Campaign Photography: Rights Managed vs. Royalty Free Photos

by Sophie Thurber (She/Her)

Nacho photo

Campaign Photography: Those Photos Aren't Free You Know!

Photos are a great way to enhance your communications. We work to use custom political photography and custom photo shoots for nonprofits and organizations whenever we can but based on budget and timing it is not always possible to do a shoot. So many time rights managed and royalty free photos are your only options.  Knowing that you pulled an image from a blog that included an attribution line or grabbing a high-resolution photo from a Google image search are not great ideas and may well come back to bite you in the end.  Before you send something out into the world, it’s imperative that you know where the visuals came from originally and what you’re allowed to do with them.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between these types of photos to keep you making great work and out of trouble.

Rights-managed photos: This first category is the stickiest when it comes to usage. These photos are the priciest, and they come with serious restrictions.  These restrictions will normally mean that you’re limited to a single use, a certain print run quantity and a certain size and placement (i.e. half of the front) when you purchase a photo for print or a certain number of impressions for online work.  Rights-managed photos are available from stock retailers like Getty Images.

Rights-managed photos can be both creative images (something staged by a photographer) and editorial images (these often come from news sites).  When it comes to editorial images, I think it’s best to call a rep at the photo retailer directly to deal with the licensing (Getty, for instance, usually has a notice on editorial images directing you to contact them for commercial or promotional uses of editorial photos, so you really have to do that).

Here is a helpful and more detailed discussion on the differences between creative and editorial photography and their allowed usages if you want to dig a bit deeper on this.

Royalty-free photos:

Royalty Free photoPolitical campaign photography can be challenging to help round out your campaign photo needs, royalty-free photos are your friends.  These puppies are yours with far fewer restrictions once you purchase them (iStockphoto, for instance, allows about 500,000 reproductions using a purchased image before there’s any issue of additional costs), and while they can range from very cheap to several hundred bucks, you can generally find what you’re looking for on the lower end of that range.  Punchstock is a step up in terms of price from sites like iStock, but it’s another great place to find quality royalty-free photography.  Royalty-free photos also wear both the editorial and creative image hats, so you’ll need to determine what fits your needs, but outside of that, go nuts and have fun.

Public domain photos: Public domain photos are free. YEAH!  The trick here is finding something that works visually and is a resolution that works for your purposes (for print, you always, always want a high-resolution file).  Photos that show up on .gov websites belong to the public – this means that instead of buying a photo of a public figure, you may well be able to plumb the depths of a .gov website and come up with an official photo or better yet, a candid photo that was taken on the taxpayers’ dime (which means it’s yours for the taking!).   If you’re grabbing things from here, make sure you take a close look at the permissions attached to the file (it should say it’s in the public domain).

Great photo, wrong price?: There are times that you’ll search and search, only to find that there’s just one photo that really fits what you need, and that photo will cost you more than you’d like.  In these situations, I think there are a couple of important things to consider.  First, how much will the photo enhance your work?  If the answer is that the image really brings your message to life, consider investing the money – penny-wise and pound-foolish isn’t an effective place to be in this business.  If the photo is truly outside of your budget, try calling the stock retailer directly.  You never know what kind of deal they may be able to cut for you and it can’t hurt to try.

Do you have questions about campaign photography, Non-profit photography or rights managed and royalty photography?  Drop us a note: