Stock Photography

Stock Photography Basics: A How-To Guide For Stock Photography

by Seth Resnick


 Stock photographs consists of existing photography available to buyers for their specific needs. The photographs become a commodity available through either an individual photographer or through a stock agency. Under most circumstances the images are not actually sold but are leased with a licensing agreement.


Today stock photography is applicable in every conceivable market which utilizes photography. It is routinely used in advertising, editorial, brochures, multimedia, catalogs, annual reports, record albums, television commercials, posters, calendars, greeting cards, credit cards, AV shows, and most recently it is widely used on the World Wide Web. The market for stock photography is expanding at a rapid pace with new uses every day.


Stock photographs are produced in two basic ways. Photographers retain rights to the images they produce on assignment for clients and turn those images into stock photography or they actually fund elaborate productions to generate images specifically for stock.


WYSIWYG or what you see is what you get. In traditional assignment photography a photographer is hired to illustrate an idea or capture some event. There is a creative fee to pay which can be in the thousands per day and there are expenses including: travel, assistants, film & processing, talent, stylists etc. The cost can be downright prohibitive and there are NO GUARANTEES. Stock photography offers the guarantee. The user can see the an image without paying for the cost of the whole shoot.

The other big benefit of stock photography is the ability to for an end user to see images fast and in some cases immediately. For today's fast paced society many times there is simply no time to wait for a particular image to be photographed and stock offers that solution.

For the photographer the benefits of stock photography are enormous. Over time many images will generate far more income than did the actual assignment. Many images have a long lifetime and will generate income for years to come. A decent collection can not only double a photographers annual income but can also continue to generate income even after he or she is retired.


For the client the biggest pitfall to stock photography is that the images may not be exclusive to them and in fact may very well have been published many times before. It is possible to buy stock images with exclusivity but the cost will be far greater and may or may not be available for a specific image.

For the photographer the are several issues which become pitfalls with regard to stock photography. If the photographer sells through an agency it usually takes months after a sale before the photographer gets paid. There is also the basic fact that most agencies take 50% on a stock photography sale and more if the image is sold overseas through a sub agent. There is a great deal of time spent getting images ready for sale including captioning, categorizing , key wording etc. If the photographer produces images specifically for stock there are no guarantees the images will ever be sold and it might take years just to receive enough income to cover your expenses.


As new buyers continue to discover the benefits of stock photography, the sources for stock continue to multiply. Traditionally, stock photography has been available from an assortment of large agencies. Today stock photography is available from many sources including CD ROM both in the form of clip art and licensed images, direct from photographers, source books and stock catalogs, and from the internet.


1. The first step is the request for images. This is accomplished via phone call or fax or E-mail.  In addition publishers will routinely provide want lists and there are subscription services which, for a monthly fee, will supply want lists via fax or computer.

If you are the person requesting the images it is vital to be as specific as possible.  In addition to specific information about the photographs you are requesting , you should also supply the researcher with specific stats regarding the image use.  Both parties should discuss use fees, research fees if applicable, method of delivery, the time needed to hold the photographs, liability for loss & or damage. Our office will routinely fax a sample delivery memo to new clients for them to sign, prior to sending out images.  Remember that proper paper work and discussion of terms and conditions ahead protects both parties and eliminates problems in the future.

2. After the request a researcher or photographer must locate, caption and prepare the images for delivery. Many people charge a research fee which commonly ranges from $50.00 to $100.00 which helps to cover the costs associated with time intensive tasks. Some agencies and photographers waive the research fee if the images are used, while others do not apply to usage and some do not charge any research fee. If you request images make sure you check out the suppliers research fee policy and if you are selling images make sure you indicate that you do charge a research fee in advance.

3. Delivery of the images. You are most likely going to receive original images. Although the exact value of photographic images is a topic which constantly surfaces and resurfaces in the courts, it is safe for both parties to assume that the images are, for all practical purposes, worth $1500.00 each or the stipulated value on the delivery memo. With this in mind images should be sent via a courier service which can track the package at any given time.  Some agencies and photographers will actually list the courier service that the images must be returned with on the delivery memo. The delivery memo will list vital information about the images and their use. Make sure you read the delivery memo and understand the terms and conditions. At the very least make sure that the count on the images you receive matches the count listed on the delivery memo.  If the count is different it is important to notify the sender immediately that there is a discrepancy. The delivery memo will also routinely list the intended use of the images the fee for use and the date that the images are due back to the agency or photographer.

4. Use of the images. If an image is going to be used it is vital to notify the agency and or photographer prior to final use. Most delivery memos will state that no rights of any kind are granted until payment is received in full. Further if the intended use is slightly different either in size or placement than that listed on the delivery memo you will want to have the power of negotiation with the photographer and or the agency. If the image is used and than the agency or photographer is notified the user may find that the amount the photographer or agency is charging is way beyond there means, yet they will have no choice but to pay the bill or they risk the consequences of intentional violation of the copyright statue.

5. Returning the images. Typically all images are due back within 21 days. Many agencies and photographers charge holding fees if the images are held longer than 21 days. If as the client you need to hold the images longer than the stipulated time on the delivery memo than it is pertinent to notify and discuss the situation with the agency or photographer.


