3 Types of Photography Use

Chances are, you know you can not simply download or take a screen shot of an image you find online and use it on your website or in a brochure. But, do you know the different types of licenses and agreements that determine how you can use various images?

For instance, just because you’ve licensed an image from a credible supplier doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the only one who can use that image, or that you can use the image wherever you like.

A photography license is the agreement or contract between the photographer and their representative and the user of the image—spells out specifically who can use the image, for what purpose, and on what terms. Those terms can get pretty confusing. Here are a few things to consider when you’re thinking about licensing images.

  • Rights managed: Is the image licensed for exclusive use by one client within a determined time frame? Getty Images says on its website, when you license an RM image you have a license to use the image for the duration of your project and control who else can use it. Even then, however, the license may restrict exactly when, where, and how you use the imagery.


The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) categorizes three types of photography usage:

  • Commercial: used to promote or sell a product or a service. This encompasses everything from product packaging to corporate stationery to blogs that are at all related to a business venture.

  • Editorial: used for educational or journalistic purposes like a news article.

  • Retail: commissioned for personal use (wedding and school photos, for instance).

The terms of a license may vary depending on how the image is used. The fee for editorial use may be less than that for commercial use; permission could be denied for commercial use of a retail photo.


Whether the image is used exclusively for commercial or editorial use is one type of licensing restriction. Other types of restrictions to consider are:

  • Domain: Single-domain use means the image typically should be used only in one medium. For example, you may be able to use the photo on your website but not in a print ad. Multi-domain usually allows you to use the image on multiple channels and media—though the license may still declare certain domains off-limits.

  • Seat: With a single-seat license, usually only one user at the licensee’s business can download the image. If you want several designers to work with the photo, you may want to look into a multi-seat license.

  • Resale: Are you planning to sell products that are adorned with licensed artwork, such as T-shirts or greeting cards? If so, you may want to make sure that your license allows for resales.

  • “Sensitive way:” Some licenses prohibit use of an image in a “sensitive way.” For example, that may mean that an image of a model shouldn’t be seen as endorsing or subject to “mental or physical health issues, substance abuse, criminal behavior, sexual activity or preference.” Even if your contract doesn’t include a “sensitive way” restriction, it’s probably a good idea to check with the licensor before using the image in such a manner.

Keep in Mind

If you’re hiring a freelancer to work on your creative, you shouldn’t assume that the designer has acquired all the necessary rights. It’s a good idea to keep your own copy of the licensing agreements, read through them, and make sure you understand them. By the same token, you’ll probably want to keep track of when the licenses expire. Even if an outside firm designed your website, for instance, you’ll most likely want to keep an eye on when the licenses need to be renewed.

This article is intended as a guide on things to consider when licensing images. It is not legal advice. Please review the User Agreement and consult the American Society of Media Photographers’ Licensing Guide or PPA for more information or your legal advisor if you have questions.