Photography · The Pros and Cons of Using Royalty-Free, Rights-Managed, and Original Photography

When deciding which avenue to pursue to get the best image or images for your project, there are three considerations. You must:

  1. have a good idea of your budget;
  2. know the details of how and for how long you want to use the images; and
  3. decide how exclusive you want your images to be.

The following is a list of pros and cons associated with three different sources of photography. We advise you to check various vendors’ sites for all licensing particulars as these can vary greatly.


Royalty-free images are generally purchased online from a photo-image bank either as an individual image or as a theme-based collection on a DVD.


  • Royalty-free images are usually the least expensive photo option.
  • Images are priced solely on file size, which is determined by your particular need.
  • Images can be used by the license-holder in multiple projects without additional costs.
  • Images can be purchased and are ready for download from the vendors’ site for immediate use.


  • Licenses to use royalty-free images are nonexclusive; therefore anyone who purchases the images has the right to use them as they need.
  • A similar-type business or competitor may also use an image that you are using thereby creating confusion in the market.
  • Likewise, an image may be used by a business that reflects negatively on your brand.
  • The license belongs to the purchaser and it is non-transferable.
  • Images cannot be resold or used on certain items for sale (e.g. Greeting cards, T-shirts, etc.).


Rights-managed images are purchased from a photo-image bank and they are licensed on a use-by-use basis.


  • The selection of available imagery is often more interesting than royalty-free photographs.
  • The vendor will alert you to any other licensed user of the image that may conflict with your brand or, if you have already purchased the right to use an image, prohibit competitors from using the same image.
  • The image will have less exposure than a royalty-free photograph.
  • You can buyout the rights to use the image thereby ensuring exclusive usage.


  • The price for a rights-managed image can be prohibitive.
  • The price for each rights-managed image is calculated based on size of final use, placement, duration of use, reproduction quantity (print run of paper, publication, brochure, etc.), and geographic distribution (local, national, international). All of this information must be known in order to determine the price of each given image.
  • You will have to license the image for use in each application.
  • If you wish to continue using the image after the licensed period has ended, you will have to extend or purchase the rights again.

Original Photography

You can arrange and art direct on-location or in-studio photography with a qualified and reputable photographer in order to create the perfect photographic image for your project.


  • You negotiate the rights to the photography with the photographer prior to the photo session.
  • The photographic images will be yours exclusively.
  • Your photographic images are customized to your exact needs including models, props, and styling.
  • Original photography is usually less costly than using rights-managed photography.


  • This process is more time-consuming than using royalty-free or rights-managed photography.
  • If models are required, there will be additional licensing fees.
  • Original photography is more costly than using royalty-free photography.