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In the days since the internet and digital photography, the number of companies in the stock photo business has blossomed and the number of pictures has soared into the tens of millions. Digital photography and the explosion of reasonably priced high end cameras have democratized stock photography but also changed the entire pricing structure. When comparing stock photo agencies there are a number of factors to consider before deciding which ones to submit your images.
Stock photography sites are the old school type sites where photos are licensed for fees ranging from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars. Microstock photography sites are the newer type sites on the block where both amateur and professionals mix and photo rights are sold for anywhere from $1 to $5. Each type of site has different requirements for image submission and not all images are accepted. Stock image galleries have three basic types of licenses: Rights Managed Exclusive, Rights Managed Non-Exclusive and Royalty Free, which includes several sub-classes of Royalty Free licenses, depending on the intended use. Rights Managed Exclusive – A customer buys rights to use an image for a limited amount of time and no other company can use that image.
Rights Managed Non-Exclusive – A company buys time-limited rights to an image, but other companies are also free to license the same image.
Royalty Free – Royalty free licenses have become the default license type for most stock images. Editorial Use License – Images which feature logos, brands or recognizable products, events, and even some celebrities are licensed as editorial use photos, which means they can only be used as part of a news story and not in commercial advertising or applications. Extended Licensing – Extended licensing and buyout licensing are for companies that want to purchase the rights to use images on products, logos or copyright use marks and use them, essentially, forever.
All stock photography sites insist on having commercial photo releases for every identifiable person in the image. Selecting the best stock photography sites for the individual photographer will require a screening process to determine the best match between the photographer’s images, interests and skills. It might be enlightening to review specific sites, how they’re alike and different and how much average photographers make off each site, when that information is available. The easiest way to get your photos into Getty is posting them on Yahoo’s Flickr, but they also have contracts with photographers of exceptional talent. Like most stock image companies, Getty requires a commercial release for every identifiable person. Lately Getty has fallen out of favor with many creative companies and photographers because of what they consider overly-aggressive pursuit of even incidental use of their images. Shutterstock offers their subscribers access to more than 10 million royalty-free images from 210,000 photographers, illustrators, and videographers around the world.

Jupiter has a commanding reputation for customer service and quality, offering rights managed and royalty free images. License fees vary by the type of license and intended use, as do the payments for photographers.
Fotolia is a relatively young but growing microstock agency that started out with a focus on the European market and worked its way into broader markets around the globe. Fotolia currently boasts an inventory of over 2 million images and licenses their products through standard Royalty Free and Extended licenses. Where Fotolia shines is through their pricing, which runs from $1 to $5 for their standard license and is unique in letting contributors set their own prices within certain parameters. Fotolia is also generous with its split, giving photographers a minimum of 33 percent and half of any deals for exclusive images.
If you’re just starting out in the stock photography business, Fotolia is definitely worth a look.
Dreamstime is one of the top microstock agencies and work hard to maintain their position in the industry. While Dreamstime started as a royalty free CD store in 2000, it became community enabled in 2004. Dreamstime is currently boasting an inventory of 1.5 million images and specializes in Royalty Free image sales, but also offers Extended licenses and buyout licensing.
Commissions for photographers run in the range of 50 percent to 80 percent with a $100 payout threshold.
Anyone interested in starting in stock photography, will have better luck and more income starting with microstock agencies. In fact that very first stock photography company, called RobertStock, is still in business.
The days when photographers could make a living strictly from stock photography are pretty much over, except for a select few at the top agencies. Those who have been at it regularly for a number of years are reporting incomes of $20,000 to $30,000 a year. There are two basic types of stock photography sites: Stock photography and microstock photography sites. They are primarily the domain of truly professional photographers and the screening process for photographer acceptance can be both tedious and time consuming. It’s a generally a bad idea for companies to use non-exclusive rights for advertising photos because competitors can license the same pictures. It allows the customer to purchase the image once and use it multiple times in different applications.

Also the split between the licensing agency and the photographer can make a big difference in earnings. Getty has over 80 million images and illustrations and 50,000 hours of stock video footage and also owns microstock agency iStockPhoto. Getty will accept a portfolio for review, but don’t expect the review to happen fast. Many creative agencies have cut back on using Getty images and switched to microstock agencies. Shutterstock is generally recognized as the king of the microstock market and consistently one of the better earners for photographers, although they do not offer exclusive arrangements with photographers.
Jupiter offers multimedia subscriptions for $599 per month or a high-resolution subscription for $2,499 a month. Jupiter or Getty are not the place to start for photographers trying to break into the stock photography business. They have struggled with web site performance in the past and have few exclusive contributors. It is particularly attractive to photographers as their commission is 50 percent, one of the highest in the market and certainly in the top tier of microstock agencies. Despite slower sales early on, it has preserved the loyalty of their contributors with high commission rates. After building up a catalog of 1,000 to 2,000 images, the income for popular shots can start to add up over time. There are a few people who manage to earn as much as $300 per day, but it takes a huge amount of effort. For Non-Exclusive image rights, Getty charges an average of $250, of which photographers get about 20 percent. Their license supports use in web sites, magazines, newspapers and brochures, though not in trademarked items or logos.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that stock photography became its own photography specialty and in the 1980s there was a surge of interest by individual and freelance photographers.
For the majority of photographers it’s a part-time income that covers some of the bills for their photography habit.

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