How to Use Stock Photography in Your Marketing Communication Materials

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I love photography. I think a good photograph is the simplest and most elegant way to convey a message and generate emotions. When it comes to brand management, I find Marketing collateral that include big, well-chosen pictures and minimal copy more compelling and engaging.

Brand managers have a few options when it comes to photography, the ideal one being to hire a professional photographer for a personalized photo session. The advantages are obvious: unique and exclusive images that can be used without any restrictions. But in many cases, due to budget or time constrains, hiring a photographer is not an option. That’s when stock photography come in very handy. The good news is that today, with the explosion in the number of websites offering stock photography, the choices in terms of quantity, creativity and cost are basically unlimited.

What Is Stock Photography?

Stock photography refers to collections of photographs, illustrations, vector, video, audio and flash files organized in searchable libraries and available for commercial and personal use.

Licencing Options

Before placing an image in your Marketing materials you have to obtain the rights to use it. The most popular licence agreements fall into three categories:

Royalty-free (RF)-this simplest licencing option gives user the rights to use the image on unlimited number of projects as often as needed with no additional fees to be paid after the initial purchase. Images are offered in different sizes and resolutions, and priced accordingly. The main advantages of royalty-free images are affordability, the multitude of options, and simplicity of use, as there are no legal implications after the purchase.

Rights-managed (RM)-images in this category are priced based on where, how and when they will be used. The advantages of rights-managed images is that they are more creative, better quality photos, often available with exclusive rights.That being said these images are more expensive than royalty-free ones.

Free images– are available for commercial and personal use at no cost to the user (except maybe a donation to the website that offers them). These photographs are a good solution for small project and blogs, however the selection and creative value is often limited.

The licencing types listed above are the most common, however other options, such as “Editorial” and “Comping and Preview Use”, are available depending on the source. Make sure you check the “Licence Information” section of the website you plan to purchase the image from for full details on the types of licences offered.

Selecting The Best Option

The best licence option depends on your project requirements. Before making the purchase ask yourself a few questions that will help narrow the search: is the Marketing piece intended for an internal or external audience? What is the desired level of exclusivity? What is the available budget?

Rights-managed images offer the most exclusivity, quality and creativity. However all these come at a cost. Free images on the other hand are obviously very “budget friendly” but usually lack creativity. I personally find royalty-free images to be the best compromise between quality, exclusivity and cost.

Some Technical Aspects to Consider

The cost of an image is based on a few attributes, the most common being image size and resolution. Having a basic understanding of these concepts helps you avoid getting an image that is not suitable for your project. Below is a non-technical explanation of what these terms mean (I am not a Graphic Designer) and the correlation between them.

Image resolution (measured in dots per inch or “dpi”) gives the quality of an image. The higher the resolution, the crisper the image, the more flexibility in re-sizing it without loosing the quality. The right resolution depends on the medium in which it will be used: for the web a resolution of 72 dpi will be sufficient, since the goal is to have the pages load fast. If you are printing the image in large format then you will probably need a resolution of between 150 and 300 dpi, and even higer.

Image dimensions (usually measured in inches or centimeters) represent the size of the image when printed at a particular resolution.

What is the correlation between the two variables? Any change in resolution will affect the image dimensions. For example let’s say you have an image that is 48″ wide X 49″ tall at a resolution of 72 dpi. The same image at 300 dpi will be 11.7″ X 11.8″.

One Last Tip

In order to preserve the image quality the pixel dimensions should remain the same. In Adobe Photoshop, the graphic industry’s standard program, you can achieve this by unchecking the “Re-sample image” box in the “Image Size” menu.

In a future post I will list my favorite websites for sourcing stock photography.


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