This is a guest post from Village Hive Member Rebecca Ratcliffe


It almost goes without saying that we live in a visual culture. More and more, images and even video are not just expected for all business types, but actually so commonplace we need to find the BEST images to stand out. That means high quality and properly dimensioned, but also unique, visually striking, and fitting with our business or brand. For small businesses, with limited marketing budgets, finding these images, legally, can be a challenge.

Stealing = Bad

Many people don’t equate using an image without permission with stealing, but anytime you reuse it without an image with explicit permission/licensing for your intended purpose, it’s very likely a copyright violation. Even if you think you’re doing the right thing, licensing terms can be tricky. It’s important to understand, for example, that royalty-free does not mean free to use; it means you don’t pay a royalty for each individual use. Improperly using an image could cost you time, money and embarrassment down the road. And, of course, stealing is bad…

So how can you find photos legally? There are many different options, at different price points. The key is to know and be honest about how you’ll be using the images: commercially (any business use is considered commercial use; if you intend to use the image on items for resale, for example, you may need an additional license), once or multiple times, in print or online.

Creative commons

“Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools” (from Major sources for images licensed using creative commons include WikipediaFlickr, and Google Image Search. The copyright licenses allow the creator to choose what terms to apply, including commercial use if applicable, so be sure to specify that in your search, and to follow the requirements for crediting the source.

Public domain

Images, and other media, in the public domain are those that have been released for public use because the intellectual property rights have expired or are otherwise not applicable. Often these are archival-type images that are not suitable for all projects but may be perfect for some. Sources for public domain images include Flickr Commons and Again, always check for any commercial usage restrictions.

Paid stock photography

Stock photography sites allow users to download images based on a per-image fee or a monthly subscription. These images are usually royalty-free, meaning once you’ve paid for them once, you can use them multiple times without paying additional fees. Popular stock photography sites include Shutterstock, iStock and Getty Images. For most small businesses, it may not be practical to pay for stock photography for all projects, but can be worthwhile for high profile uses, such as a new website.

Free stock photography

There are numerous sites, such as FreeImages, that provide free stock photography. Often these are limited to personal use, and may serve as advertising for more premier services offered by the same company, but some sites do allow for commercial use. The quality also varies greatly, so you may have to search around for something worth using.

Custom photography

Sometimes the best solution is a custom solution: when you want to show your actual space, your work, your passion, hiring a photographer to document this is your best bet. Beyond headshots, you may consider hiring a photographer to create images of your business location or your products, documentary-style images of you doing what you love, or even unique, personalized stock-type images. Pricing for commercial photography can vary greatly depending on the quality and experience of the photographer, as well as the type of licensing you require, so be sure to choose a photographer who will discuss your needs ahead of time and give you a clear price quote.


(Images courtesy of Unstyled Life Photography)

DIY photography

Unless you are a skilled photographer yourself, it’s really not a good idea to take your own shots for your website or printed material; however, there can be a place for DIY images on social media and blog posts. The best use of these images would be to show your own life, letting your clients relate to you as a person. These photos may show events you’ve attended, projects you’re working on, or moments of your day that reflect both you and your business. For best results, think about the intent before your shoot and eliminate distracting or unnecessary elements; use natural window light indoors, or even shade outdoors; hold your camera steady; and resize for web use before posting.


Rebecca Ratcliffe is a lifestyle + documentary photographer for families and businesses at Unstyled Life Photography, and a Jack of all trades at The Village Hive.