Publishing photos online: which photos can you use and which ones can't you use?

Photo Written by André Gussekloo

An image completes your text. But if you're creating a brochure, blog post or advertisement, you can't just pluck a picture out of 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 images for every medium and every occasion.

What the law says

Several laws apply to the use of photographs. First of all, the photographer must give permission for the use of an image. This is called copyright. You must also have permission for commercial use

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

If you hire a photographer yourself, it is a good idea to have these agreements in writing. If you get a picture from a stock photo website (see below), the portrait right has already been granted. The only question is whether you can use an image for commercial purposes. There is also a difference between photos that are royalty-free and images with the rights-management label. In the latter case, you must pay separately for each application or medium.

When searching for a photo, you can activate the necessary filters to find a photo with the correct rights. Note that often source attribution is also required.

Best option: custom photos

The best matching images to your content are custom photographs. 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. This way the subject - whether it's a person, a landscape or an object - comes into its own.

Especially when depicting people, it's nice if you don't have to use someone else's photos. Many stock photos still show a cheesy smile and a background that looks more like Manhattan than Middelburg. You would rather have your own employees or clients in the picture 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 he were always at your disposal, it's questionable 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 pay an amount per photo and sometimes that amount varies if you want it for a commercial rather than informational use. There are also subscription platforms, where you pay a periodic fee and are allowed to download a set number of photos each month in return. Some of these platforms are:

These types of premium stock photos can be bought and then used by anyone. In practice, you'll find 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 find it elsewhere.

Cheapest way: free, royalty-free photos

Whether you have a limited budget or simply want to test an idea, publishing photos online for free is naturally irresistible. On various platforms, photographers (mostly amateurs) have uploaded their photos in order to make a name for themselves. Those images you can then use and even edit rights free. These are the best known sites:

Naturally, you will 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. You could also use them for free for blog posts. For a more tangible expression, such as a brochure, white paper or book, a personal photo or at least a premium stock photo looks much better.

André Gussekloo Content marketeer
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