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Free Stock Photos: Unless you LIKE paying hefty fines, don’t use them!

It’s understandable that you might go looking for free stock photos. After all, no blog is complete without an engaging image or two. If you’re also running social media marketing campaigns, it’s even more important to have access to great and affordable images.
Peek at the pricing on most of the stock photo sites, and you’ll probably gasp. Especially for small businesses, paying hundreds of dollars per image is simply out of the question. Even paying $25 is enough to turn most of us into image misers!

Stock Photo Options

Don’t want to pay a king’s ransom just to get some decent pics? Understandable! You’ve got options.

  • You could pick up your camera or phone and learn how to make stock photos on your own. Of course, that could become a full-time job. Plus, you’d need to get signed photo releases from any people in your images. Also, you’d probably want to protect your images from being stolen and used by other people on the prowl for affordable images. Unless your last name is Getty, that could be tough to do.
  • You could get REALLY stingy with your photo use. At $25 and up a pop, including just one image per post would start to look like a good idea. But with any post longer than about 500 words, you really need to have multiple images. Readers engage more with blogs that include enticing images.
  • You could use Canva. We do! That’s because while writers can turn a mean phrase, we’re not necessarily gifted in the design department. In fact, one former colleague said, and I quote, “Sue’s design attempts make me cringe.” Sheesh, right? But Canva can make anyone’s design skills look much, much more impressive than they are. The site has a pretty decent library of images, too. Some are free (but those are the images you’ll find all over the Internet being used by other cheap folks!). Some are $1 (at least you’ll thin the herd a bit as far as usage). But the selection’s not nearly as vast as you’d hope, so you’re not guaranteed to find an image you love there.

 

Free Stock Images

It’s No Wonder People Go Searching for Free Stock Photos 

There are loads of them out there. Some bloggers swear by them. But I steer clear of them. Not just because your odds of choosing an image everybody and their brother’s using (which stinks!) or because they can be painfully cheesy (even worse!) But in order to protect my clients and my firm.

A quick cautionary tale to illustrate why you should never use free images…

My very own mother got ripped off and then fined. (My blood starts boiling just thinking about this!) She hired a supposed digital marketing expert to help her with her site. She owns a company that helps seniors downsize and relocate into senior communities in Florida. From the start, this ‘expert’ seemed a bit sketchy (recommending costly marketing tactics that were not a fit, couldn’t remember my mom’s name and kept calling her by a derivative that my mom hates… even after being corrected, etc.)

She also revamped my mom’s website. Not only did she use outdated (and now potentially dangerous) SEO tactics from a decade ago, she also used free stock photos. Getty came a-knocking, and my mom asked me what to do. I advised contacting that lady to find out whether MAYBE she happened to have a receipt showing she’d actually purchased that image. Of course, she didn’t – and in one final fit of unprofessionalism, just told my mom to take the image down. Getty doesn’t care that you take it down… you still owe them, unless you want to hire an attorney to fight the fine. Hundreds of dollars later… you get the picture.

Free Stock Photos Can Become VERY Expensive

Let’s say you find a free image on one of the many sites out there that bloggers recommend. And let’s say you use it on your website. Can you REALLY know it’s not actually owned by Getty or an individual photographer? If not, you’re asking for trouble. Getty Images, in particular, is vigilant about scanning the Internet to find their copyrighted images being used without a license. When they find them, they send a letter WITH a steep fine (no warning). I’ve seen people paying hundreds, even thousands of dollars in fines.
 
All to use a “free” image? When there are sites where you can buy them affordably and get documentation that you have a license to use the image, why take that risk?

Quality Issues On Top of a Huge Risk, Anyone?

The image selection and quality are getting a lot better as photographers realize they can monetize their talent. When we first started including images in our blogging packages, it was tough to find any that weren’t cheesy or obviously taken in other parts of the world. Now, there are so many options.

You just have to know where and how to search. Bear in mind that many of the best stock image sites out there are not US-based. That can present some challenges (and usually some giggles) when you use their internal search engines to find the photo you need. That’s because their photographers (or in some cases, their admin staff) attaches a handful of keywords to each image to form a searchable library. Throw some language subtleties, idioms, and cultural differences into the mix, and maybe a pinch of dry wit, and you could end up with some eyebrow-raising finds when you search. Word to the wise: Maybe don’t search with children present. Seriously.

Forget Free Stock Images… Pay a Little and Save a Lot

For years, I used DollarPhotoClub, but Getty eventually bought them. The result? A huge price increase.
 
Then I switched to 123rf, but they’ve just doubled their prices.
 
So, now, we’re using Deposit Photos. Here, you can buy one at a time, get a monthly subscription, or go with a hybrid plan ($29 for the first 30 in a month, $1 each after that – and it rolls over any unused credits).
 
I wish my affiliate link would get you a bonus of some sort… but they’re not running anything right now. BUT, if you’re looking, maybe getting a recommendation’s as valuable as an extra discount 🙂

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