How Much Can Be Made From Stock Photography

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June twenty, 2022

What is Stock Photography?

Updated August 19th, 2022.

Stock photography is a term that has get broiled into the world of digital marketing, especially in the last decade. As businesses capitalize on access to a wider global audience via online presence, the need for ameliorate quality marketing materials has skyrocketed so has the industry that supplies that material.

In order to understand the part that stock photography has played in digital marketing and advertising, it’s important to understand what it is, how it works, how it’s impacted companies and how it will continue to influence industries far and broad.

What are stock images?

Offset and foremost, what does the term “stock photography” even mean? At its most bones definition,
stock photography
is an industry that creates and sells imagery in the grade of photos, illustrations, or videos and can be purchased for use through diverse licensing models (more than on what stock footage is here).

Customers pay a fee to purchase the rights to legally apply the stock photos or videos they want, incorporating them into their marketing strategies and personal projects every bit needed. This fee is so split between the artist that took the photo or footage and an agency or service that the creative person uses to manage the sales of the photo to customers. Customers get to download the image and kickoff using information technology in minutes, photographers (usually) retain their copyright on the material, and agencies make a cadet facilitating the transaction.

Types of Stock Photography

At that place are three main types of stock photography that have evolved since the industry’southward beginnings at the start of the 20th century.

:Macrostock photography is also known as traditional stock photography. Since macrostock is exclusive, customers pay a higher fee to license the imagery so they hold exclusive rights to that particular image, maintaining the “uniqueness” of the photos beingness used. In some cases of macrostock, images aren’t totally exclusive (meaning that a very limited number of customers tin buy the rights to the same stock photo).

Midstock: Midstock photography is the heart of the road option that provides stock photography priced betwixt macrostock and microstock. It is often used online and offers sectional and non-exclusive options for utilize of imagery.

Microstock: Microstock photography has a low price betoken because it unremarkably removes exclusivity from the equation. This model is relatively new to the scene and has exploded in growth since 2000 as more stock agencies used the advances in engineering science to plant themselves. Microstock is sold for lower prices at a greater book, meaning that multiple customers can purchase the rights to utilise microstock imagery.

That’s all well and skilful, but why is stock photography fifty-fifty a thing? How did information technology become the huge industry that it is today?

Stock photography: A Cursory History

Stock photography has been effectually since the 1920s when newspapers and magazines began reproducing photographs with the help of the printing press and technological advances like

. Sometimes, if access to an epitome was limited or difficult to come by, big plenty operations would stage their own reenactment of a scene to capture and employ the imagery and, thus, the original stock photo was born.

In 1920, H. Armstrong Roberts started the first stock photography agency. It concentrated on generic subjects that could be reused in advertising. Popular themes included: images of men and women, happy children, people smoking cigarettes or cigars, common foods like bread or butter, soft drinks, cleaning or washing, and hygiene (brushing teeth or shaving).

Well-nigh all of the images were shot on four×v cameras with black and white moving picture, considered the latest engineering of the time.

Every bit more and more of these images were created, they began to be stored and reused. The get-go stock photography libraries were founded in the 1920s and 30s, the biggest of which housed 15 to xx thousand images which were selected based on their likelihood to sell multiple copies.

Between the 1940s and 1980s, the manufacture continued to grow steadily. Archives were founded to house photographs and negatives, especially after World State of war Two, becoming a main resource for historical documentation. In 1945 a cataloging organisation, known as the Gibbs-Smith system, was established using keywords and classifications to index the images in these archives.

The 1990s brought with them the computing revolution and the physical athenaeum that were one time home to the get-go stock photos were transformed past servers for storage and indexing online. Stock libraries became stock agencies and royalty-free and rights-managed licensing options became standards for the industry.

As more companies entered the market place, the larger stock photo agencies began to consolidate. In the 2000s, microstock agencies started offer more than affordable alternatives to the traditional macrostock photography which had dominated the market up until that indicate. These microstock agencies initially sold physical CD-ROMs and, more recently, began charging subscription or i-time fees for online downloading access. This allowed them to offer image licensing for much lower prices.

