What is stock photography?
Stock photographs are images that a photographer or a designer has agreed can be licensed and redistributed for commercial purposes. It creates an ‘off the shelf’ experience for people to buy images. Rather than commission bespoke images from a specific photographer, they can go to a stock website and buy an image that they choose for, what is often, a lot less money.
The images can be licensed and downloaded for a specific price depending on how the image will be used or a flat fee. They’re available for anyone who wants them and can pay the fee.
What does this mean for your copyright?
As the photographer, you will still retain the copyrights to your images even after you’ve submitted them to a stock website. The images are not ‘sold’ on the website so you do not hand the copyright over. This means you can still use your images as you wish. When the person pays the fee, they get a license to use the images according to the terms of that license.
Most stock websites will offer a ‘royalty-free license’, which means that the customer will have to pay a flat fee to use your image. They cannot resell the photo and they do not own it. However, they can use the image multiple times and you, as the photographer, do not have input in terms of how that image can be used. The other type of license is a ‘rights managed license’. This is more expensive for the buyer, as it means that they have to pay for every time they use the image. A buyer may be more reluctant to go for this, as it’s more costly, but it gives the photographers more say over how their images are being used.
Do note, although the sites will not own your images, some will expect an exclusive deal with you and you may not be able to upload a photo anywhere else – including your own website and other stock websites. Make sure you read the small print.
What are the advantages?
Selling your images as stock can be a great way of earning a little extra income from images that have been sat on your hard drive forever. If you struggle to sell your images independently, selling them as stock can boost your earnings. If you really hit on what works, you can earn a decent amount. Using stock websites is quick, easy and all the marketing is done for you. Plus, you don’t hand over your copyright.
What are the disadvantages?
Although it can be a great boost, it’s not likely that you’ll earn you a living from it so don’t quit your day job. You will also earn a lot less than if you sold images independently due to the commission taken by stock websites. If you choose a website that requires an exclusivity from you, it can also restrict you from selling those images in the future. It could also stop you from using them on your website to market yourself. You must read the small-print carefully before making any decisions to start selling your images.
Who to choose?
Each website will come with it’s own pros and cons. Things to consider are:
Potential earnings What will you earn from each download? Will you get a decent amount or will you get pennies? Consider how whether you can tier those earnings too, for example does it offer lower res downloads for less money or is it flat fee?
Exclusivity Does the site require you to use them and them alone? Would you be happy with this arrangement?
Restrictions Does the site offer you to dictate how your image will be used. Does it allow you to specify if it’s for editorial use only or can it be used for everything. Also think about whether it allows the buyer to use the image over and over or is it single use.
Customer service What is the site’s track record for how they treat their contributors? You don’t want to go with someone who will take forever to get an issue solved, or you can’t ask a question if you need to. Market. What is their consumer base? How popular is it? And within that, how big is the market of people who will see, and possibly buy, your images?
A final note:
Selling stock images isn’t for everyone, but some photographers find it works well for them. Carefully consider every angle before you start submitting images to a stock website. If you do start to sell your images, don’t get disheartened if some of your images get rejected – this happens to everyone! Another agency may accept it straight away. Be mindful of what is in demand and what isn’t on these sites, and try and respond with what you post.