Unless you are a professional photographer or illustrator, quality stock photos are the key to a professional book. A stock photo is a photograph taken by a professional photographer and sold on stock photo sites for use online and in print materials. It is against copyright laws to copy or use a picture you find online for use in your book or on your book cover. Although many people copy and paste photos online, post them to Facebook, and repin them on Pinterest, it is a bad practice to use any artwork in your book without permission and could get you into legal trouble. You have a variety of options to use images in your book legally.

Types of stock photos

A rights-managed image is a stock photo you purchase and may pay additional royalties with each use or over multiple formats. A royalty-free photo is a stock photo you purchase and retain the right to use over multiple times or formats without paying a royalty each time you use it. There are also photos in the public domain, meaning they are free for you to use with some restrictions.

Rights-managed stock photos

Rights-managed stock photos are generally the highest quality and carry the highest cost. Your rights are limited to the license you purchase, and you pay a premium for use over an extended period of time or number of uses or formats. Examples of companies offering rights-managed images are Getty Images at www.gettyimages.com and Juniper Images at www.juniperimages.com. Both of these sites also offer royalty-free options. Unfortunately, the costs are often prohibitive to the indie author.

Royalty-free stock photos

Royalty-free stock photos are widely available and are a more economical option than rights-managed photos. Photos can start as low as $5 or can be purchased on a subscription basis, as some sites require. You have the option to pay per photo or pay a subscription fee, depending on how many photos you need or the requirements of the site. There are numerous places to purchase royalty-free stock photos, including www.iStockphoto.com, www.Shutterstock.com, and www.canstockphoto.com.

The downside of using royalty-free photos is the lack of exclusivity. You are purchasing the right to use the image but do not own it. Others can also use this image in books, advertisements, or any other media.

There are also free stock photos available to use. The upside is that they are free. The downside is the image quality may not be as good. Anyone can use them, and you have to work harder to find them. Two popular places to find images in the public domain are on the photo-sharing site Flickr and on Wikipedia Commons. Other great sites are Pixabay, Unsplash, and Picjumbo, among others. Sites like Desygner help you create designs, as well as stock photos. You can find images, graphics, and videos for personal or business use for free. Even though you can use the images for free, you are still bound by the terms of use. Many will require attribution to the artist, among other things. Please read the specifications for the photo you wish to use.

Photo Resolutions

For the best quality, purchase a photo in a size that fits your needs. Purchasing a smaller size and expanding it to fit the space will reduce the quality of the photo. As a result, it will either be rejected by Kindle Direct Publishing or IngramSpark or look grainy and unprofessional.

Here are your choices with a selected photo from CanStock. Dots per inch (DPI) refers to the print quality of the photo, while pixels refer to the picture size and related resolution. The higher number for each translates into a better picture quality. The recommended quality for printed images is 300dpi. Each photo will have slightly different dimensions based on the composition and orientation of the photo.

Size             Pixels                DPI
Small          600×800             72
Medium     1200×1600       300
Large          2250×3000       300
X-Large      3750×5000       300
XX-Large   5625×7500       300

Vector images

The other option is to purchase an .eps image, otherwise known as a vector image. Vectors can be resized any amount without losing quality. However, costs to purchase the versatile vector are often higher than .jpg or .png images, while the cost often increases for increases in resolution.

The less you need to manipulate your photo, the better. Choosing the correct size preserves the image quality of the photo. In keeping with that advice, it is often best to use a photo that matches the orientation of your book. Use the photo size that gives you the quality you need for the cover and other large photos in your book.

Look ahead and consider promotional materials you may want for the book and purchase the appropriate size to accommodate its use down the road. For many sites, the price differential is negligible between sizes. When in doubt, go up a size.

If you don’t have expertise in creating a book cover or other marketing materials, consult with your designer or self-publishing company for additional information.

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Photo License

In a majority of cases, a standard license satisfies your photo licensing requirements. Because the standard license varies from site to site, you should check the license agreement prior to purchasing the photo. If your book is wildly successful, you can purchase an upgraded license. The added cost will prove inconsequential in the face of your booming book sales. You can find a detailed description of license rights and limitations at EbookIndieCovers.


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