Should you pick a paid photo or free in your photo search? When you use a photo or other image for a book cover or marketing, you need to know you have the right to use that photo. With anything you create for your self-publishing business —book covers, social media posts, blog posts— you have to be careful when choosing the images.
When you were posting on Facebook or Instagram in the past, chances are you weren’t making money from it. When you are making money from something — or hope to — rights shift from personal to commercial.
The rules for business and personal are different. Night and day different.
You may think, it’s just a photo. But, if you found your blog post or book or other product you’d labored over for sale by someone else, you wouldn’t be happy. Someone may own and probably does own the rights to the photograph you’re looking at. And they may want to be paid for it. And they may have a lawyer to help them get paid.
(This is the time when I need to say I’m not a lawyer. I did think about becoming one in high school but didn’t. Please consult a lawyer if you have any questions. Here’s a great article by a lawyer about this, but it can’t be considered a substitute.)
There are affiliate links in this post that will not cost the user any extra, but help support this site. The disclosure is here. Thank you!
Why not free?
If you want to use free photos, be very careful. Never (NEVER!) use an image you found on Google.
You’re thinking, “It’s just a picture of a tree, and I need one asap. What’s the harm? Who would know anyway?” Here’s one example of a free photo that ended up costing $7,000.
A lot of people think that if they credit the source and/or link back to a photo, then it’s okay to use it. Or the owner will just ask you to take the photo off your site and you’ll be done with it. That isn’t true and you’ll see that in her post above and in this post.
Where do I find good images?
So, you know you need to search for images you can use commercially. Where?
Stock photo sites have many thousands of photos and the photographer has uploaded his or her photos, vectors (images that aren’t photos) and videos for sale. We’re only going to talk about sites where you pay for your business pictures here.
When you buy a photo from a reputable site (which most would be), then you legally have clear rights about where and how you can use that photo commercially.
You might be wondering about sites with photos that are free for commercial use. There are those.
When I know I will be making a profit from something with an image on it, I’m extra careful of the source. I now only use photos I’ve purchased from trusted stock photo sites for commercial projects. I don’t want to take a chance on it belonging to someone else.
I might use a free photo — might — for a social media post, so we’ll cover free sites in another post.
You’ve decided to purchase a license to use a stock photo. Sounds expensive, right? Not necessarily. Yes, some stock photo sites can price a single image over $100 and often many times that amount. Getty Images has high-end photos in that price range. This isn’t to say their photos aren’t beautiful. They are.
If that isn’t your price range, keep looking and you’ll find that many stock photo sites are much less expensive.
There are stock sites where you can find the best pictures for your business. I’ve used quite a few, but my favorite is Depositphotos because it’s a company that combines quality with a great price.
Yes, I am an affiliate for them, but that isn’t because I started a blog and searched randomly for places that had affiliate programs. I’ve used stock images from Depositphotos for a long time. Most of the photos on my book covers were bought from them.
How do you choose a stock photo site?
1. Browse through their site for a few minutes to see if you like their photos. Are they high quality pictures? Some sites have photos that seem more like snapshots. Look for professional-quality photos, photos you want to use.
2. Check their prices. If you notice the words “royalty-free,” that means that you don’t pay a royalty every time someone buys your book or every year, etc. You buy it once.
3. Check their licenses. They should clearly say what you can and can’t do with each license. Every company is a little different on usage. If you’re unsure about anything contact them in a way that will give you the answer in writing such as an email or a chat with the transcript.
In general, the standard license will cover some things, and you’ll need to upgrade to a higher license for others. To see how this works, here’s Depositphoto’s license comparison page.
You can often use the standard license for a book cover, blog post or advertising. When you’re creating a physical or digital product to sell such as a mug or a sticker or template, you’ll probably need to move up to a higher (read: more expensive) license.
If you need an image for a logo, read extra carefully. I noticed that istock and Shutterstock won’t let you use their images for a logo. Depositphotos allows use in a logo, but not one that is registered as a trademark or service mark.
See what I mean about reading the license? If your head is spinning, relax and ask the company if you have a question. Or many questions.
If you’re interested in free photos from sites that should be safe to use (but again, I’m not a lawyer), I’ll cover that in another post.
Have you used stock photos in your business?