jonathan tennant / Alamy Stock Photo

A glossary of stock photo terms for image buyers

Understand the stock industry with our awesome jargon buster. We explain 15 stock photo terms you’ve probably heard, but didn’t quite understand. If there are any other stock photo terms you would like us to define, just let us know in the comments.

Buying a license…

When you’re buying stock imagery, you are buying a license rather than buying the image itself. A license gives you permission to use the image, but it doesn’t give you ownership of the image.
Rights-managed (RM)
This is one of the license types you can buy. With this license you only pay for your exact use of the image. Rights-managed licenses define how, where, when or for how long an image will be used.
Royalty-free (RF)
This is the most flexible license type and the most straight forward. You pay a one–off fee to use the image with no restrictions on how you use image, how many times you use it, or how long you use it for. You can use the image across multiple projects, forever.

Usage types…

Editorial use
Editorial use generally means when an image or clip is used to illustrate a newsworthy article, a critique or an educational text.
Commercial use
Commercial use generally means that an image is used to sell a product, promote something or raise money for a cause. This includes use in advertising, marketing, promotion, packaging, publication covers, advertorials and consumer or merchandising products.

File types and sizes…

This is the size of an image. It’s usually measured in pixels (px), but it’s always worth asking what measurements are being used when you’re working on a project as it can also be measured in cm, mm and inches.
DPI Means dots per inch, and is a measurement used when discussing image resolution.
This is the amount of detail an image has. The higher the resolution, the more detail. It’s normally measured in dpi (dots per inch), and as a rule, it’s 300dpi for print and 72dpi for web. Large format prints, such as billboards, are usually printed at resolutions under 150dpi (it doesn’t matter that the image is less detailed because it is viewed from further away).
Compressed JPEG
This is a standard JPEG file that has been ‘zipped’ or compressed to temporarily reduce the file size. This makes it easier to send. To uncompress the file simply open it in photo editing software such a Photoshop.
This term is used to explain the process of resizing your image. If an image is resized beyond its capabilities you will start to see blemishes on the image – these are known as interpolation artefacts.


Model Release
A legal form signed by the person or people in a photograph, giving permission for the photographer to use or sell the photo in one form or another.
Property Release
A legal form signed by the property owner or manager of property that’s visible in a photo, giving permission for the photographer to use or sell the photo in one form or another.
Copyright is a term used to explain who holds the rights to a piece of work. When you license a stock image you buy the rights to use it, not the copyright.

Colour models…

A colour model is a system for creating a full range of colours from a small set of primary colours.

The CMYK colour model is a subtractive model, often used in printing it refers to the four ink colours used: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black).
The RGB colour model is an additive model; it features 3 colours, red, green, and blue. RGB is mainly used for images that are being displayed digitally.

Other blogs you might find useful:

How to choose the right file size for your project
Which image file type do I need?
Is it safe to use Google Images?