Stock photography is a pool of publicly accessible images – photographs and film – utilized for creative purposes. Usually these images consist of landscapes, well-known landmarks, events and people. Creative groups, such as web-designers, graphic designers and advertising agencies, prefer to use stock images for their creative image needs because of their easy accessibility and cost effectiveness. It is much more convenient and budget-wise to utilize image banks, where the images are available via the Internet, than to hire a photographer to take specific photographs. Image banks or stock photography agencies, as they are also called, very often have millions of photos and film available to the public for a nominal fee.
H. Armstrong Roberts first introduced the concept of stock photography in 1920. He founded the first image bank, which is now known as Retrofile. The image bank was originally comprised of secondary photos – those not used specifically for a media assignment.
Only in later years were photographs and film processed exclusively for storage in image banks. Professional stock photographers now put much more care into the creation of their work. They make the extra effort to set up their photograph – very often with a specific potential customer in mind.
How it works
In short, stock photo agencies become the liaison between the photographer and the potential buyer. The agency will first negotiate with the photographer to either buy the piece outright (the photographer would relinquish all rights to the work) or the agency can work to negotiate licensing fees with the buyer on behalf of the photographer. A certain percentage of all royalties would be distributed to the originator of the work. This percentage can be as much as 40%.
The negotiated price is determined by specific factors. Some of these factors include: the size of the audience that will see the image (the market) and how long the image will remain in the public eye. Negotiating individual licensing agreements for use is referred to as rights management.
Client/ buyer options
The buyer has a few options in the process of rights management. They may choose to request “exclusive” rights to a piece. That is, they alone will be able to utilize a particular image for a specific length of time. This restricts other buyers from gaining access to the work. It also hinders the stock photography agency, as they are not at liberty to sell usage of the image to others in the market. This stifles the cash flow potential for the agency and photographer. The agency runs the risk of not acquiring the total worth on the image.
The buyer also has the option for Royalty-free stock photography. They are able to use the image as often as they wish and wherever they wish, however, other buyers also have rights to use the same image. Should a buyer opt for Royalty-free stock photography, they only pay a license fee to use the image.
Photographers have the option of offering low-resolution works to advertisers in an effort to get them to purchase the high-resolution version of the piece. Purchasers are able to see what they will ultimately get, should they opt to buy. If an advertiser chooses to buy the usage of the image, the photographer can then negotiate the terms of usage for a fee.
It is not uncommon for professional stock photographers to register their images with several stock photography agencies. As most agency/photographer contracts are commission based, this practice gives the photographer an increased chance of being “seen” and ultimately purchased.