What You Don’t Know About Stock Photos Can Hurt You

Your company’s brand is made up of not only your logo and the colors you use, but also the photographs in your marketing materials. The combination of these three elements helps visually convey your unique value proposition to existing and prospective clients. If you are like most firms, the images found on your website and marketing collateral are not original photos owned by you. Most likely, you use stock photos, or images that you license from the owner of the photo to use in your business.

Stock photos provide an alternative to using original photographs and can be purchased online at sites such as Getty Images and iStock for prices ranging from nearly free to several thousands of dollars. But if not properly planned for and managed, stock photos can become expensive and even a liability. Before you use stock images, make sure you understand not only what you plan on using them for, but also the license for their use.

Purchasing the Right Image

When purchasing stock photos, make sure you are buying the correct resolution and image size for your needs. Lower-resolution images at 72 DPI (dots per inch) are appropriate for digital mediums such as websites, while higher-resolution images at 300 DPI are required for print mediums such as brochures. Using a 72 DPI image in print collateral will result in a fuzzy image, and using a 300 DPI image on a website will lead to slower download. Likewise, it is important to understand the size of the image needed. While you can shrink the size without reducing the quality, you cannot increase the size of the image without distorting the quality. Therefore it is important that you purchase a photo that is at least as large as the size you are going to need. Purchasing the wrong size or the wrong resolution may require you to buy the image again.

If you are purchasing an image that can be used multiple times for multiple purposes without time limitations, it would be wise to purchase the largest image, with the highest resolution possible (e.g., 17.5 inches by 18.4 inches or 5,251 pixels by 5,530 pixels at 300 DPI). An image of this size and resolution will be more expensive but will provide more flexibility. Let’s say you purchase a small, low-resolution photo for your website. You may have to purchase the same photo again, this time in a larger size and at a higher resolution, when you want to use it in your brochure. This additional, unnecessary expense of buying the image twice can be avoided by properly planning from the beginning.


It’s important to remember that stock photos require a license to use. While you may think it is acceptable to “borrow” images you find on Google Images, you are likely violating copyright laws and could be fined. For this reason, you will want to make sure that you not only purchase a license for each image you use, but also understand the terms and restrictions of your license. For example, you may purchase a stock image that only allows you a certain use such as on a website. Any additional uses, such as in a brochure, may be a violation of the copyright. In addition, your license may expire after a certain amount of time (e.g., one year), and you will find yourself having to renew the license to continue using the image.

It is a mistake to think that your business is too small to be fined for using stock photos illegally. Reverse-image search technology makes it easy for stock photo sites to actively look for violators in order for the companies to protect their images. An inappropriately licensed image can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fines.

Stock images are a convenient way to enhance your marketing materials and build your brand image. While the process of purchasing an image is easy, it is important to make sure you are buying the photos with the correct specifications and licenses to meet your needs. Otherwise, you could find yourself paying much more for a stock image than you ever would have imagined.