The industry evolved further, with more acquisitions and mergers along the mode, to the current stock photography ecosystem. This growth has resulted in a much more competitive market, with many of the large microstock agencies responding by lowering their licensing fees and payout percentages for stock photographers and cinematographers in an endeavour to hold onto their market share.

A Different Accept on the Modern Stock Photo Agency

Stocksy was founded in 2022 with a new twist on gimmicky stock agency business concern models. Established as a platform co-op, nosotros employ upstanding business organisation practices and ensure that our shareholder artists receive off-white pay for their piece of work — 50%-75% of all licenses become directly into contributors’ pockets. The sense of customs and buying felt by our members drives a greater level of artistic ferocity into their work, resulting in inspired imagery of the highest quality.

How Stock Photography Works

Now that nosotros have a basic understanding of what stock photography is and how it came to exist, let’southward wait closer at how stock photography really works in practise.

Past using stock imagery as digital collateral in marketing campaigns, companies are able to save fourth dimension, money, and human being resource they would spend on planning out a project and hiring a photographer to create custom imagery for a particular campaign. This, in part, has fabricated stock photography a colonnade of modern digital marketing efforts.

A large supply of stock photography is needed in club to build up a banking company of imagery to sell to customers. Stock photographers, the original creators of the imagery, submit their work to stock agencies. Stock agencies display the photographer’s work and sell information technology to customers using a licensing model.

Types of Stock Photography Licenses

Three main types of licenses are virtually ordinarily seen in the manufacture.

Public domain (PD)
: Public domain licensing means that the epitome is free to use (and no fee can be charged to use it) for either commercial or personal purposes. The public domain typically has works which no longer have active exclusive intellectual belongings rights (due to expiration, forfeit, or inapplicability). This ways that copyright claims cannot be applied to the work and it is, therefore, free for anyone to apply.

In contempo years, some stock agencies and services offer imagery that is free to use via this blazon of non-exclusive licensing.

Royalty-free (RF)
: Royalty-free licensing is a copyright license in which rights to utilize the work can be purchased through a i-time payment to the licensor (sometimes with some restrictions). Customers are able to employ the imagery numerous times without having to pay for additional licenses. These rights are usually non offered on an exclusive basis unless additional features like extended licensing and marketplace freeze options are included to cater to customers that desire exclusivity.

RF-licensing is usually used by stock agencies that take a subscription-based or microstock business model. Images price anywhere between $1 and $twenty.

Rights-managed (RM)
: Rights-managed licensing contrasts royalty-free licensing as it provides restricted use of stock photographs. Customers are able to purchase one-time rights to a photo that may be further restricted by the blazon of copyright license existence purchased. For additional uses of an image, customers volition need to purchase additional usage rights. Also known equally licensed images, RM licenses are offered on a non-exclusive or sectional footing, depending on the platform being used.

RM-licensing is also usually used by stock agencies, but has more specific weather condition to usage rights and often comes with a higher cost. Images cost anywhere betwixt $50 to $1,000+.

Microstock agencies usually utilize RF or RM licensing models to sell their stock photos. Some charge a one-time fee or offering subscription-based pricing models while others use credits or “pinnacle-up” systems to encompass fees for selected images.

Stock Photography as a Marketing Tool

So that’s the theory behind what a stock photograph is and the nuts of how it works, just let’s swoop a little deeper. What does stock photography actually


for a customer who has purchased it?

Besides saving them time, coin, and the endeavour involved in creating original imagery for a entrada, stock photography provides a most abysmal resources of versatile images and clips to use for annihilation from a

full-blown marketing campaign to a personal utilise poster

for next Saturday’s garage sale.

Stock photos can fill a specific gap in a projection or marketing campaign, but they can besides help create and direct information technology also. For designers and fine art directors, a quality stock photography catalog or collection tin can function as a very important and inspirational tool in the creative process.

