Royalty-Free Stock Photos in a Nutshell: All You Need to Know About Affordable Stock Photography


Photography is an essential component of our tech-driven society. So it comes as no surprise that it is also one of the main elements in web design and graphic design. But professional photography has its cost, not being accessible for everyone. And this is where stock photography, and Royalty-free stock photography in particular, come into play.

Not using photos on your website or visuals, or otherwise using low-quality images, are not acceptable options – not if you want to get those great results, at least. Royalty-free stock photos are a very cost-effective way to obtain high-quality photos to use in your designs at affordable prices and with the best benefits.

Let’s have a look at everything you need to know to get the most out of this most valuable of design resources!

Websites and Photography: Can’t (Shouldn’t!) Have One without the Other

When it comes to developing a website, there’s a list of factors to consider to make sure the site does what its meant to do in the best possible way. And the presence of great, compelling and sharp looking photos is one of them.

It’s fair to say the old expression “a picture is worth a thousand words” is even truer today than ever before: Pretty much all of the latest researches on user behaviour point out images and visuals are incredibly relevant for the consumer experience. People respond more and better to your messages, communications and proposals if they’re expressed with or through photos and graphics that appeal to them.

Visual content is mandatory for a successful commercial endeavour, but it also has to be the right kind. Put a pin on this: latest trends highlight natural-styled, candid photos of real people in everyday situations as the most engaging. And of course, photos have to be of the highest resolution and shot with professional-like skills.

Most experts include the use of great, trendy photography among the best practices for web performance, like in this useful article by AMI Studios on web tools to enhance your online presence. This is as valid for graphic design for any purpose as well: marketing and advertising, branding, social media presence, etc.

Whether you want to dive deep into the psychology that explains why people respond better to photos or you simply take upon the advice of those who know, one thing is clear: you can’t have awesome websites or visuals without professional, current and high-quality photography.

Royalty-Free Stock Photos The Ultimate Budget Friendly Resource in Photography

In the unlikely case that you never heard of stock photography, a comprehensive definition of it would be as photographs that are already created and finished, whose authors make them available to use in certain specific ways under a license, in exchange of a monetary fee. In simpler terms, they’re photos that are ready to use if you pay the artist a fee to do so. One important thing to keep in mind here is what you pay for is the right to use an image, not the ownership.

Within this field, Royalty Free (RF for short) is a licensing model with three important characteristics:

Commercial-ready: It grants usage for commercial purposes – that is, designs which intention is related to a commercial or for-profit activity, such as company websites, product pages, adverts, etc.

Flexible: It gives you a battery of usage rights all at once and for a one-time fee
– Perpetual – you can use the image for as long as you want, even forever
– No geographical limitations – use the image worldwide
– Multi-purpose – use the same photo in as many designs as you wish, over time or simultaneously

Affordable: You pay only once, you never have to pay royalties (hence the name Royalty-Free), and the rates are fairly cheap –we’ll tell you all about them in a moment–.

It’s not hard to see why it’s one of the most popular licensing options in the stock photography industry, as it’s really packed with user benefits, especially for low-budget projects.

The Trouble with Free in Stock Photos for Commercial Use

RF photos are very affordable. But you might have heard or come across websites giving away photos for commercial use for free, and wonder how could a paid option be better than free if they both offer the same. The short answer is: because they are NOT the same.

Free photo sites offer images under a generic free-usage license (usually Creative Commons or Public Domain) that is only valid if the copyright owner waived it and all other rights –like models and private properties– are also cleared. These sites rarely police if their files fulfil such requirements, so there’s a high risk the photos they offer are legally murky.

Professional RF photos are perfectly legal, with all rights cleared, and very economic. However, if you really can’t afford them, you can find high-quality free images that are safer to use in this great curated list of the best free photo sites for commercial use by Stock Photo Secrets.

Stock Photo Sites: Cheap RF Stock Photos on the Fly

Now you know what Royalty-free images are and why are they such a good deal for you, let’s talk about where you can buy them and how.

RF stock photos are sold almost exclusively online. Stock photo agency sites offer huge libraries with up to millions of files to choose from. All you have to do is find the photo you want, pay for it, and download it. Easy peasy, right? Here are some more details on how this system works:

User account: All stock photos sites require you sign up (usually for free) and create a user account with them. The personal or business info you input must be faithful and correct because it’s the data that will appear in your invoices should you require them, plus as you’re about to learn, will be legally binding when you start downloading. Don’t worry though, all serious stock photo agencies strongly protect your information.

License details: All agencies disclose their full license agreements on their sites. Every time you download a file from their sites, a license to use that file is emitted under your name using your user account info. For this reason, you are the only person allowed to work with the images until the final design is published. You are to use the photo according to the license terms, so it’s important that you read them carefully.

Microstock model: RF stock images are sold under what’s called “microstock” business model and it’s based in volume. Photos are very economic, but they set up a minimum purchase limit and work with bulk offers. Don’t let this put you off, as they’re very convenient deals!

Stock photo subscription: Definitely the best prices are with this buying option. Subscriptions are plans that you hire per month or per year, and give you a defined number of downloads during that time, for a fixed rate. This system involves periodic payments and long-term commitment with an agency but is insanely low priced. Normally ranging from around 10 and up to 750 images a month, these plans let you get high-res, professional photos ready to use for less than a buck each.

Credits and image packs: The other way to buy Royalty-free stock images is on demand, paying as you go. Very few companies let you buy photos one by one. Most of them use a minimum purchase bar in the form of credits (proprietary currency) or image packs. In both cases, you pay up front and download the photos whenever you want during a year and sometimes even with no time limitation, and the more you pay upfront the lower per-image price you get. On-demand photos price range is a bit higher, at roughly $5 to $30 each, but still very affordable.

Fuel your Website’s Performace with RF Stock Images

As we mentioned earlier in this article, professional photography is a must for successful websites and visual designs. Not from a merely aesthetic point of view, but from a technical, commercially driven perspective: good photography can improve your website’s results.

Using compelling and sharp images in your web design, as well as updating existing websites with fresher, trendier Royalty-Free photos, is one very effective way to improve their performance without too much expense or hassle. The same goes for all graphic design projects. From flyers to adverts to social media posts, current and beautiful RF photography will take you a much longer way.

For more tips on website improvement, check out Bluebeetle’s 10 quick tips to boost up your website’s performance.

Raise Up your Web Design Game with Affordable Stock Photography

Now you know all the perks in Royalty-free stock photography to obtain professional, high-res photos on the cheap, you’re armed with a powerful yet very simple tool to raise the bar in your web designs and enhance sites that are already running.

It’s a no-brainer this that this affordable stock photography option is a resource to seize and maximise the benefits reaping while taking your career, your site and your business to the next level.