How to Choose the Best Royalty-Free Photos and Stock Videos for Your Project

 In Best Practices

1282712496, FilippoBacci

Choosing the best royalty-free stock photos and videos for your projects is no easy task. Where do you go to find assets that fit your style within your budget? More importantly, how do you find assets that are licensed for the way you want to use them?

There’s a lot that goes into finding the best royalty-free stock photography and videography for your projects, but the process doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Keep reading to learn where to find royalty-free photos and videos, how to determine if those photos and videos are safe to use, and what to look for when choosing royalty-free creative assets for your projects.

Where Can I Get Royalty-Free Photos?

iStock curated image board called "Images We Love"

Images We <3: Signature

You can get a license for royalty-free photos and videos from reputable stock photography websites including iStock and Getty Images.

Some stock photo and video sites specialize in specific niches while others have broader offerings. Some boast free licenses; others require payment of a licensing fee.

Every royalty-free stock video and photo website will have its own pros and cons. There are several differentiating features.

  • Cost (if any) of the royalty-free images and videos
  • Available formats and sizes
  • Quality of the images and videos
  • Size and diversity of the content or niche of the content
  • Different types of licenses offered
  • Guarantees that protect you from copyright infringement claims

Are Royalty-Free Stock Photos and Videos Safe to Use?

Aerial drone shot of a container ship at sea

1124533430, Iskender Film

Generally, royalty-free images and videos are safe to use if you get them from a reputable website. It’s rare, though not unheard of, for there to be legal issues involved in royalty-free assets. These issues usually boil down to copyright, issues involving release forms or lack thereof, or using an image or video outside of scope of the license.

In many cases, it’s an issue of using an image outside of the scope of the license. That’s why it’s important to make sure that you get a license that includes the ways you want to use the images.

For example, some licenses only cover editorial content. That’s fine if you’re using it for editorial purposes, but if you want to use the assets commercially, you need to make sure that it’s covered in your license and that you have secured any other relevant permissions (for example, from people appearing within the content). Otherwise, you could be in breach of the license or could find yourself being sued by individuals in the image. Editorial use and commercial use are very different. One big difference is that the photographer doesn’t need to get release forms for subjects in editorial content in most cases, but when using content for commercial uses, you’d most certainly want to be thinking about obtaining permissions from any people or properties within the content. In many stock assets, photographers have done that for you—by obtaining a model and/ or property release allowing commercial uses.

But what about free royalty-free photos and videos? Occasionally, images and videos from free stock asset websites aren’t completely vetted. For example, if a stock asset includes a person’s face, you may open yourself up to risk in the instance that a photographer or videographer didn’t obtain the proper release forms. It means the person in the image could sue you.

iStock and other paid, reputable stock photography and videography websites, offer guarantees that you won’t leave yourself open to any legal risks (such as copyright infringement) when you buy an appropriate license for royalty-free images and videos. Guarantees like these should help you rest easy when you use royalty-free assets in your projects.

What Should I Look for in a Royalty-Free Photo?

A young woman applying makeup while filming a beauty tutorial with her phone

1302444809, PeopleImages

When searching for royalty-free photography and videography for your projects, there are a few questions you should get answers to before purchasing your license:

  • Is the image or video actually royalty-free?
  • Is the image or video available with the license you would need?
  • Is the image or video offered in sizes that work for your intended use?
  • Does the image or video match your aesthetic?

Is the Image or Video Actually Royalty-Free?

The first thing to check when looking for royalty-free images and videos is that they’re actually available royalty-free. If you’re looking at reputable stock asset websites like iStock, the answer is almost always yes. If you’re working with any other type of website or directly with a photographer or videographer, you’ll need to check with them directly about royalty-free options.

Is the Image or Video Available With the License You Would Need?

Not all royalty-free photo and video licenses are created equal. It’s important to read through any licensing agreement for photo and video assets to make sure that it suits your needs.

For example, some licenses are valid for editorial use but not for commercial licenses. Editorial use means you could use an image in a magazine, textbook, blog post, and other noncommercial purposes. An editorial license might restrict your ability to manipulate or make changes to an image.

If you try to use an image that’s only approved for editorial use for a commercial purpose, you could find yourself with legal troubles down the road. Firstly, you’d be violating the terms of your license. Secondly, you might be using someone’s likeness to sell something without their consent.

At iStock, all of our photos and videos come with a standard license. You can use the image in marketing, advertising, apps, websites, TV, film, social media, presentations, magazines, books, newspapers, product packaging, and more.

There are limitations to the standard license we offer, as is the case with most reputable royalty-free content providers.

However, for many of those limitations, we sell extended licenses for special use cases. A few examples of special use include:

  • When you want to print more than 500,000 copies of an image for marketing materials, newspapers, books, and product packaging.
  • When you want to resell your work using the image, such as for postcards, mugs, or shirts.
  • When you need multiple people to be able to access the royalty-free image and videos.

Even with an extended license, there are some things you wouldn’t be able to do with royalty-free assets from many stock photo and video websites (including iStock). These specific limitations vary by provider, but a few common ones include restrictions.

  • Using royalty-free images and videos in a logo or trademark.
  • Using royalty-free images and videos in pornographic, obscene, or libelous works.
  • Commercial use of editorial use only content.

Is the Image or Video Offered in Sizes That Work for Your Intended Use?

Now that you’ve determined you are able to use an image or video the way you want, you need to make sure the photo or video will physically work for your project.

When looking at a royalty-free photo or video, check the largest available size in both dimensions and resolution. If you’re just looking for assets to use on the web, you’ll likely find something usable on most stock asset websites. If you’re looking for something very large or specific, skipping this step could cost you money when you later need to find an alternate image that better fits your needs.

Does the Image or Video Match Your Aesthetic?

Finally, when choosing a royalty-free image or video, you need to make sure that it’s consistent with your project’s overall aesthetic. This could mean finding one that matches a brand’s color guidelines, or looks similar to footage you’ve already filmed or obtained.

Royalty-free images and videos are available in varying levels of quality and aesthetics. Some providers of these assets, especially those offering free royalty-free images and videos, have a limited library or a very specific look to them. What they offer might not fit what you need.

Meanwhile, websites like iStock offer thousands of royalty-free photos and videos that are curated to fit a variety of aesthetic styles. Whether you’re looking for a specific color palette, orientation, license type, image size, or number of subjects, websites with vast libraries and powerful search and filtering options can make your search for royalty-free images and videos a breeze.


Are you ready to start your search for royalty-free photos and stock videos? Click here to find the assets that will bring your project to life.

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