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.
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.
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)
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.