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Written by Driek van der Stam, 14 January 2022

Publishing photos online: which ones are you allowed to use and which ones aren’t?

An image completes your text. But if you’re creating a brochure, blog post or advertisement, you can’t just pluck a picture from Google Images. You have to deal with all kinds of laws and can get in trouble if you break them. With this blog post, we will make sure you find the best photos for every medium and every occasion.

What the law says

Several laws apply to the use of photographs. First, the photographer must give permission to use an image. We call this copyright. You must also have permission for commercial use.

The above two rights apply to all photos. In the simplest case, you post an image of a landscape or object and have no further worries about other rights. If people show up, portrait rights come into play.

If you hire a photographer yourself, you would do well to have these arrangements in writing. If you get a photo from a stock photo website (see below), the portrait right is already granted. The only question is whether you can use an image for commercial purposes. There is also still the difference between images that are royalty-free and those labeled rights-managed. The latter variant requires you to pay separately for each application or medium.

When searching for a photo, you can activate the necessary filters to find a photo with the appropriate permissions. Note that often source citation is also required.

Best option: custom photos

The best matching images to your content are custom photos. Not by you with your cell phone, but by a professional photographer. With his equipment and experience, he knows how to create the best composition and lighting conditions. And during post-processing, the photo comes to life. Thus, the subject-whether a person, a landscape or an object-come out perfectly.

Especially when individuals are depicted, it’s nice when you don’t have to use other people’s photos. Many stock photos still show cheesy smiles and backgrounds that look more like Manhattan than Middelburg. Surely you prefer to have your own employees or customers in the photo than complete strangers.

It’s just not realistic to send out a photographer for every new article idea or ad. Sometimes you want to publish something on short notice and no photographer is available. And even if it was always at your disposal, the question is whether you have the budget for it.

A good alternative: premium stock photos

If you are looking for a good quality photo but don’t have the time or budget for a photographer, then a stock photo website is a good idea. You then pay a fee per photo, and sometimes that fee varies if you want it for a commercial rather than informational use. There are also subscription types, where you pay a periodic fee and may download a set number of photos each month in return. Some of those platforms are:

These types of premium stock photos can be purchased and then used by anyone. In practice, you encounter them mostly in online magazines and newspapers. Some stock photo sites indicate how many times a photo has already been sold, which gives you an indication of its popularity and thus the likelihood that your audience will encounter it elsewhere.

Cheapest way: free, royalty-free photos

Whether you have a limited budget or simply want to test an idea, free photo publishing online is naturally irresistible. On various platforms, photographers (mostly amateurs) uploaded their photos to gain name recognition. You can then use those images royalty-free and even edit them. These are the best-known sites:

Naturally, you’ll see these free, royalty-free photos used by more websites than premium stock photos. Therefore, they are especially suitable for temporary use: for example, in a banner or online advertisement. Also for blog posts, you would get these for free. For a more tangible expression, such as a brochure, white paper or book, your own photo or at least a premium stock photo looks a lot better.