Being able to admission and download imagery on-need makes sense for businesses, both big and small. Advertizement agencies are obvious buyers of stock photography, but so are minor businesses with bootstrapped budgets, freelance graphic designers, writers, bloggers, social media influencers, and and so on. If images are involved, be it printed marketing collateral similar an event flyer or pamphlet or an online landing page or blog post, stock photography is likely a step in the process, fifty-fifty if it’southward not obvious that it is. (And, ideally,

it won’t exist obvious

Every bit the manufacture has become more than saturated though, themes in imagery emerge every twelvemonth. When an prototype or certain style of photo becomes popular, stock photographers tend to try to produce similar shots considering they know they are popular and will sell well. However, this creates a “creative cake” in the industry that tends to replicate the aforementioned type of shot until something else takes over to begin influencing aesthetics. The modern stock photography industry is currently seeing more examples of this, particularly in a time when grassroots revolutions and social alter are becoming more than frequent and the imagery that is captured to reflect society shifts with it.

Stock Photography every bit an Influencer

Overly-enthusiastic colleagues in suits, happy ladies eating plain salads and other platitude images can be found at almost every stock agency. This isn’t a bad thing — some images are quintessential captures of the mode we tend to envision an idea, concept, consequence, or activity. It’southward just important to be aware of the biases that come with that and how they influence the mode the world around us is displayed.

Since we are a visual species, it’south no wonder that imagery is such a critical office of how nosotros interact with and understand the world. This is why stock photography plays an essential role, not just in marketing, just in how we perceive the things around the states in general.

Trends in Stock Photography

The past few years have seen trends focusing on authenticity and ethical marketing. While it might seem cliché, this trend is catching on in many areas and, every bit the average consumer becomes more aware of social climates and how they are shifting, they’ve begun enervating that companies follow suit.

Sustainability, ecology consciousness, and a less consumption-focused lifestyle are condign bigger trends in today’s marketing strategies. Wider demands for equal representation of people beyond the spectrum of race,

, sexual orientation, and


are becoming more prevalent and the imagery existence created is starting to respond. Engaging with politics is another emerging trend as activism and protesting become a more prominent part of daily life. More stock photographers are looking to capture images that correspond the power of peaceful protest and of people meeting to suspension down barriers and negative societal norms.

This is over again reflected in the

types of bodies

contemporary stock photography is showcasing. By making different body types visible, questioning

stereotypical gender roles
, and allowing real people to portray themselves in the mode that they want, stock photographers are able to influence the manner we see the world.

A photograph is a representation of a person or identify or thing and ensuring that the representation is an accurate 1, even as just a snapshot in time, is a keen responsibility that both stock photographers and stock agencies take, as do their customers and the marketing collateral they produce.

Redefining how Photographers Work

Another aspect of stock photography’southward influence tin be seen in the way the industry facilitates (and sometimes hinders) the way photographers work. Arguably a pioneer of “the gig economy”, stock photography has ever relied on freelance content contributors to succeed.

In the 1920s when macrostock began to accept off, the industry had a small number of fundamental professional photographers to supply it. As it grew and engineering advanced, more apprentice photographers began to accept admission to affordable tools, creating images that were of good plenty quality to submit to the midstock and microstock agencies.

These days, camera and smartphone technology take advanced to the point where professional and amateur photographers are able to submit their work to stock agencies and get paid for information technology, enabling a wider number of people to appoint in the gig economy and make an income outside of the traditional workplace. It’s more a question of whether or not they are getting compensated fairly.

How to Make Coin Selling Stock Photography

The construction of the stock photography industry has always had various aspects to it. When it comes to selling photos, at that place are different perspectives to consider.

As a stock photographer
: Making money with stock photography can be both a blessing and a curse. Some photographers use the manufacture as a way to make some side money with their function-time passion or hobby while others dedicate their full-fourth dimension bandwidth to establish a studio that specializes in creating stock photos. Others combine their passion as photographers with their other niche passions, like

, to create themed content (that sometimes likewise supports a greater crusade).

