An End User is defined as an entity or person(s) who can access the photo and use it for the permitted uses. Most agreements allow the image to be stored on a storage device.

What is a Rights-Managed Image? Managed Licenses (RM).

The term Rights Managed is used to describe the temporary use of an image. RM license fees are priced on a per-use basis and are often calculated on how many viewers will potentially see the image. The license price is calculated from the image display size, placement, geography, medium, and duration of use. Specifics matter on a license of a Rights Managed photo, and often after the rights expire, stock agencies use technology services like Image Protect or Pic Scout to scour the internet, looking for expired rights or infringement uses. The End User concept described earlier applies to all photo licensing.

Comping and Preview Policy for both (RF) and (RM) photos

Most stock agencies allow for the download of a photo with an applied watermark. Comping or Preview imagery is imagery that is available to potential image buyers to ‘try before the buy’. These images may only be used for preview purposes. Agencies permit an electronic version of its products to be used free of charge for a limited duration only if they are used for personal evaluation, and in any case, noncommercial use, and its grant of use is solely for test or sample purposes. Photographers who upload photos to stock agencies should feel comfortable with this business dynamic and use of their photos.

What about Attributions?

Regardless of if a photo is licensed under a Royalty-Free or Rights-Managed licensing model, we often get asked when and how a photographer’s name should be attributed next to the photo. While the exact location can vary, it’s typical to view attributions on an editorial use of a photo. Typically, the attribution will be positioned directly under the left-hand margin of a photo in a small font point size. Editorial use of photography is defined as such when a photo is used to illustrate a concept or story of a newsworthy event. An Editorial photo may be licensed as a Royalty Free and used in multiple publications or stories by one End-user; or as a Rights Managed license where usage would be limited to a single story or use.

girl with glasses holding a camera up to her face
Blake Bronstad / Snapwire

Copyright Ownership of Photos

Albeit a camera on a mobile phone or the latest technical marvel released by Canon, it’s a fundamental fact that the person who captures an image using it is the rightful copyright owner of the said image. Because of that, photographers can profit from that by licensing the rights to use that image in a chosen licensing model (as described above), sell the use of the image for a period of time (often referred to as a ‘Buyout’), or sell the copyright to the image. Most brands today find that owning the rights to an image free’s them from the burden of their teams’ misuse of the image or re-licensing the rights to the image. As such, most brands are willing to pay extra to obtain those rights.

Below is a list of leading North American Stock Photo Archives that license RF & RM photos.

Royalty-Free Stock Agencies:

Rights-Managed & Royalty-Free Stock Agencies:

The Snapwire approach:

We are a photographer-driven community founded on the principles of cooperative equality, respect, and fair distribution of profits. Our contributing photographers receive 50% of a photo purchased in our Marketplace and 90% of a photo purchased off an assignment. Brands can buy a Royalty-Free license to use the photos produced in an assignment or they can pay extra to obtain the copyright directly from the photographer.

Christina Vaughan / Snapwire

The Origin of Snapwire:

We saw photographers shooting on Instagram only to receive likes & the occasional free products. These photographers are more talented than that. They should be getting paid for what they do, just as any other professional gets paid to do what he/she does best.

The Snapwire Story

The landscape is evolving where stock photo companies are taking every penny & marginalizing photographers while stomping on creativity. The other side is where creativity is being pushed forward but no one is earning any money. On Snapwire, we take the best of these worlds and provide a fun path for any aspiring photographer to become a professional. Snapwire’s photo contest (called Challenges) provides anyone a chance to feel like a pro when their photo is chosen for our stock photo library marketplace. If a photo is chosen the photographer not only has a chance to make money if a buyer licenses their photo they earn points. The more points one earns the more success they have through user levels traversed. Eventually, a photographer can earn the status of a “Pro Level” affording them a chance to participate in assignments.

Snapwire has an invite-only marketplace of visual creators for brands and businesses who need to create content at scale. If you achieve the Pro Level on Snapwire, you will be invited. Marketing teams (varies by title, and there’s a lot, but here’s a few: Growth Marketers, Brand Managers, Creative Managers) can sign up and use our network to source creators to produce videos, photos, TikToks, and TV spots they need because they need assets to tell their product story or document their product. We monetize by charging a transaction fee for any budget that moves through the platform. Brands also pay an annual fee to access gated features and secure additional rights to the content. However, any brand can sign-up and immediately gain value by running a project through the marketplace for free.

Whether you’re a photographer itching to earn some money doing what you love, or a business manager looking to purchase authentic marketing material that will actually sell your products, Snapwire has the tools you need.

Subscribe to the Snapwire Blog

Sign up with your email address and get our latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

Share this post with your friends

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Ready to shorten production from weeks to days?

Request a demo

Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

Request a demo

Tell us a little about yourself to get started