How to Find Great Photographs for Your Marketing Content…and Use Them Legally

By Diane Saeger

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Last time, I talked about why you need images in your marketing content and offered some recommendations on making sure those images are both impactful and relevant to your topic.

Today, we’ll dive a little deeper into the topic of visuals in your blogs, social media posts, and long-form content (marketing collateral over 1,200 words) and suggest some places to find great images. We’ll also cover how to use photos with correct attribution.

1. Look for Free Resources

Great photography doesn’t have to blow your budget. You can sift through a number of websites to find high-quality, restriction-free images at no cost to you. For example, I highly recommend HubSpot—offering many general, business, and holiday free stock photos. These images are less likely to be overused in the marketplace, as compared to similar photos from iStockphoto. Some other free photo sites to consider: pixabay, StockSnap, pexels, Unsplash, Gratisography, Negative Space, ISO Republic, picjumbo, and New Old Stock.

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2. Don’t Use Google Images

Most images found via Google Image search results are covered by copyrights. To be safe, stay away from using them altogether. Instead, use Google Image as an idea generator. Input relevant keywords and search through the image results. Then, look for similar stock or open-source photos that offer the same visual appeal.

3. Find the Best License Type For Your Needs

Whether you purchase or legitimately download a free photo, you’ll want to pay attention to the rights included in the license agreement. Below are four main license types with some pros and cons of each:

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a. Royalty-Free Photos: By far the most popular (and most affordable) license type for stock photos, royalty-free (RF) photos allow the consumer to use the image multiple times, without paying a royalty fee. RF images have the most lenient permissions for both commercial and personal projects. On the upside, you pay nothing for these images. On the downside, though, anyone can purchase and use RF images, meaning your same photo selections could be used by others—maybe even your competitors.

b. Rights-Managed Photos: A rights managed (RM) license gives exclusive use of a stock image for a limited time. Exclusive use means that only the licensee can use the image for the period specified in the license contract. RM licenses are granted on a pay-per-use basis, meaning the stock image can only be used for one particular project, only for a set period of time, and often only in certain geographical areas. RM images can be expensive to license, but they also offer protection against brand dilution (due to competitors using the same image) and allow for larger print runs.

c. Public Domain: Photos available in the public domain do not include a license agreement and are available for personal and commercial purposes to anyone—for free.

d. Creative Commons: Typically extended by the creator, Creative Commons licenses offer exclusive, limited-time use of a stock image to a licensee.

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4. Make Sure it Looks Good

An image adds no value if it looks bad inside your marketing content. Be sure to find an image that’s the right size for your needs. For example, if you’re creating hard-copy collateral, find a photo with the proper dimensions (length and width), quality (300 dots per inch), and file type (PNG, TIFF or JPG). Alternatively, if you only plan to use the image online, a photo at 72 dots per inch will work just fine. In either case—if the license allows—properly crop, edit, and downsize the image to fit your marketing medium. (Personal Disclosure: Nothing’s more frustrating than an image that looks great but takes forever to load.)

5. Partner With a Local Photographer

If you have enough lead time, find and connect with a photographer in your area who both matches your style and specializes in capturing your subject matters. See if you can form an agreement that grants you exclusive access to the images. It can be a great way to find unique images that fit your needs and support a local business at the same time.

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