Crash Course on Stock Photography

What is Stock Photography?

Stock photography is defined as the archive of images that can be licensed commercially. If you sell a product or service, you automatically have a commercialized need for stock photography in order to support any required marketing collateral. Because of that, you need to license the rights to use a photo for that commercial need.  'Every day you see pictures in magazines, advertisement, posters, online and on TV. The reality is most of the images used were not created specifically for that product, concept, or promotion. The images those companies use are stock photographs. Stock photos are ready-made images that are licensable for use in your advertising or promotional materials. This ability to search for a specific image saves time and money. At the end of the day, that is what businesses want.' (Cited material)

How does it work?

'Stock Photography has two sides to it. The consumer and the photographer. As expected, the consumers browse the images and download them. Photographers, on the other hand, can submit their photography and get paid a percentage if their image gets licensed and downloaded. If you are a photographer that is looking to make some extra money on the side, this option is always available.' In the stock photo industry you should have three things handy to succeed: time, patience, and a good camera. If you have a good eye, understand light as it relates to a subject, and have a fair amount of patience, stock photography is a true numbers game that bring success. The more you shoot, the better you will become, and the more photos you will be able to sell. (Cited material)

What types of stock photos exist? 

  • Royalty Free (RF) Images

These stock photos can be used multiple times for a one time payment. Typically, Royalty Free imagery provides 1-10 seat licenses for one End User (buyer).  A seat license is defined by the number of individuals having the right to access and use the photo at one given time.

  • Right Managed (RM) Images

These stock photos are licensed for temproary usage only. The final price of the image is dependant on a variety of factors such as image display size, usage, and exclusivity.  Specifics matter on a license of a Rights Managed photo, and often after the rights expire, stock agencies use technology services like Image Protect or Pic Scout to scour the internet, looking for expired rights or infringement uses.

Are buyers able to preview the pictures before purchasing?

Most stock agencies allow for the download of an photo with an applied watermark. Comping or Preview imagery is imagery that is available to potential image buyers to ‘try before the buy’. These images may only be used for preview purposes. Agencies permit an electronic version of it's products to be used free of charge for a limited duration only if they are used for personal evaluation, and in any case, noncommercial use, and it's grant of use is solely for test or sample purposes. Photographers who upload photos to stock agencies should feel comfortable with this business dynamic and use of their photos.

Who are the buyers?

There are a wide variety of buyers that make up the approximately $2 billion industry.

  • Advertisement Agencies

  • Magazines

  • Publishing Houses

  • Websites

  • Blogs

  • Government agencies & non-profits

  • Graphic Designers

What are releases?

Releases are important because they protect you from potential lawsuits where people claim invasion of privacy or defamation after you’ve photographed them. Model releases state that the person in the photo consents to be photographed, as well for you to use the images. Model releases apply to any situation where the person is recognizable (including recognizable tattoos or other differentiating features), and are extremely important to obtain.

Imagine you sell a photo to a major brand featuring a recognizable person, but the model didn’t sign a release. If that person sees their face on a huge billboard and becomes upset, they can sue because you never got written permission to use or sell the photo. There have been a number of high profile cases like this, and they can get messy and expensive.

Property releases are similar to model releases. Property releases protect you in the event that a property owner decides to sue you. Property releases aren’t needed for public property like government buildings, but you need to be careful on private property, especially if it’s recognizable. A couple of examples include the Flatiron Building and the Empire State Building in NYC, and the Painted Ladies in San Francisco.

Stock photography is one of many sources of monetization for a photographer. It’s a good idea to have an open mind about stock photography as it can contribute 30%-100% to a photographer’s annualized income. So start shooting anything and everything to start building up a solid and varied portfolio.

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