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What is Stock Photography?

A stock photograph of a waterfall in Tasmania.
A stock photo of a plate of chicken piccata.
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  • Written By: Kathy Hawkins
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 March 2014
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Stock photography is a term that refers to photographs that can be licensed for public or commercial use, which are usually found on professional websites. These are photographs that can be used for any purpose in marketing, advertising, or design, as long as it is not illegal or harmful. Rather than shoulder the expense of hiring a photographer to take unique photos, many advertising companies, graphic designers, web designers, and other professionals frequently take advantage of stock images to fill their design needs.

There are several different types of stock photography licenses. When someone purchases "royalty-free" photograph, the buyer has permission to produce the image a limited number of times for a set fee; this fee may cover use of the image for up to 5,000 copies of a brochure, for example. To use the image beyond that point, the buyer will have to pay a certain amount for each additional printing. With royalty-free images, each buyer is not the exclusive owner of the image. It can be purchased and used by multiple buyers, so one photo may appear in multiple ads or brochures.

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With a "rights-managed" license, the buyer must pay for each use of the image, and fees can be much higher than those for royalty-free images, often in the thousands of dollars. With a rights-managed license, however, the buyer has exclusive possession of the image for a set period of time, generally one year. During this time, no one else may use the image for any purpose, and the photographer does not have the right to resell the photo until the license has expired.

The stock photography industry started in the 1920s, with a company founded by H. Armstrong Roberts. At that time, it was primarily a way for professional photographers to market outtakes from commercial photography shoots. Today, however, many photographers take photos exclusively for stock purposes. If a photographer has a large portfolio, he or she can earn a considerable amount of money each month from selling use of their images through a photography website, even if the photographer does not add new photos on a regular basis.

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Discuss this Article

spreadsheet
Post 3

As a semi professional photographer I have found that shooting for stock photography websites can be an excellent addition to my income.

Selling stock photography images can be both interesting and rewarding to your photography development and advancement. You might find yourself photographing objects and things that you would've never thought you would photograph before.

anon1153
Post 1

Also, the creator of the stock imagery holds the copyright (unless it's specifically sold) and the images cannot be used or licensed or resold without their permission.

Royalty free (RF) can, in some cases, have unlimited usage given with the license purchase, so that a company could use it over and over again. RM (right management) can still be licensed for a small amount.

I wouldn't specifically say that RM puts limitations on that image's usage, especially not generally one year. It can be all over the place, and many companies don't want to pay enough to make it an exclusive usage, so other companies can continue to license it at the same time in a lot of cases. The difference is that they can also usually see a history of who has used it for what, so that McDonald's and Burger King don't end up using the same image at the same time.

Generally, the photos don't have re-use limitations set on them unless it's a very big license.

Stock is also kind of political now, because of the massive amounts available - license fees are always going dowwwwwn. Plus a lot of people are now using RF instead of the more traditional RM so that drives the market down as well. There's a ton of competition and the huge conglomerate, Getty Images, keeps buying up most of the market and driving prices down.

Plus there's a new thing called "Microstock", where images can be licensed for cheap cheap cheap (like $1 per image and up!) and sales are based on licensing images a bunch of times (rather than exclusively for a lot more $$). With the rise of consumer digital photography, things are swinging towards being much more widely available for less.

Sorry to go on and on - this is a huge issue in "the business" with much info written about it.

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