To be clear, doing a Google image search and grabbing a photo from the results will probably not result in legal photo usage. But you can search Google looking specifically for photos marked with the Creative Commons Public Domain License. Alternatively, there are some free-for-commercial-use stock sites out there, such as Pixabey, Pexels, Burst, and PicJumbo.
When in doubt, your best bet is to purchase stock photos from a trusted source. These stock houses provide you with a license to use the photo in your marketing. There are many different paid stock photo resources, varying in pricing, selection, types of media available, and licenses available. Websites such as iStock, Shutterstock, and Getty Images, to name a VERY select few, are organized by keyword, media type, orientation, size, color, and more, and make finding the right photo much faster than hunting around for free options. As they say, time is money, so spending a few bucks on a stock photo to save on search time may be a no-brainer.
Most of the lower-cost stock sites are solely selling photos with Royalty Free licenses. That means when you by the photo, you have a license to use it nearly however and wherever you want (take note, you typically cannot use royalty free images or vector art on merchandise you plan to sell… for that you will need an extended license). When purchasing from larger stock houses, like Getty Images, you may come across some images that are Rights Managed. These photos are priced according to where you plan to use the image, how large it will be, how many people will see it, and so on. And if you choose to use it elsewhere or in another manner than the original license, you will need to purchase an additional license.
There are a multitude of payment structures across the many stock sites out there. From pay-per-image options to subscriptions to credit-based systems to package deals, you name it, there’s a stock site that operates that way. And the cost per photo can vary, from $1 to $500 and even more for royalty free licenses. (Buyer beware: Rights managed photos can run into the thousands of dollars, and are best reserved for businesses with massive budgets). But most of the affordable sites out there will have you paying somewhere between $5 and $50 per image, depending on the package or plan you have purchased.
When it comes to purchasing and downloading an image file, you will usually have the option to download different file sizes. In some cases, like at Getty Images, different file sizes will have varying costs. But at sites like iStock or Shutterstock, you have the ability to download small, medium, large, and sometimes extra-large file sizes. If that’s the case, ALWAYS download the largest size available. You can easily make images smaller, but you can’t make them bigger. And typically, your ability to download photos you have purchased expires over time.
After considering all those tips, we typically recommend our clients find a stock site that has a good selection of the types of images they will need, and plan to purchase a package or a subscription for social posts, blog photos, ads, brochures, and more. If you have some time on your hands, free photos can be just as useful, just make sure you always double-check the license for the photos you are downloading! Good luck in your search for the perfect images to complement your marketing!