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How to Find Inexpensive or Free-to-Use Stock Images

Using photographs to enhance a project, product or service helps with presentation, but copyright must be respected and fees are sometimes steep.

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Whether building a website, adorning an article, creating a slideshow or video, photos and images jazz things up and attract attention. Using images found online without permission from the photographer or creator, however, is actually against the law and can result in legal action. Some photographers offer licensing rights to purchase certain rights to use photographs, images and designs, but these rights can often be expensive.

For some purposes, such as using purchased photographs and images for a book cover, paying double or sometimes even triple digit fees to license the right to use a photograph or image might be reasonable. However, if a writer needs an image to adorn an article, for example, paying several hundred dollars to upload that image to a website simply isn’t reasonable. Plus, small businesses that are just starting up can’t afford to pay for every single photo used on their website without going broke before even getting started.

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Royalty-Free Licenses for Images and Photographs

One option for photograph and image needs is choosing stock photography and stock images websites. These websites allow photographers—both professional and amateur—to upload photographs, designs, vector images and more, making them available for limited use by customers who purchase licensed rights. The licensed rights can vary, and the cost will vary with the rights as well, with the more exclusive and/or commercial the proposed used of the images or photographs being the most expensive, while nonexclusive one-time use of the same images will be less expensive.

Many royalty-free stock photography and image websites let customers purchase credits for a set fee, and then charges credits for different dimensions, pixels and quality of the photograph or image being licensed. For the best quality, search for stock photography websites that have some editorial review or control over the images being placed for sale. For example, iStockPhoto has staff who review every photo submitted to ensure it is high quality.

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Best Stock Images And Stock Video Websites?

List of stock images and video websites is from IMHO Reviews and it includes most affordable and user friendly websites and few free ones.

1. Envato Elements

2. Storyblocks 

3. Pond5

4. Shutterstock

5. Pexels

6. iStockphoto

7. Pixabay

Are There Free-Use Images Online?

Yes, there are free-use images, photos, designs and even audio and video available for purchase. The free-use images are usually designs, images and photographs submitted to stock photo and image websites by amateurs who are experimenting with their craft, are still learning, or who have some photographs or images that didn’t meet the demands of a quality control reviewer for a paying site. Also, some photographers or designers will submit several pieces of work for free use in the hope of gaining exposure. If willing to take the time to search through the submitted images on a free-use image or photo site, excellent photographs and designs can be found that will suit the purposes for most all personal needs and many business needs too.

One of the most popular free-use stock photo sites is Stock.XCHNG, now part of the Getty Images group. With literally thousands of photos and vector graphics and images, most individuals and small businesses can find images for use on websites, slideshows, promotional items and more.

Downside to Using Free-Use Images

The only downside to free-use images is that, generally speaking, the user will have no exclusivity on the use of the image. That is, hundreds of other people might also use the same image in their works, which can lead to some confusion or embarrassment. For example, someone with a small press publisher could choose to use an image for a book cover about an embarrassing health topic, while a website uses the same image for an exciting new membership program for teens.

Some creators of stock images require they be notified prior to use, while others will require credit for the photograph or image be given when the image is used for a public work. These requirements are usually easy to accommodate and won’t detract from public display or use of the work.

Search Engine Images or Thumbnails

There is a mistaken belief by many that images found on search engines, such as Google Images, are able to be re-used. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Every photograph has a copyright attached to it by the creator, unless the creator has chosen to place that image into the public domain or attached a Creative Commons License to it. Thumbnails are sometimes acceptable to use, provided they meet certain requirements, but it’s probably best not to venture down that path, just to be certain copyright laws are not being violated.

Hotlinking (using the URL of an image that someone else hosts) is not acceptable fair use in most cases, and neither is copying and saving images found online or in Google Images or other search engines. It’s best to stick with the legitimate free-to-use image sites or pay to purchase the stock photos at the royalty free sites.

How to Find Free or Inexpensive Images

Do a little research on your favorite search engine using the words: stock photography, free stock photos, inexpensive royalty-free photos. Other variations of these phrases will turn up more options. Be sure to read the guidelines on the site to see what uses you can license and whether there is any review of control over the quality of the images uploaded or any checks to determine if copyright is being respected. Using a less-than-professional image site might result in accidental copyright violation, so its best to stay with stock image companies that provide review of the submitted works.

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