What is Stock Photography?

What is Stock Photography?

Stock photography is a term that if you are a graphic designer, creative or blogger, you would have come across the term “stock photography” or “microstock photos” but what are they and how can you use them in your projects?

In order to understand how you can use them, you need to understand what stock photography means, how it has been an influential marketing and advertising tool in the past to decide if it is the right tool for you as either a buyer or creator.

Stock photos have been a useful resource for high quality photos and a cheap price and its immediate availability has made it the perfect tool for advertisers, marketers and bloggers to use in publications, promotions, websites and a huge variety of creative projects.

What is Microstock?

Firstly, what does Stock Content mean? Stock photography is an industry that sells already created creative content such as images, illustrations, footage/videos clips, and sound clips that is available for license to be downloaded by paying a fee to a stock agency that manages the content who then pays the artist a percentage of the sale.

The buyer is then able to download the file and incorporate the content into their marketing material.

The Benefits of Stock Photography

Using human resources such as hiring a team of graphic designers, photographers and models to shoot something that has already been created is both expensive and time consuming. By using stock images, illustrations, videos etc in digital marketing campaigns or personal projects, the buyer is able to save time and money.

This has made stock photos/images, footage, illustrations and sound content is so popular and appealing for a wide range of customers. So, the only real downside of already created content is its uniqueness and can mean that your competitor may be using the same image to promote his product too! But with the sea of content available, the likelihood of this is happening is very slim.

Different licences are available to deal this this issue, depending on the budget and needs of the buyer.

Different Types of Stock Content

There are two main types of licences for photography – royalty free and rights managed. There are ssome slight differences between the two that are important to understand.

Royalty-free (RF) Royalty Free is the most popular licensing model in the industry as it is the most affordable and flexible. But keep in mind that Royalty Free does not mean the images are “free”.

In photography and the illustration industry royalty-free (RF) refers to a license where the buyer has the right to use the picture without the restrictions and need to pay for each use or copy. The user can, therefore, use the image in several projects without having to purchase any additional licenses.

In Contrast, Rights Managed, or RM, refers to a copyright license purchased by the customer, allowing the one-time use of the content file as specified by the license. The buyer can use the photo or video for other uses if an additional license is purchased.

How can you use Stock Content?

Commercial Use
Commercial use means that the main goal of the use is to generate profit. The usage of commercial stock photos or video refers to any project where the main goal is to generate profit. For stock photos and video to be suitable for this use (and most of them are), they must have all rights cleared, including model and property releases. Some of the most common commercial uses for stock photos are:

Video Footage

Commercials, TV, Web, Commercial displays and more, Film and video, Broadcast, Video and movies

Stock Photography and Vector Illustrations

Flyers, Posters, Greeting cards, Postcards, Printed materials, Product packaging.
Book and eBook illustrations, Magazines and newspapers, Brochures, Presentations.
Book and eBook covers, Reproduction, Art, Branding material, Blogs and online publications.
Newsletters, Posters, Theatrical presentations, Prints, Letterheads, Trade booth displays, Social. Media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Online Presence, Graphic design, Web Design themes and elements, Digital wallpapers.
Decor – home, office or any public space.
Catalogs, Branding, Artistic Productions & Creative Projects (Decoration, etc.), Corporative Identity, Business Supporting Material (Presentations, etc.)

Products for Resale (T-shirts, Packaging, etc.) – you need to use and extended licence for this use.

The use of stock content is as wide as your imagination will allow – anything from websites, marketing campaigns, presentations, social media, books, tv advertisements, the list goes on….

Editorial Use
The use of Editorial stock photography and video footage is to illustrate or accompany editorial content, not to profit directly from the use.

For instance, some main editorial uses are:

• Blogs, news coverage, newspapers, magazines articles, editorials, newsletters, broadcasted news reports, blogs, textbooks, not-for-profit etc.
• Non-commercial uses relating to events that are newsworthy or of general interest

Editorial images cannot be used for commercial use. The main reason is due to images containing; people who are not model released, crowds of people. Copyrighted landmarks (like the Sydney Opera House or the Guggenheim Museum), celebrities, brands and logos etc.

While you can use commercial photos and video for editorial use, you cannot do opposite. This is very important to remember when purchasing stock photography.

Can you Make Money Selling Stock Photos?

The short answer, yes! But how much depends on a few things. Your level of commitment, talent, knowledge and persistence to give to your passion (yes, you need a lot of this!).

You can read more about how to become a stock photographer here.

How Much Does Stock Photography Pay?

The royalties vary quite considerably with some agencies paying up to 85% of the sale while others pay as little as 15%. Such as agencies like Shutterstock or istock, but these big players have far more sales so can generate more revenue. The percentage may depend on the amount you contribute or whether you are exclusive or non-exclusive.


You can read about what agencies to first submit to here.

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