Talking about Stock Photography

Stock photography can be defined as "Images made on speculation to be sold later". In making stock images the photographer is his own client and the images made are marketed & licensed to image buyers directly, or submitted to a stock photo agent or library (such as Photoshelter, Getty, Corbis, Jupiter Images or Alamy) in hopes of future sales. The photographer incurs all costs to produce these stock images and there is no guarantee any image will sell. (see interviews and links with 28 Stock Photographers)

Stock Photography Tips from John Lund:
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Stock photography is a "self-assignment" where the photographer conceives, coordinates and funds a shoot which may or may not include using models, styling, hair & make-up as well as special equipment & locations. The photographer takes the risk of time and expense in advance of any sale. If people are depicted in the photos, the photographer will need a full release from each one.

Stock photography consists of existing photographs that can be licensed for specific uses. Publishers, advertising agencies, graphic artists, and others use stock photography to fulfill the needs of their creative assignments.

A customer who uses stock photography instead of hiring a photographer can save time and money, but can also sacrifice creative control. Stock images can be presented in searchable online databases, purchased online, and delivered via download or email.

A collection of stock photography may also be called a photo archive, picture library, image bank or photo bank. As modern stock photography distributors often carry stills, video, and illustrations, none of the existing terminology provides a perfect match.

Industry structure

Images are filed at an agency that negotiates licensing fees on the photographer's behalf in exchange for a percentage, or in some cases owns the images outright. This is increasingly done online, especially with the newer micro-stock models like Shutterstock and iStockphoto.

Pricing is determined by size of audience or readership, how long the image is to be used, country or region where the images will be used and whether royalties are due to the image creator or owner. Often, an image can be licensed for less than $200, or in the case of the microstock photography websites as little as $1.

With Rights Managed stock photography an individual licensing agreement is negotiated for each use. Royalty-free stock photography offers a photo buyer the ability to use an image in an unlimited number of ways for a single license fee. The client may, however, request "exclusive" rights, preventing other customers from using the same image for a specified length of time or in the same industry. Such sales can command many thousands of dollars, both because they tend to be high-exposure and because the agency is gambling that the image would not have made more money had it remained in circulation. However, with royalty free licensing there is no option for getting exclusive usage rights.

Some stock photography sites offer low-resolution photography free for the purpose of preparing advertising comps to demonstrate a design. If the advertiser decides to use the image, the rights to use the high-resolution image then can be negotiated.

Professional stock photographers place their images with one or more stock agencies on a contractual basis, with a defined commission basis and for a specified contract term. Some photographers fund their own photo shoots, or develop imagery in cooperation with an agency, while others submit photographs originally produced as part of editorial (magazine) or commercial assignments.


Royalty-free (RF)

"Free" in this context means "free of royalties (paying each time you use an image)". It does not mean the image is free to use without purchasing a license or that the image is in the public domain.

Pay a one-time fee to use the image multiple times for multiple purposes (with limits). No time limit on when the buyer can use an image. No one can have exclusive rights of a Royalty-free image (the photographer can sell the image as many times as he or she wants). A Royalty-free image usually has a limit to how many times the buyer can reproduce it. For example, a license might allow the buyer to print 500,000 brochures with the purchased image. The amount of copies made is called the print run. Above that print run the buyer is required to pay a fee per brochure, usually 1 to 3 cents. Magazines with a large print run cannot use a standard Royalty-free license and therefore they either purchase images with a Rights-managed license or have in-house photographers.

Rights-managed (RM)

(sometimes called "licensed images")

The value of a license is determined by the use of the image, which is generally broken down along these lines; Usage: (eg. Advertising - "Above the Line", Corporate - "Below the Line" or Editorial - "News Media") Specific Use: (eg. Billboard, Annual Report, Newspaper article) Duration: (eg. 1 month, 2 months, 1 Year, 2 Years etc) Print Run: (eg. up to 10,000, up to 1m) Territory: (eg; USA, Europe, UK, Germany, or whatever combination of territories are required) Size: (how big is the image to be used - 1/4 page, 1/2 page, full page, or double page spread) Industry: (Industry type - eg. Consumer Electronics, Marine Engineering, Financial Services etc) Exclusivity: (Exclusive, or Non Exclusive) The terms of the license are clearly defined and negotiated so that the purchaser receives maximum value, and is protected in their purchase by a certain level of exclusivity. Rights-managed licenses provide assurance that an image will not be used by someone else in a conflicting manner. The agreement can include exclusivity, and usually recognises that this represents added value. Not all Rights-managed licenses are exclusive, that must be stipulated in the agreement. A Rights-managed image usually allows a much larger print run per image than a Royalty-free license. Editorial is a form of rights-managed license when there are no releases for the subjects. Since there are no releases the images cannot be used for advertising or to depict controversial subjects, only for news or educational purposes.


An important feature of web-based stock photography collections is that the images have been embedded with meta-data, therefore making the images searchable by using keywords.