The new digital frontier poses new problems and new resources for the photographer and the photo buyer. Although there are many uses in the electronic field the area with the most hoopla and the most concern is the World Wide Web.  In the last 4 years the Web has grown from a small collection of sites to literally millions.  In fact,  each day there are nearly 3,000 new sites on the web many of which are using stock photography.


For the buyer of stock photography the Web offers real time viewing and buying of images from an ever increasing source of providers. The Web allows the buyer to deal in with electronic delivery of film thus eliminating the liability of originals and the expense of couriers and time delay of couriers. For the provider of stock photographs the Web allows even the smallest providers to reach worldwide without the need of sub agents. Original files can be kept in the library and allowing the same images to be sold over and over without worrying about damage. Providers can even collect money via credit card and eliminate the hassles of collection or they can provide their bank account numbers for deposit information to the buyer and when the deposit is made they can send a digital file to the buyer.


Clearly the area of the most concern is theft of images and copyright as it pertains to intellectual property. The less someone understands this issue the more they are concerned. Yes the web does have security flaws and yes people can steal, but any buyer of originals in today's marketplace can do essentially the same.  Original images can be scanned and kept on file. When an image is delivered in digital format on the Web there is a benefit and a protection system that is unavailable when dealing with original images.  The sender can attach file information using Photoshop which will be permanently attached to the file. The information could contain not only copyright information but also rights granted and extended caption information. In the near future graphics will be able to employ holographic type signatures which would embed hidden tags enabling illicit copies to be traced. Right now a user can search for his own images with the free aid of Alta Vista a web search engine. If someone steals an image and posts it to their own web page it can be found simply by searching for the image which takes less than 1 second. Clearly the benefits of the web out number the pitfalls.


The Web has become more and more defined . There are essentially five categories of buyers on the web. It is important to look at each category to determine the proper pricing structure for photography. As the web develops it is revealing surprising similarity to traditional print format in terms of how to price. The size of the image on the page, the placement of the image i.e. home page or linked page, length of time for display, the size of the company and the average number of "hits" or viewers should be taken in to account for accurate pricing.  In my own opinion companies selling photography on the web and not differentiating the clients is doing an injustice to photographers and to themselves.  Some companies are pricing photographs for the Web based solely on the digital size of the image. The fact is that screen resolution only supports 72 dpi so large file sizes are irrelevant.


1.Commerce Sites: A commerce site is typically a National or Multi-National Corporation which is using its web site as a place to physically transact business. 

2.Content Oriented Sites: These are sites that are not engaged directly in selling on the web but are large corporate sites providing all kinds of information from consumer information, marketing information and possibly downloading of software and products on a slightly smaller scale than a true commerce site. They are large sites that are updated on a regular basis. 

3.Promotional Sites: These sites are specifically designed to act as a form of advertising and promotion for a company but do not allow the viewer to actually buy anything directly on the site. The size of the companies range from small regional companies to large multinational companies and are clearly a marketing tool. 

4.Basic Site: Basic sites refer to companies which have a web site to be part of the electronic revolution but they haven't really developed the site for much other than an enhanced phone book type listing. 

5.Educational and Not-For-Profit Site: These sites disseminate information but operate on a very limited budget . 

6.Personal Site: The last type of site listed on the web are the personal sites. They range in all types and sizes and this is the largest area for copyright infringement to occur and for photo sales on the very low end of the scale.


According to a recent report by Forrester Research of Cambridge, MA The average price to a company to develop a commerce site is now $3.3 million dollars. Further maintenance of the site requires a web master which costs in the neighborhood of $50,000 per year plus there are continual upgrade costs. In addition they report that a basic 
promotional site costs $300,000 and a content oriented site costs $1.3 million dollars. A separate study by International Data Corporation confers on this numbers and pegs the overall average business site between $300,000 and 1.5 million.

Many of the Commerce and Promotional sites either accept advertising or advertise themselves on other commerce sites. The price of the ads are substantial.  In fact, there is a web site that lists every web site accepting advertising and the cost. For example, ESPN Sports Zone charges $30,769 a month for a small ad. Further, it is also imperative to
understand the cost per 1000 consumers for the web compared to other traditional forms of advertising in determining cost of stock photography.  Again, Forrester Research, Inc. reveals some interesting statistics.  A 30-second television spot on network news costs an average of $65,000 for and reaches 12,000,000 people at a cost of $5.42 per 1000 consumers.  A full-page color ad in a national weekly cost an average of $135,000 to reach 3,100,000 viewers at a cost of $43.55 per 1000 consumers. A full page ad in a mid size city newspaper costs $31,000 to reach 514,000 people at a cost of $60.31 per 1000. The world wide web for a one month one inch by one inch ad in an online magazine costs $15,000 for an average audience of 200,000 which raises the cost per 1000 consumers to a whopping $75.00.

When companies are willing to shell out millions for development of a web site, spend thousands to advertise and spend nearly 14 times the cost per thousand of television to reach viewers, it is clear that there are budgets in place to pay traditional pricing stock photography on the web.

Seth Resnick is a freelance photographer based in Boston, Massachussetts.  To find out more about pricing on the web refer to a URL on Seth Resnick Photography