Using Stock Media in Your Projects

Do you want great photos for a commercial ad but you can't afford to hire a photographer to shoot them? Are you after great imagery for your website but your budget and time restrictions don't allow you to comission custom-made imagea? Are you looking to put together a video for YouTube but you don't have enough photos, footage and sound you complete it? There's an aswer to your problems: stock media.

Stock media — photos, illustrations, and even video and music content that is already created and available for license and use — are a great way to add depth and richness, and a professional, refined edge, to your projects. They let you use content that would be difficult, if not impossible, to have in your work otherwise (like iconic landmarks from around the world, for example), and to boost up your project's appeal to your target customers.

But where to find stock media? How can you use it? And how much would it cost you? Find the answers here.

Sources for Stock Media

The best and most reliable source to get stock media for your projects are stock imagery agencies: companies that offer libraries full of stock photos, vectors, illustrations, footage and audio that is available for license.

Among them, the so called “microstock agencies” are one of the most convenient options, as they sell high quality media at very low prices.

Some of the biggest and most popular agencies offer different media types. Companies like Shutterstock or iStock, for example, while certainly prevailing still images (photos, vectors and illustrations) they also include stock video and audio in their offer, meaning you can find all kinds of media at one place. These are also the ones with the largest libraries, getting to tens of millions of files to choose from.

Other agencies are popular due to specializing in one media type. Companies like Pond5 or Videoblocks for example, focus in stock footage. And others like Soundsnap are dedicated to audio content.

You can learn all you need to know about buying stock media and the best sites to buy, here.

Prices for Stock Media

The cost of stock media depends on different factors. Media type, license type, file size, buying option, and agency, are the most relevant ones.

Royalty Free (RF) licenses — of which we'll take care below — offer the lowest prices in the market, and it's a very popular choice to buy and use stock media. Prices for RF stock images usually falls between $1 and $15 per file, depending on size and on which agency you're buying.

RF stock videos are roughly between $15 and $500, depending on image resolution, lenght, and the agency you're using. At some outlets you can find clips for less than $15 (even at just $1), that are of lower quality and only a few seconds long.

RF audio files are roughly between $1 and $30 or more, going from basic sound effects to professional music overlays.

In all cases, the price guidelines refer to on demand buying. But you can get a better deal with subscriptions. These are monthly (or longer) plans that give you a determined number of media downloads in return for a periodic, flat fee. And they can take price down to fractions of a dollar per file.

There's also Rights Managed (RM) license, that comes and a higher price depending on various factors we'll review below. And also Extended license, that adds rights that are restricted in Standard RF media, also for a higher cost.

Licensing Stock Media

There's two main license types you can buy to stock media: Royalty Free and Rights Managed.

Royalty Free is the most popular choice. A common misconception is to think that Royalty Free media is free. It's not. Royalty Free refers to the fact that once you've paid for the license you are not required to ever pay further royalties for the use of the content. But it's a paid license.

However, its flexibility makes it a great cost-benefit deal. RF license let's you use media in a wide range of usages, with no time limit, for a flat, one-time fee. This means you pay for the license once, and you get to use the media forever, as many times as you want, within the accepted usages. With so little limitations and no exclusive usage rights, RF allows the same content to be licensed over and over, thus reducing the price. Depending on buying system, RF images can be as cheap as a few cents each.

Rights Managed (RM) is a license tailored to your intended use, that grants you specific rights to cover said usage, and no further. Price of RM media varies according to where and how you want to use it, and for how long, among other parameters. The bonus is that it allows to acquire exclusive usage rights to the desired media, letting you be the only one using that content for as long as your license is active. However, exclusive usage can take the license price to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. And you can only use the content in the consigned way.

Learn more about RF images and about RM images. Find out what license work best for your needs with our comparative overview.

Free Stock Media and Why it's Not the Best Option

There's another source to find stock media that you can use in your projects, and it can be a very tempting one, since it's free. Free stock media sites offer images (and also videos and audio files) that are said to be okay to use in your creations, and completely free of charge.

However, there's a lot of hidden risks in this initially appealing resource. First of all, it's a common mistake to believe all media uploaded to the web is public domain and free to use. In fact, it's the opposite. Most of media appearing on the Internet is copyrighted: owned by the person who created it, and cannot be used without their express consent, without crediting or paying them for the right to use it.

Even when the copyright owner cedes their media to be used for free, all content depicting people need to have the express permission from those people to use their image. This is specially important if your project involves commercial purposes. All the models appearing in the image you want to use need to have signed a model release document, where they agree to have their likeness depicted and used with commercial intention.

Free media sites collect content from all over the web, and they don't often check for model releases nor copyright. But you are legally responsible for the content you use in your work, so if there's any infringements to a person's right to privacy or an artist's copyright, you'll get in legal trouble.

Licensed Media is the Best Choice

Stock media agencies, on the other hand, always check the legality in the content they offer. They grant that all the required model releases are in place, and that the copyright owner has authorized them to issue licenses to their content.

And in the case of RF licenses, they come at very affordable prices and give you multiple usage options.

For this reason, it makes a lot more sense to spend in licensed media, that you are sure it's legal and safe to use, rather than risking with non-verified free resources. And that's without mentioning free media tends to be lower quality and less professional-finish than licensed stock imagery.


Always keep in mind you are held responsible for anything you create and post in public setting, including social media and content sharing platforms. So you must know for sure where your media comes from, and that you have permission to use it. Licensed stock media is the best way to ensure both points.

Amos Struck
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