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Stock photography

Stock photography consists of existing photographs that can be licensed for specific uses. Publishers, advertising agencies, graphic artists, and others use stock photography to fulfill the needs of their creative assignments.

A customer who uses stock photography instead of hiring a photographer can save time and money, but can also sacrifice creative control. Stock images can be presented in searchable online databases, purchased online, and delivered via download or email.

A collection of stock photography may also be called a photo archive, picture library, image bank or photo bank. As modern stock photography distributors often carry stills, video, and illustrations, none of the existing terminology provides a perfect match.

Industry structure

Images are filed at an agency that negotiates licensing fees on the photographer's behalf in exchange for a percentage, or in some cases owns the images outright. This is increasingly done online, especially with the newer micro-stock models.

Pricing is determined by size of audience or readership, how long the image is to be used, country or region where the images will be used and whether royalties are due to the image creator or owner. Often, an image can be licensed for less than $200, or in the case of the microstock photography websites as little as $1.

With Rights Managed stock photography an individual licensing agreement is negotiated for each use. Royalty-free stock photography offers a photo buyer the ability to use an image in an unlimited number of ways for a single license fee. The client may, however, request "exclusive" rights, preventing other customers from using the same image for a specified length of time or in the same industry. Such sales can command many thousands of dollars, both because they tend to be high-exposure and because the agency is gambling that the image would not have made more money had it remained in circulation. However, with royalty free licensing there is no option for getting exclusive usage rights.

Some stock photography sites offer low-resolution photography free for the purpose of preparing advertising comps to demonstrate a design. If the advertiser decides to use the image, the rights to use the high-resolution image then can be negotiated.

Professional stock photographers place their images with one or more stock agencies on a contractual basis, with a defined commission basis and for a specified contract term. Some photographers fund their own photo shoots, or develop imagery in cooperation with an agency, while others submit photographs originally produced as part of editorial (magazine) or commercial assignments.

Overview

Royalty-free (RF)

"Free" in this context means "free of royalties (paying each time you use an image)". It does not mean the image is free to use without purchasing a license or that the image is in the public domain.

  • Pay a one-time fee to use the image multiple times for multiple purposes (with limits).
  • No time limit on when the buyer can use an image.
  • No one can have exclusive rights of a Royalty-free image (the photographer can sell the image as many times as he wants).
  • A Royalty-free image usually has a limit to how many times the buyer can reproduce it. For example, a license might allow the buyer to print 500,000 brochures with the purchased image. The amount of copies made is called the print run. Above that print run the buyer is required to pay a fee per brochure, usually 1 to 3 cents. Magazines with a large print run cannot use a standard Royalty-free license and therefore they either purchase images with a Rights-managed license or have in-house photographers.

Rights-managed (RM)

(sometimes called "licensed images")

  • The value of a license is determined by the use of the image, which is generally broken down along these lines;



 Usage: (eg. Advertising - "Above the Line", Corporate - "Below the Line" or Editorial - "News Media")
 Specific Use: (eg. Billboard, Annual Report, Newspaper article)
 Duration: (eg. 1 month, 2 months, 1 Year, 2 Years etc)
 Print Run: (eg. up to 10,000, up to 1m)
 Territory: (eg; USA, Europe, UK, Germany, or whatever combination of territories are required)
 Size: (how big is the image to be used - 1/4 page, 1/2 page, full page, or double page spread)
 Industry: (Industry type - eg. Consumer Electronics, Marine Engineering, Financial Services etc)
 Exclusivity: (Exclusive, or Non Exclusive)

  • The terms of the license are clearly defined and negotiated so that the purchaser receives maximum value, and is protected in their purchase by a certain level of exclusivity.
  • Rights-managed licenses provide assurance that an image will not be used by someone else in a conflictng manner. The agreement can include exclusivity, and usually recognises that this represents added value. Not all Rights-managed licenses are exclusive, that must be stipulated in the agreement.
  • A Rights-managed image usually allows a much larger print run per image than a Royalty-free license.
  • Editorial is a form of rights-managed license when there are no releases for the subjects. Since there are no releases the images cannot be used for advertising or to depict controversial subjects, only for news or educational purposes.

Features

  • An important feature of web-based stock photography collections is that the images have been embedded with meta-data, therefore making the images searchable by using keywords.

History

One of the first major stock photography agencies was the one founded in 1920 by H. Armstrong Roberts, which continues today under the name RobertStock.

For many years, stock photography consisted largely of outtakes ("seconds") from commercial magazine assignments. By the 1980s, it had become a specialty in its own right, with photographers creating new material for the express purpose of submitting it to a stock house. Agencies attempted to become more sophisticated about following and anticipating the needs of advertisers and communicating these needs to photographers. Photographs were composed with more of an eye for how they might look when combined with other elements; for example, a photo might be shot vertically with space at the top and down the left side, with the conscious intention that it might be licensed for use as a magazine cover.

In the 1990s, a period of consolidation followed, with Getty Images and Corbis becoming the two largest companies as a result of acquisitions. Today, stock photography companies have largely moved online. In the early 2000s, Jupitermedia Corporation has started buying some of the smaller players in the market, aggregating them under the banner of their Jupiterimages division, and became the third largest player in the market. The availability of the internet provided a means for other, smaller companies to get a foothold in the industry.

Using the Internet as their sole distribution method, and recruiting mainly amateur and hobbyist photographers from around the globe, these companies are able to offer stock libraries of good quality for very low prices.

In the Summer of 2001, Google introduced their Image Search Engine with 250 million images from across the internet. This marked the beginning of a new era which enabled smaller stock agencies such as Acclaim Images, World of Stock, and Absolute Stock Photo to compete with the very large stock photography agencies such as Getty Images and Corbis.

In 2003 ShutterPoint pioneered the open access model which allowed everyone to upload and market images. The trend was continued by fotoLibra in 2004 and in 2005 Scoopt started a photo news agency for citizen journalism enabling the public to upload and sell breaking news images taken with cameraphones.

In 2007 Cutcaster extended upon this model, by allowing anyone to upload and market images and define their own price or let buyers bid on content. It was the first negotiation platform of its kind.

See also

References

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