From Criminal to Superstar: 6 Image Licensing Secrets | TravelResearchOnline


From Criminal to Superstar: 6 Image Licensing Secrets

Remember when it was easy enough to snap a photo on a fam trip and use it in your next newsletter?

Remember when you had to spend huge dollars to buy an image to use in a newspaper ad?

Remember when… back in the ‘good ol’ days’ of travel marketing there were only a few sources for images and only a few reasons to use them.

Now, we’re so dependent on visual marketing!   “74% of social media marketers use visual assets in their social media marketing.”  Source

Where We Use Images

Every day we find we can have a stronger impact with images.  You’ve probably seen this stat:  “Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.”  Source

Picture all the ways you use images every day!  Some of the most common are here:

July'17 Images 1500


Fact or Fib?

“I can just Google and use any image from my search!”

If you said Fib you’re absolutely right!  Just because you can search the internet and physically copy and save an image doesn’t mean you can use it legally.  Artists, photographers and designers, like travel consultants, are professionals and need to be paid for their expertise.

True story:  a travel agent in California found a great looking image on a Google search, copied it and used it in a marketing piece.  The photographer contacted the agent and a legal battle ensued.  The travel agent was fined $10,000!   That kind of coin isn’t in my marketing budget and maybe not in yours, so here’s what we can do instead.

Finding images and using them without breaking the law is a challenge.


Understanding Photo Licensing

Let’s break down photo usage rights and focus on how we can find and manage our image libraries.

There are 3 types of photo licensing and we’ll explore each briefly and highlight the details.


  1. Rights Managed Images

This license gives you exclusive and time-specific rights to use an image.  Rights Managed licensing is given on a pay-per-use basis.  This means that you pay for the exclusive right to use the image during a specific time and in a specific way. While it may appear more expensive, you have exclusivity and can see the history of the image.  This way you’ll know who else has used it and others will not be able to use it while you’re under contract for the image.

Sources of Right Managed Images:  Getty Images

More info

Facts & Fibs here


  1. Royalty Free Images

This license gives you full freedom to use the photo wherever and whenever you want.  You pay a one-time fee and you can use it multiple times and in multiple ways.  While it is less expensive, you cannot give the image to colleagues to use (they can get their own license) and anyone else with the license can use it at the same time as you.

Sources of Royalty Free Images:  CanStock, Fotolia, Getty Images

More info

Facts & Fibs here


  1. Public Domain Image License

Images in the public domain are free from copyright restrictions and are free for commercial and personal use.  The artist has relinquished all rights.  The only exception is if you are using an image of a recognizable person, you may need to get their permission to use their image.  Harvard law school library recommends providing attribution on public domain images, although it’s not required.

Sources of Public Domain Images:  Pixabay, Morguefile

More info

Facts & Fibs here


Secrets to Impactful Images

We’ve all seen photos that tell the story so clearly that you hardly need words. Once the images are found, what’s the best way to keep track of them and their origin?


Here’s a couple of my secrets for finding and editing images that pop off the page.

  1. Purchase and download images from reliable sources
  2. Pictures speak louder than words. Select images that are memorable and relevant to your message.
  3. Maintain your own photo library on your hard drive.
  4. Arrange and catalog images by topic. For example, have a folder of images for each of your top selling destinations, modes of travel (planes, trains and automobiles), etc.
  5. Edit the image name to include the source of the image. For example, “Broadway, NYC – Pixabay”.  This tells the entire story and is a quick reference in case there’s any question about the image source.  Normally the image is sold with an identifying number.  Maintain that in your new image name.
  6. Get creative with image editing tools to add overlays, text and filters when available for your image choice.


Fact or Fib?

“I took a photo of some clients on a recent tour.  I can use it anytime, anywhere”

If you said Fib you’re absolutely right!  The Supreme Court ruled that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy.  If you’re in a public space, you’ve forfeited part of that right to privacy.  However, better to be safe than sorry.  Having your clients sign a photo release form before they travel with you is a way to protect yourself. I recently did a photo shoot for a new website and had some industry colleagues in the photos.  Each of them signed a photo release even though they’re friends and colleagues.  It took me about 10 minutes to pull together the form.  Here’s an online source.  And another.


Bottom line:  If it’s on the internet and others wrote or created it, don’t use it without their permission.

The ultimate goal is to create and post images that are legal, shareable and provide relevance for your audience.  Creating visual gems is easy when you play by the rules.

What sources do you use for your images?

catherineheegCatherine Heeg, international speaker and trainer, focuses on social media marketing & communication for the travel and tourism industry. Join the conversation and connect with her at and socially.

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