Understanding the Industry Structure of Stock Photography

Unknown to many, the business of stock photography is not something that emerged in the digital era. For photographers and those in the advertising industry, this trade may already seem familiar to them. This allows creative industries to purchase photographs instead of hiring photographers and models. It comes out cheaper than renting out studio and equipment. The downside is you probably won't get the exact image that you want, but at least the image you purchase will be more affordable and still professionally-produced.

History of Stock Photography

The very first stock photography business is still in existence today. RobertStock, established in 1920, is in the business of accepting images from photographers, and selling them to organizations and publications that need them. By the 1980s, the stock houses became a lucrative venture, with photographers taking pictures exclusively for the purpose of selling them. Most customers in search of stock photos are print magazines, publications and advertising companies. Purchasing existing stock photos was cheaper than producing it themselves. When the internet era boomed in the year 2000, most stock photography companies moved online.

Stock Photography Today

There are a whole slew of stock photography sites and companies that can be found online today. When the digital SLRs were ushered in and became the norm, the online stock photography business became much more profitable for all parties. Photographers are able to submit a multitude of images with varying concepts and subjects. The stock houses can now house millions of images, and come up with a very user-friendly and specific search option for clients. The customer base has also widened to include online publications and websites, and bloggers.


Royalties pertain to a fee or license for each time you use a creative product. Royalty-free images allow users to use an image multiple times, as long as the one-time license fee is paid for. Sometimes there might be a clause that limits the number of uses, or the time frame of usage. Often, there are no such limits. For photographers, though they do not get minimal profit, their image gets maximum exposure. This is more affordable for customers, but the downside is often the image is not exclusive to them. They can request exclusivity for a certain fee.


A rights-managed picture has varying degrees of fees depending on the type of usage. There is usually a pay scale that depends on the number of uses, the size, the duration of use of the image, the medium it will appear in and so on. Top photographers are usually those who benefit from a rights-managed image base. If you're already a renowned photographer, then you can sell your pictures under rights-managed terms. There are more limits for the buyer in terms of usage, but he is assured of exclusive rights to the picture.

Getting into Stock Photography

Stock houses seldom ask photographers to work exclusively for them. Photographers then have the option of submitting images to several stock photography companies, but it's not advisable to submit the exact same set of pictures. Images may remain with the stock house on a contractual basis, and for each sale, the photographer gets a commission. High profile professionals may be hired by the stock houses to produce several shots.