How to Become a Stock Lensman

There are enough of tips available online every bit to what makes a neat stock photo or stock video. Things to keep in mind are ensuring high quality of photos,getting model releases if shooting people, avoiding branding and logos, and coming upwardly with creative shots that are unique, but wide enough to exist used in a wide variety of means. It’due south oft all-time to find your own specialty or niche and create a cohesive portfolio of imagery. Each agency will accept its own submission guidelines for the specifics. You can read our contributor application FAQ here.

How much does stock photography pay?

There is quite a wide range of royalty payout percentage in the manufacture. Stocksy artists earn fifty% Royalty on Standard Licenses and 75% of Extended Licenses. Artists also receive profit-sharing in the form of patronage returns when the co-op has a surplus. Amounts are determined based on your contributions to the co-op through the sale of your photos and/or footage. This allows our co-op members to build viable businesses and lifestyles around stock imagery.

By submitting their work to stock agencies and getting information technology in front of the global audience, stock photographers are able to generate income whenever 1 of their images sells. However, it’south important to weigh the pros and cons of how each of these stock agencies will care for the piece of work, what rights the artist is giving upwardly, and how much of the licensing fees they’ll actually receive.

Different stock agencies

treat these factors differently, depending on their business model so reading the fine contractual print is a must.

Agency and fee-free stock photos
: Some services (like

) skip out the middleman altogether and let photographers to upload and license their images without using an agency. Other services like




offer gratuitous stock photos by asking photographers to voluntarily contribute their work, releasing copyright in the process. While these tin be means to build up a portfolio and practice the craft, they’re not not bad ways to get paid for artistic content at a cost that reflects its value and quality. In addition, model releases and indemnity are not guaranteed without the aid of an agency and artists can get into some hot water without proper legal assurances.

How stock agencies fit in
: As a stock agency, how much coin gets fabricated through stock photography really depends on the business model that’southward being used. Macrostock agencies rely on exclusivity to garner a college price tag for imagery while midstock and microstock agencies rely on sheer amount of options. Charging lower licensing fees for non-exclusive usage rights also allows them to sell the same image to multiple customers, which is nifty for the stock photographer, but may not be preferred past customers who want to create unique campaigns or marketing material.

With the market becoming more accessible as photographic camera phones produce high-quality shots and more people get cyberspace/tech-savvy, at that place seems to exist an endless stream of images pouring into stock agencies. It’south increasingly upwardly to the customer to discern which ones are worth purchasing, which tin can be overwhelming when the sheer amount of choice is and then high.

Buying stock photography
: On the chase for that picture perfect shot? A stock bureau will more than probable take what you need, depending on what you’re willing to pay for information technology. Exclusivity means higher licensing fees (and higher payouts as a lensman). Not-exclusivity is offered past most of the microstock agencies, thus highly-seasoned to a wider photographer base and usually offer a much wider selection to customers at a lower price point. However, information technology can be challenging for photographers to make a living off of licensing payouts from this revenue stream these days.

The Changing Advertising Landscape

As a buyer of stock photography, a quick search will hopefully  become you lot what you’re looking for. Most generic shots be in microstock collections and tin be purchased in just a few clicks. But generic shots are becoming less relevant in today’s market. The millennial and GenZ generations are beginning to flex their buying power and are rejecting the same old

tried and true ways of advertising
. This is, in function, because they but tin can’t beget things like previous generations could, requiring advertizing agencies, marketers, and their stock photo suppliers to change their strategies as well.

These generations are driven by values that favor inclusivity, diversity, and equality for all, leading the shift in their social climate. While they ofttimes can appreciate a archetype meme and are known to ironically

point and laugh

at life’s mishaps, they truly care nearly more than than surface value content and expect that to be reflected in the companies they support.

