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

Introduction to Stock Photography

What is Stock Photography?

Stock photography is defined as the 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, advertisement, 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 allows 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 subscription. 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, the consumers browse the images and downloads them. Photographers, on the other hand, can submit their photography and get paid a percentage if their image gets licensed and downloaded. 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 bring success. The more you shoot, the better you will become, and the more photos you will be able to sell. (Cited material)

Stock photography is one of many sources of monetization for a photographer. It’s a good idea to have a open mind about stock photography as it can contribute 30%-100% of photographer’s annualized income. 

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 an 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 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 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 is often calculated on how many viewers will potentially see the image. The license price is calculated from 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 an 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 permits an electronic version of it's 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 it's 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. 

Below is a list of leading North American Stock Photo Archives who 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 70% of a photo purchased off an assignment.

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 & add a social fun/mobile aspect to becoming a professional photographer while emphasizing the aspect of making a career out of photography.

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.