Legality of using photos in commercial applications

Since I started at my current job, I’ve used photos from architecture magazines and design books as backdrops for internal-use only renderings. For our catalogs and website, we only use pictures of our offices and each other’s homes.

My question is that if I alter an image, I know that it can be considered as a new and original work. How much would need to alter a photo to have it be considered this?

Although, if anyone knows a reasonably priced stock photo bank that has interior shots with ceilings and the aesthetic is either bland or modern, let me know.

Oh the difficulties of lighting design!

I use screen captures, magazines, and stock photo samples all the time in renderings. Generally whenever my previous employer needed a photo I would scour Getty, Corbis, and the other big sites to find the samples we needed. I would also get material jpeg samples for wood and laminate from Nevamar, Formica, Wilsonart, and Abet Laminati.

We would use them for in-house pre-production renderings and client meetings to show them what the finished product would look like. Then when we actually built the thing we would order the hi-res photo online and bill the client for it. The same goes for specialty fonts and other similar items.

I still do this now that I’m a freelancer and I’m careful not to go too far with the usage of unpaid for images. I also think its ok to use portions of an image to get a sample of a material. If you are using the entire photo in the background of a scene I think thats too much, you should be buying it at that point if it really is that vital.

Here is where I currently get my samples:

Lifestyle Photos:
www.corbis.com - Paid, but good watermarked samples
www.gettyimages.com - Paid, but good watermarked samples
www.sxc.hu - Stockxchange Free Images

Nature:
www.sensitivelight.com

Wood and Laminate:
www.formica.com
www.nevamar.com
www.wilsonart.com
www.abetlaminati.com

Electronics:
www.crutchfield.com

Just like in music its generally considered ok to sample things but there is a very fine line between sampling a photo for a certain color or texture, and using the entire image. You know what the line is. If the photo is coming from a persons personal gallery you should also email them first to get their permission. When I’ve done this the people are generally really cool and are excited to see their work being used. Some only ask to be credited if you get published and to send them a copy of the final piece. Others may want a small usage fee.

Be careful with modifying images and then trying to claim that it is a brand new creative entity. That might slide in the fine art world but it isn’t going to work very well in advertising/marketing/design. You are setting yourself and your company up for some serious trouble if anyone catches on and sees through your “new work” and finds the original.

mmjohns,

I couldn’t agree more! It’s been very difficult to find stock images that are suitable as backgrounds for ceiling lights. It would be best if I could find images of contemporary residential architecture, but this only seems to exist in Taschen books.

I will try to track down photographers from the magazines and such.

If anyone knows any stock photo sites that have good images of residential, or even commercial or office interiors, let me know!