One of the first major stock photography agencies was the one founded in 1920 by H. Armstrong Roberts, which continues today under the name RobertStock.

For many years, stock photography consisted largely of outtakes ("seconds") from commercial magazine assignments. By the 1980s, it had become a specialty in its own right, with photographers creating new material for the express purpose of submitting it to a stock house. Agencies attempted to become more sophisticated about following and anticipating the needs of advertisers and communicating these needs to photographers. Photographs were composed with more of an eye for how they might look when combined with other elements; for example, a photo might be shot vertically with space at the top and down the left side, with the conscious intention that it might be licensed for use as a magazine cover.

In the 1990s, a period of consolidation followed, with Getty Images and Corbis becoming the two largest companies as a result of acquisitions. Today, stock photography companies have largely moved online. In the early 2000s, Jupitermedia Corporation has started buying some of the smaller players in the market, aggregating them under the banner of their Jupiterimages division, and became the third largest player in the market. The availability of the internet provided a means for other, smaller companies to get a foothold in the industry.

Using the Internet as their sole distribution method, and recruiting mainly amateur and hobbyist photographers from around the globe, these companies are able to offer stock libraries of good quality for very low prices.

In the Summer of 2001, Google introduced their Image Search Engine with 250 million images from across the internet. This marked the beginning of a new era which enabled smaller stock agencies such as Absolute Stock Photo, Acclaim Images, First Light, and World of Stock to compete with the very large stock photography agencies such as Getty Images and Corbis.

In 2003 ShutterPoint pioneered the open access model which allowed everyone to upload and market images. The trend was continued by fotoLibra in 2004 and in 2005 Scoopt started a photo news agency for citizen journalism enabling the public to upload and sell breaking news images taken with cameraphones. Scoopt closed in 2009.

In 2007 Cutcaster extended upon this model, by allowing anyone to upload and market images and define their own price or let buyers bid on content. It was the first negotiation platform of its kind.

Stock Photographers

Colin Anderson

I can get ideas from anywhere. I might be walking through Target and see something that jump-starts a concept. Movies and TV are also a big source of ideas as are locations. Finding an unusual or cool prop can always open up a range of ideas and clothing is also a big source of inspiration.

Ellen Boughn

The industry has made the mistake of creating too many of the same images over and over again. This is because instead of nurturing the photographers who have vision to combine both art and commerce to produce unique images within the standard salable subjects, they let creative decisions be driven by previous sales results and creative research based all on the same sources.

Shannon Fagan

I concentrated in photography during a college degree filled with academics and art/photography courses at the University of Memphis. I had key mentors such as art photographer Larry McPherson, sculptor Greely Myatt, and painter Richard Knowles. Prior to that, my high school senior year included explorations of creative independent thinking speared on by a Fulbright exchange educator Luc Weegels from Amsterdam. Collectively, these persons taught me everything that I needed to know about process, about being prolific, and about being a professional.

Don Farrall

When I was fifteen, my father gave me a hand-me-down Mamiya-Sekor 500 DTL, and I was hooked. From there, it was on to Brooks Institute, followed by a four-year stint at Hallmark Cards, in Kansas City MO, followed by a four-year stint in Dallas, TX as a “Retail Product” photographer, where my main client was Neiman-Marcus. In 1988, I returned to Nebraska, my home state; opening a studio in Lincoln.

Jon Feingersh

I am a partner in Blend, so most of my efforts go there. I contribute a particular style of imagery to Getty which I feel needs their worldwide distribution. I had a large quantity of legacy Stock Market and Zefa material which until recently had been at Corbis.

Sarah Fix

In 1993 I applied to an ad in the LA Times for a sales position at Westlight, a stock photography agency on the West Coast that was acquired by Corbis in 1998. I was an account executive for 3 years before moving into the editing department.

This was a great introduction into stock photography. It gave me the ability to visit clients in the major U.S. markets and gain an understanding of what sells and to whom.

Sarah Golonka

I have been involved professionally with stock photography for over 7 years now, entering the field shortly after graduating from collage at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, IN, where I studied fine art photography & psychology.

Tom Grill

For micro to survive successfully it will have to raise prices substantially. Their further success will depend upon their ability to attract a higher quality of material. This means images with higher production value. The value cannot be put in by photographers if they don’t receive the financial returns from their efforts. It simply doesn’t make sense as a business model.

Offir Gutelzon

PicScout believes every image on the Web—whether an amateur or professional image-- is usable, saleable and trackable. The company recently launched products and services to assure that every image gets its credit™ and engender a new model for image commerce, moving the industry from a practice of policing infringement to one of enabling use.

Dan Heller

Consumers look for anything and everything. It doesn’t matter. Once decision-making leaves “skilled designers and marketing directors” and is left in the hands of the consumer, all rules about “what sells” go out the window.

