What is Stock Photography?

Think of it like a warehouse on the other end of the production line.

In a previous article I briefly spoke about what Commercial Photography is. I’d like to continue by talking about Stock Photography specifically.

I personally think there are two ways to look at media stock: the Good and the Evil. Evil is the most popular thanks to some stock agencies that take advantage of artists/creators. To form part of a stock agency’s large image database artists/creators typically give up as much as 80% of the revenue of their creations. To make matters worse, the typical sale price for licenses are well below the level an image would normally command. 20% of a very small fee per image seldom makes it a viable business venture, but it still managed to gain popularity. I think mostly because the clientele want cheap, royalty free media immediately.

That’s the Evil.

Now for the Good.

Stock doesn’t have to be the soulless, bland and boring, even clinical images that get accepted by stock agencies. Not all stock requires model releases or for copyrighted material to be eliminated. Not all stock needs to be generic, non specific. And most of all, stock doesn’t have to be a collection of media that is created solely for stock use.

As a commercial photographer you SHOULD maintain a properly indexed and searchable library of images. This includes personal work as well as any images taken during commercial ventures. Do not sell your images, sell the right to use images by issuing licenses. By doing so, you can create a secondary stream of income solely from images you have already shot.

The requirement for sterile images is gone, because images no longer need to be generic. You can license an image to a company you worked with before, without re-shooting. Perhaps you took an additional image from an interesting angle during a previous shoot, that didn’t quite match the brief, but that suddenly becomes interesting and commercially viable for a follow-up campaign.

Or perhaps you spent some personal time covering a local car show where a new model is unveiled. Images like these could be popular for local media coverage in newspapers and do not require licensed/trademarked/copyrighted material to be removed because it’s for editorial use.

I can dream up many more situations in which images can become valuable after they have been shot, even if they were shot for a different purpose.

Having the opportunity to scan your own archive when new business comes along has twofold benefits. It possibly allows you to fulfill a customer’s wish without requiring shoot time on your behalf, and, for the client, it reduces costs since they would only need to pay license fees and not production fees as well. It also shortens the delivery time if you do happen to have a suitable image already shot.

Adding images to stock libraries probably makes for more consistent revenue at a lower entry price. You’d need to assess if that is right for you. Personally I maintain a list of images, that unfortunately is rather small at the moment, and do not use agencies.

Do your own research if you do decide to go with an agency, not all are evil. Some are really reasonable, offer high returns and license for use, instead of a flat, royalty-free rate. These usually come with higher submission quality requirements and exclusivity agreements, so be careful.