The History of Stock Photography

The history of stock photography, or photographs created not to fulfill a particular assignment but rather for sale to any client who may need them, tells the story of how the photography world has been revolutionized. Through stock photography, many would-be professionals have found a way to dip their toes into the world of making money with their cameras. On the flipside, the history of stock photography has also changed how companies do business, in terms of their advertising. Nowadays, it's no longer always necessary to hire a photographer. Thanks to stock photography collections, it's possible to simply buy the individual images one needs for a particular project.


Although these days stock photography collections are primarily Internet based, that certainly hasn't always been the case. In fact, the history of stock photography pre-dates the Internet significantly. The first stock photography agency was created in the 1920s by H. Armstrong Roberts. In the beginning, stock photography agencies were meant primarily to supply images to magazines or newspapers and was essentially an industry born out an innovative use of outtake images left over from other photograph assignments. Because these assignments were leftovers, they were of very limited use


By the 1980s, stock photography had turned into an industry unto itself. More and more photographers were moving away from shooting on assignment and toward shooting images for stock collections. Why? Because shooting stock photography afforded them a more flexible working schedule and environment. In addition, stock photography shooting created a residual income stream (by way of royalties) that assignment photography didn't. (Assignment photography is generally for a one-time fee).

As the industry evolved, stock photography became more established and agencies started becoming more in tune with what their customers wanted. They would then find photographers who would shoot those types of images for them. In a sense, this created a hybrid between assignment photography and stock photography because although the images were being commissioned based on customer requirements in general, the photographer was not shooting for any particular assignment.


When search engine giant, Google, released their image search engine in 2001, small companies found an outlet to sell their images. Two years later, Shutterpoint devised a brand-new system that allowed anyone to upload and sell their photos for a fee. It wasn't long before other companies followed suit. These days, most stock photography libraries live online and everyone can sell their own photographs, from professionals all the way down to the beginner photographer.

The history of stock photography has been a long one. Since the birth of the industry in 1920, stock photography has afforded a way to for hobby shutterbugs to turn a pastime into a career. Stock photography is the rule rather than the exception these days, and it doesn't stop at photographs anymore. Now, all kinds of creative property are being sold to and bought from online stock libraries.