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How to Start a Stock Photography Business

Updated on March 16, 2015
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.

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CC BY 2.0 | Source
Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

Stock Photography

The business of stock photography is not hard to enter, what is hard is to make a consistent living from it when you consider that there are thousands of photographers who regularly submit their work and the good ones have a stockpile of thousands of quality and in demand images.

In simple terms stock photography is the business of supplying images to photographic stock houses that will, in return for a percentage of your sales, show your work to potential clients.

Most often these stock houses will also take care of contracts, permits, and releases, and usually they will be the ones setting the price for your photos.

The price is usually dependent on the size that the client wants, like for a half a page or full page printing, amount of printing, like for 10,000 copies, number of uses, duration of the uses, purposes and exclusivity rights.

This arrangement works well for clients looking for images to use in advertisement or marketing campaigns, because by using a stock house they eliminate having to hire a photographer and the delivery of the images takes place in a matter of minutes in today's digital age.

Digital has also vastly broaden the market for stock photography as many images can be retouched and manipulated to suit the photographer's needs as well as the client's necessities.

Most stock agencies have an ample selection of subjects from their members and also have members that are specialists in one or two photo genres.

There are however micro-stock houses whose members are specialists and when a client wants a specialty, they know where to go. These micro-stock houses charge clients much less than the larger agencies, their income and the income for the photographers is realized through volume.

Prices for one time licensing of your image range from $300 to as little as a dollar for a one time downloading and several factors come into play such as the reputation of the photographer and of the stock house itself.

Rights managed and Royalty free. Rights managed are agreements for a licensing fee which is negotiated for each use of the photographer's image(s). Royalty free does not mean completely free, a fee is required but the purchaser can use the image for an unlimited number of times and purposes.

Keep in mind that some clients may want exclusive right to the shot and for a limited time, in which case the fees are higher since it prevents your photos from being used by another client in a similar business as that of your customer for the specified amount of time.

Stock photos must be 100% technically sound, that means clear focus, no smudges or imperfections.They must also be of in demand topics. The stock houses will usually supply you with their in demand or want list.

Be creative in your photos, do a research of the market trends and companies that use images in which you are interested or specialize in. Keep in mind that a lot of stock photos are done in a studio, and this is especially important if photographing images of "people at work", products, foods etc. These are images that have been in high demand for some time now and they must not only be 100% technically sound, but innovative in their representation.

Photo subjects for stock photography. People at work are always in demand, receptionist talking on the phone, telemarketers, people working in their computer stations, making copies, people at meetings, shaking hands. All must demonstrate that the person is enjoying their work, so a smile is a must.

The contrary is also true, people can be shown who are overworked. Much in demand are people in daily activities such as shopping, enjoying themselves at home, people having fun, kids having fun, and people and their pets.

Nature scenes that illicit a feeling, such as a gorgeous shot of a mountain scene or calm river scene. These are good for calendars or for inspirational messages. Social issues are always also in demand, such as unemployment, hunger, drug abuse, poverty child issues etc.

You can include a short message with each shot, although most stock houses will add their own or the client can in order to suit their purpose. Take shots in vertical and horizontal formats so that the client can use any extra space to fit an add, include a logo and add a message or an add copy.

Magazines and publications will almost always include an introduction or short description of the location, subject and technical information, which is why you should include it this information along with your submissions to the stock house. Don't incorporate this information on the photo itself, but rather on a separate note.

Bear in mind that large stock houses will only accept submissions from photographers who have an extensive collection of quality shots, usually in the thousands. Smaller stock houses require much less, mostly a couple of hundred shots. The stock houses make their money by continually offering images that are fresh, so their members must submit images on a continual basis. It is not unusual for a stock photo house member to take and submit well over one thousand images per month.

Hundreds of photography articles with tips, ideas and projects.


Business of stock photography

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Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) | Source

© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • Jeyjoo profile image

      Jeyjoo 6 years ago

      Nice hub. I have come across many businesses who offer free stock photography purely for the free publicity generates.

      Here are some useful absolutely free stock images -

      And here is here is a list of stock image galleries offering absolutely free stock photography (no royalties, no hidden charges)

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks for your advice on this topic. I'm interested in pursuing this field and am looking for all of the tips that I can get. This was very helpful!

    • duffsmom profile image

      P. Thorpe Christiansen 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      Very informative Hub. The stock photo business as always fascinated me. Well done.

    • profile image 6 years ago

      really interesting for me to read this LuisG as I buy stock photos for webpages I build. I purchase a number of credits - the photos get cheaper if you purchase more.

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 6 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      I have wondered about this area photography, you explained it well...thank you for sharing

    • Ms. Teh profile image

      Ms. Teh 6 years ago

      This sounds like a good niche to get into if you're already doing something creative. Thanks for following my business hub by the way. My personal hub is full of my vacation photography:

    • BrightMeadow profile image

      BrightMeadow 6 years ago from a room of one's own

      Great hub. Very informative. Thankyou for sharing your knowledge.

    • BrightMeadow profile image

      BrightMeadow 6 years ago from a room of one's own

      Great hub. Very informative. Thankyou for sharing your knowledge.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Cogerson, you are very welcome, this is why I write to share my love and knowledge about photography

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 6 years ago from Virginia

      voted up....another great informative are improving my skills with each hub you do....thanks for that

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 6 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Thanks for the information on stock photography. Learned something new. :)vocalcoach