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photography is the
supply of photographs licensed for specific uses. It is used to fulfill
the needs of creative assignments instead of hiring a photographer.
Today, stock images can be presented in searchable online databases.
They can be purchased and delivered online. Often, they are produced in
studios using a wide variety of models posing as professionals,
stereotypes, expressing stereotypical emotions and gesticulations or
Photograph of participants of the first Solvay Conference, in 1911,
Brussels, Belgium, Getty ImagesGetty Images and Corbis are the two
largest traditional stock photography agencies in terms of revenue.
They offer mostly photographs that have been shot by professional
photographers. There are many alternative photo agencies which
specialize in certain fields of stock photography, such as Photo
Researchers. Stock photography is also available through microstock
photography services, through which photographs sell more cheaply but
in greater volume. 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. 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 for a low resolution license. 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 or purchased directly
from the website. 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.
"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 or she 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. The buyer is
required to pay a fee per brochure, usually 1 to 3 cents, for
additional prints. 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: (e.g. Advertising - "Above the Line",
Corporate - "Below the Line" or Editorial - "News Media") Specific Use:
(e.g. Billboard, Annual Report, Newspaper article) Duration: (e.g. 1
month, 2 months, 1 Year, 2 Years etc) Print Run: (e.g. up to 10,000, up
to 1m) Territory: (e.g.; USA, Europe, UK, Germany, or whatever
combination of territories are required) 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 conflicting 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
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
Newspapers and magazines were
first able to reproduce photographs instead of line drawings in the
mid-1880s with the invention of the half-tone printing press.
Initially starting with staff photographers, eventually independent
free-lance photographers took over.
One of the first major stock
photography agencies was 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 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 year 2000, istockphoto,
a microstock image exchange website, began which later impacted the
stock photo industry by driving prices of royalty-free images down as
low as $1 per image. It was done because of the recent availability of
high-resolution digital cameras in the mass market and the ability for
amateur photographers to upload their images and share on the website.
In summer 2001, Google
introduced an Image Search Engine with 250 million images from across
the internet. This marked the beginning of a new era which enabled
smaller stock agencies to compete with the very large stock photography
In 2003, ShutterPoint,
Dreamstime, and BigStockPhoto mimicked istockphoto's model of image
sharing and became an established player. The trend was continued by
fotoLibra in 2004 (with a maximum of 12 images free) 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 Scoopt was purchased by Getty Images, which closed it in 2009.