Selling Stock Photography; How To Survive In A Competitive Marketplace

Many commercial buying patterns have shifted from hiring for assignment to buying stock licensed images or royalty-free images. This shift has greatly decreased the value per image for all but the most creative or unique stock images. But it has also opened markets for still photos previously unexplored. Stock is no longer just for print use; clients are buying still images for website, television, video, and film use.

In addition, with the mega-agencies shooting and selling their own images and having trouble with their contracts for working with free-lance photographers, it is more difficult for professional photographers to sell stock by representation with a traditional stock agency. As a result, more and more photographers are now selling their own stock photography as an avenue for additional revenue. However, this often requires utilization of new technologies and ways to market.

© 2008, Gary Crabbe/, All Rights Reserved

First, some definitions. If you are going to be successful selling stock you should know the business language of stock sales. According to The PLUS Coalition, and with the valuable assistance of photographer Jim Hunter (, editor-in-chief at, here are the basics you should know:
Rights Managed: “A licensing model in which the rights to a creative work are carefully controlled by a licensor through use of exact and limiting wording of each successive grant of usage rights.” A rights managed license is usually for a specific use, for a specific size of reproduction, for a specified geographic region, and for a limited duration or size of print run. A rights-managed license can also be either exclusive or non-exclusive. Exclusivity may be limited by duration, geographic region, industry, language, or media.

Royalty Free: Denotes a broad or almost unlimited use of an image or group of images by a licensee for a single licensee fee. License agreement typically specifies some limitations (e.g., resale of the image to a third party is usually prohibited). The exact terms of royalty-free licenses vary widely and often include warnings or disclaimers regarding liability in connection with model-released imagery.

Newest on the scene is microstock photography where images are sold as royalty free but very cheap—anywhere from $.20 to $10 per image.

© 2008, Penny Gentieu, All Rights Reserved

So, let’s talk with some photographers who are successfully selling stock in today’s constantly changing image market. There are a range of perspectives represented; the purpose of this column is to help you sort out the best tips and techniques for selling your own stock photography.

Shutterbug: How has the reorganization of relationships between photographers and stock photography agencies influenced the methods of where and how you sell your work?

Gary Crabbe ( The decision to sell my own stock stemmed in part from not wanting to continue pursuing business through stock agencies that took 65-80 percent of the sales and required exclusivity. I wanted to work with stock agents on a non-exclusive basis so that I could also have the flexibility to market and make my own sales through my website. Having previous experience with running a niche agency for a well-known photographer made the whole concept of licensing and distributing my own work comfortable.

Penny Gentieu (, Generating my own stock sales has always supplemented my studio business. I was with Tony Stone Images until they were purchased by Getty Images in 1995. In ’98, Getty asked photographers to relinquish their rights and an additional 20 percent of their money when selling photos on the Internet. I declined and launched my website, Twenty years of developing my distinctive photographic style with babies has allowed me to earn a positive reputation with art directors and picture editors who proactively purchase. The web was a natural extension of the business, eliminating the necessity for the manual searching process for slide sheets and shipping files by Federal Express. That in conjunction with the convenience that the Internet offers for all parties involved creates a mutually positive experience.

© 2008, John Warburton-Lee/, All Rights Reserved

SB: What techniques would you recommend for a photographer to be competitive in today’s stock photography market?

Danita Delimont ( Belonging to a variety of trade associations has maximized my exposure to new buyers and other competitors. Diversifying the types of industry memberships held and not solely adhering to photographic groups has allowed a unique flow of information and the ability to network about new and important topics. The changes occurring in the stock photography market make positioning yourself properly paramount. Be confident about your specialty or market segment—don’t be swayed to shoot what you don’t know and/or love. At the same time, adjust your shooting style to accommodate variations on a theme and attract different types of clients by communicating flexibility.