Best Practices for Finding and Using Stock Images

by | Leadership, Production, Video, Worship Service Planning

By Stephanie Lippi

Our society has become a visual society: images and videos are used everywhere in marketing tactics to draw attention to the material businesses want to share with consumers. Because people are so used to seeing those visual representations, that same mindset can be very beneficial in helping to attract people to your church.

However, many of us don’t have a professional photographer on staff to capture those images that we use in services and on our websites. When this happens, we often turn to stock images to solve this dilemma. And while they may be “free” to use, are we honoring the individuals who created the artwork that we’re using? Here are some best practices on finding and using stock images to support your services and social media, while honoring the artist and the company offering the artwork at the same time.

What are Stock Images?

Stock images are licensed high-quality photos that can be used for marketing purposes to help provide visual clarity and energy in your communications. There are two main categories of stock images that you might be likely to use: royalty-free and copyright-free.

  • Royalty-Free Stock Images—These images require you to purchase a license that grants you the right to use them. Make sure you follow the rules listed in the licensing agreement.
  • Copyright-Free Stock Images—These images do not require you to purchase a license, but they do request that you follow the rules listed on the website for use of the images.

Finding Stock Images

There are many places to find stock images. You can choose one stock photo agency and only use content from them, or you may find it beneficial to utilize multiple agencies. Not all agencies will always have the photos you’re looking for, so it’s often advantageous to try different ones. Here are some great sites out there to check out:

  • Royalty-Free Stock Image Sites
    • Lightstock: requires a subscription to download faith-based images, videos and design assets: plans start at $19/month
    • Shutterstock: requires a subscription to download images; plans start at $29/month
    • iStock: requires a subscription to download images; plans start at $29/month
    • Dreamstime: photos are $0.20/photo or subscriptions can be purchased; plans start at $4.99/month
    • Adobe Stock: requires a subscription to download images; plans start at $29.99/month
  • Copyright-Free Stock Image Sites
    • Unsplash: no subscription required; growing community of photographers with over one million photos to choose from
    • Pixabay: no subscription required, but there are limits to resolution size downloads without logging in; over 2.5 million images, videos, vectors and music files available
    • Pexels: no subscription required, but if you create an account, you have access to interact with the Pexels community; over 1 million images to download for use
    • Freely: no subscription required, but donations are appreciated; faith-based images curated just for churches
    • Canva: free and premium photos available (premium photos require a paid plan starting at $119.99/year; non-profit plans are free but have restrictions); editing options and templates available in Canva for advanced personalization of photos

Using Stock Images

Now that you’ve learned what stock images are and how to find them, we can dig into how to use them. Stock images can be edited for your use (again—make sure to look at that licensing agreement to determine if you’re within the guidelines!). Cropping, adding text, resizing and flipping are common editing options that are safe to do.

Make sure that any edits you make to the images reflect the message you’re trying to portray and stay within your church’s brand. You don’t want anything to stand out in an odd way that confuses your audience.

Honor the Artist

The photographers and artists who share their images on some of these sites are often not getting any royalties or income for their creations outside of the initial sale to the company who purchased them. Why not share the love of Jesus with them and thank them for their efforts? When that little pop-up window comes up after downloading an image, thank the contributor for the work they put in that is helping you in your ministry. After all, we’re all God’s handiwork (Ephesians 2:10), and we can let our lights shine and glorify God (Matthew 5:16) by recognizing the handiwork of those who are generous to share with us.

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