Consumers (that is, people who “consume” images without having anything to do with traditional media commerce) often have extremely poor taste, poor design skills, and inconsistent purchasing patterns.

Charlie Holland

I started as a photo researcher in New York in the late 1970’s – although I should probably start lying about the dates….I worked in magazines and books until Premiere magazine came along and I did five years there then moved on to Universal Studios as a marketing director. After another stint in magazines, I took the job as the DOP of the Los Angeles creative office of Tony Stone, replacing Sarah Stone which of course made me a persona non grata right off the bat with the staff and with the key photographers.

Jack Hollingsworth 

One of the most well known names in stock photography.

Tom Joyce

An art director is first and foremost a communicator. He or she requires not only a strong sense of visual design, but also the skill to communicate a vision to other artists and clients who often have their own agenda.

Collette Kulak

I never go to just one agency. I always visit at least three agencies to make sure I am getting the best image that fits my need. I hit the “standard” ones; the ones I like to call my “bread and butter” agencies…Jupiter (which is now Getty…they are all merging a bit sad), Corbis and Masterfile.

Rick Becker-Leckrone

We ended up selling Digital Stock to Corbis, and I joined Corbis as Co-Director for Commercial Content Worldwide. I truly enjoyed my time at Corbis and met some great photographers and created a lot of wonderful content.

Lance Lee

I see myself as a jack of all trades and a master of one – photography. I enjoy learning new things and I’m glad that they contribute to my growth as a photographer. For example, learning hairstyling and makeup helps in my work in fashion. Even learning dances like Tango and Salsa got me to be more sensitive to body language such that I was surprised I became better at directing models in posing.

Scott Redinger-Libolt

My first photo gigs were in the early 90’s shooting publicity stills on film sets (mostly horror films) in Los Angeles. This was one of the most interesting photography experiences of my career. I learned a lot about filmmaking and the camaraderie on-set is wonderful …but I couldn’t see myself growing old in

Trevor Lush

Every shoot brings its own set of challenges and unique energy. I think that's what I love about a career in photography - the variety! I love being in the middle of a huge production with lots of locations, models, and crew! At the same time, it can be equally rewarding to be shooting food with my wife on our kitchen table. Plus there's always something around the corner that will test me in new ways, like photographing a surgery for a healthcare client or winter camping for a book publisher.

Karen McHugh

My experience has shown me that having someone you can turn to, and count on, when it comes to camera equipment, is truly an asset. Karen, for example, saves me time and stress in purchasing, and can prove invaluable when I have an emergency need.

Patty Meyers

Probably the biggest change has been the advent of the digital age and Photoshop as a staple of the production process. Once the Web replaced the stock catalogues as the major source of visual content, search engines greatly streamlined the process. And after Photoshop, it became more about finding elements, rather than finding the perfect shot.

Shalom Ormsby

What I strive to do with my work is to “vision the invisible” – to use the physical, material expressions of people, animals, plants, and places to reveal whatever mystery it is that animates them, that gives them life, vitality, and character. I’m not referring to an effort to see something that’s beyond appearances, but rather, to reveal what’s within appearances.

Jim Pickerell

Jim Pickerell has done it all in Photography, from war correspondent, to stock agency owner to industry analyst and publisher of the highly regarded stock industry newsletter Selling Stock. Jim gives us a thorough rundown on his view of the future of stock and suggestions on how to adapt to the changing industry.

Trinette Reed and Chris Gramly

Luxury Spa and Resort Photographers - Trinette Reed & Chris Gramly Luxury Spa, Resort, and Hotel Photographers specializing in Fashion, Lifestyle, and Architectural Photography in California

Marc Romanelli

Marc Romanelli has been shooting stock photography for over twenty years. He has crafted an enviable life style of shooting what he wants when he wants and living where he wants (Santa Fe, New Mexico). Marc has also been successful at adding motion to his repertoire. In this interview he shares his experience with us and how he plans on dealing with this changing market.

Jonathan Ross

Blend was really the birth of community stock photography. Similar to what Micro has become today, just on a much larger scale. Before that stock was a very private business.

Inti St. Clair

My main agencies are Getty and Blend Images. I’m also with Jupiter, Cultura, Danita Delimont, and Uppercut. I don’t do any direct sales. The whole direct sales thing intrigues me, but I can’t imagine trying to take that on without having some sort of staff. At this point, I’m a one-woman show, and work way too much as it is!

Jeremy Woodhouse

Most of my stock sales are through Getty, Masterfile and Blend Images of which I am an owner along with 22 other photographers. I do work directly with a couple of magazine editors but often it is more hassle that it’s worth.

Lanny Ziering

My generation was shaped by TV, but every major event in our lifetime is defined by a still image. When people think of the Vietnam War they think about the image of the man being shot in the head by the guy in the short sleeve shirt or the napalm-scarred girl running down the road. When we think of the student revolution on Tiananmen Square it’s the image of the guy with the plastic shopping bags in front of the tank.


See also

External Links