Royalty free image sites such as Unsplash, Pixabay and Pexels seem like a great idea. They give you good quality, admirable content that you can share and what’s better, it’s free.

Free to use and royalty free – meaning you can use for your own purposes without having to credit a photographer or pay a commercial rate for. Seems too good to be true, right?

Probably because it is…

The small print

Royalty free sites do have their place, I won’t deny that. But they also need to be treated with care. Some sites have very small Ts & Cs stating that you can’t actually use the photos commercially. By that, they mean promoting yourself or your business.

In October 2017, I wrote a blog post about how a press release works, costs involved and how one can benefit your business. Fast forward 12 months and I was fined £556. This was for 1 years commercial use for ‘wrongly’ using a ‘royalty free’ image. One I had downloaded from a well known site. Apparently I had used the image for commercial gain, i.e. I was to gain from using it because I was subtly promoting my own services.

There was no way out of it – I had to pay up.

That’s a hefty enough fine to completely break a small business.


Photographers can actually add a tag to the photo. In order for them to see wherever it’s being used. Since my fine, I have had a number of business owners get in touch with me asking for information as they too have been given the fine, by the very same photographer. It would appear that is how this one photographer makes his money. Having done some stalking it also seems he’s into Bitcoin so make of that what you will!

Unfortunately there’s no getting out of if either – Pixsy, the company who approached me on the photographers behalf threatened taking me to court if I didn’t pay.

How can you get around this?

Not everyone has an eye for photography, particularly if you’re after trendy/flatlay style images which are quite tricky to create well. I would suggest avoiding using these sites, which I know leaves you short of imagery. I would recommend;

  1. Use Google Images – If you go onto Images, click settings, then advanced search then select ‘free to use or share, even commercially’. This covers your back. It is also backed up by Google.
  2. Ask your photographer to get some similar images – think desks, coffee, laptops, flowers etc. They should be able to create some with the space and props you have. You then don’t need to worry about rights – the pictures are yours! We recommend Jasmine Punter Photography if you’re stuck for one.
  3. Get creative! There are plenty of online tutorials that talk you through how to create flatlays, plus a bit of trial and error can work wonders!
  4. Purchase photos – We like for its range and costing of photos where for £19 a month, you can download 10 images a month, more than enough to keep you going!

Whatever option you choose, please do be careful. If you’re concerned, please do feel free to message me and I’ll advise and help where I can.