Being tech-savvy, GenZ is also much more than well-equipped to verify marketing claims and hold companies accountable through social media channels and by virtue of being technologically hyperconnected. These advances let them to be better-informed consumers that are slowly becoming a larger part of the labor force, compounding the trickle-downwardly effects on traditional advertising methods.

How Tech keeps Changing the Concern

Speaking of tech, stock photography is a prime example of how the digital revolution has impacted industries of all types. This industry has especially benefited from more advanced hardware, software, and hyperconnectivity. Better cameras, especially on the mini-computers hanging out in everyone’s pockets or bags, produce meliorate quality images. Being constantly connected to the world broad web ways uploading those images is quick and piece of cake. Selling them online (independently or through stock agencies) means nearly anyone with a good eye for a great shot can make coin. And for those who are serious, more affordable professional person photography equipment means that a few thousand dollars can go a long way to getting shots worth selling exclusively.

Advances in tech have also enabled stock agencies to progress as machine learning in search begins to offering more granular selection through the

insane amount of data

created every solar day by people beyond the planet. With things similar searching by color, visually similar recommendations, and more intuitive bogus intelligence powering how nosotros search and find images, innovation in tech volition go on helping stock photography go bigger and more attainable.

And, while millennials are accused of killing a lot of things, they are bringing some archetype things back from the dead.

Film photography

is seeing a resurgence lately and the


for the days of polaroids is felt in the vintage filters of social media.

The question is, where volition we go from hither?

The Future of Stock Photography

Engineering science will keep getting better, producing faster, more affordable hardware and software that will touch on the stock photography industry in many ways. API integrations with massive online databases that have unlimited amounts of images available to sort through and download in a click could forcefulness changes in the industry’south structural or pricing models. Innovations in the way artists, photographers, videographers, and other content creators operate and get paid could disrupt the industry. How the global audience continues to grow and shape the worldwide marketplace will besides play a cistron.

Mayhap the future of stock photography lies in custom content, with requests sent into stock agencies to create and deliver the correct custom shot for an accessible price point. Confusing technologies similar blockchain could offering new ways for photographers to license their work, skipping out the stock bureau birthday. Augmented reality and virtual reality will add some other layer of complexity into how we view, capture, and portray the world around u.s.a.. Or perhaps we’ll see another revived nostalgic trend back to 2D as the talented illustrators of the world feel a renaissance.

While the hereafter of the stock photo seems fairly secure, a rise star in the manufacture is that of the stock video clip. Equally the digital revolution continues, more people are attracted to curt videos in the same way they were attracted to stunning stills. GIFs, Vines, Snapchats, Stories – the curt video clip is definitely the cool new kid on the stock block.

Any the futurity holds, stock photography is certainly not going anywhere anytime soon. Information technology has become an integral part of how we see the world, beyond the marketing and advertising lens through which it is ofttimes portrayed. With the modify in the social climate and rise of new generations,  it’s articulate to see that stock photography every bit a mirror of society has more influence than it may appear to at first glance.

Stock Photography you tin Experience Proficient About

These days, we see a growing want for and response to clever,

, and positive messaging. As

in-your-face up blatant ad continues to die

a dull expiry, it’s important for designers, marketers, art directors, photographers, and stock photography agencies to recognize and jump ahead of the curve.

Past selling or buying stock photography from agencies that offer quality content, while still compensating their content creators fairly, the average company or individual looking for a stock image for their next project tin can help kill off malicious marketing and abrasive advertising.

Advert is necessary in many means. But the way we advertise (and the fashion we allow companies to advertise to us) has a lot of influence that needs to be recognized and acknowledged. Supporting companies and brands that are responsible, ethical, and authentic are the first steps to changing the industry and the ways in which it operates.

Creating, selling, and paying for imagery

that reflects those values is a key contributor to the change.

Aside from existence Stocksy’s SEO pro, Dylan Thousand. Howell spends his time shooting accurate stock photography in Portland, Oregon. Featuring an adventurous portfolio of stock images that includes weddings, travel, and outdoor lifestyle, the hopeless romantic specializes in capturing rad photos of couples in love.


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