How to Become a Stock Photographer Selling Stock Photos Through a Picture Agency

Do you like to take pictures and do you regard your photography as a serious activity you try to improve all the time? – Then to become a stock photographer might be a challenging engagement for your future photography.

To become a stock photographer you need to be capable of producing a continuous flow of salable pictures of professional quality. It isn’t enough that you have taken 10 photos you regard as saleable and of professional quality.

When you start to engage in stock photography you need to have hundreds of really good pictures – as good as the ones you see published in magazines of many kinds. In fact you will need thousands of saleable photos to do well in stock photography – but all coming stock photographers have to start from somewhere – so don’t feel turned down by this statement.

The most important is that you are capable of shooting some kinds of photos that are of commercial use and of a competitive quality and creativity.

Saleable photos are the kind that can be used as an illustration for something. It can be very concrete things, but illustrations of conceptual character or moods are often doing better. Lifestyle stock photos are in high demand these years, too.

Each photo should be describable with a rather few labels or keywords to be found in a picture search engine that picks the photos from the picture database and display the results to customers.

When you feel sure you have the right kind of pictures you need to find one or more picture agencies.

An alternative would be that you start your own picture agency and start selling your pictures as stock photos online from your own photo website. This isn’t the focus of this article as that will demand that you change your efforts form being a photographer to be a marketer of your pictures – at least partly – and want to cope with the full competition in the stock photo world.

Nowadays there exist a lot of smaller picture agencies and rather few really big agencies. In addition to the professional picture agencies you will find a growing number of so-called micro-stock agencies or micro-stock websites. These are offering photos for very small fees and most of the people who offer their photos through micro stock sites are amateur photographers, though some are very capable photographers.

How stock photography works

The mechanism in stock photography is to deliver your best and most salable photos to be stored in a picture database at a picture agency. You will keep your copyright to your pictures, but you commission the picture agency to give their customers the right to use the pictures after some specific conditions, including paying a fee to the picture agency.

A typical agreement between the photographer and the picture agency will imply that the photographer receives 50% of each ‘sold’ picture. A better wording would be ‘each rented picture ‘ as the customer will only buy the full right to a picture in very seldom occasions.

In the stock photography world the payment to the picture agency and finally to the photographer is called the royalty. This is the classic model for use of stock photography.

Parallel to this model of so-called licensed stock photos or rights managed model is the model called the model of royalty-free stock photos. In this case the customer buys the right to use the picture to whatever purpose he or she wants. With royalty-free pictures there isn’t any reporting to the picture agency about the actual use of the picture and it can be used many times. The drawback of this model for the customer is that a lot of customers might have bought the same picture and used it endless times for different publications. Viewers of the final publications might accordingly not find the pictures as attractive as if they were looking at a publication with new ‘fresh’ pictures.

The stock photo industry has become a more and more competitive business in the recent decade. Due to Internet and globalization everyone can offer stock photos to everyone.

Being accepted by a picture agency

Your first big challenge will be to be accepted by a stock photo agency. Some picture agencies are general picture agencies – covering all kinds of commercial valuable pictures. Other agencies are specialist agencies – from regional agencies, e.g. Antarctica, to highly specific agencies covering just one topic like car race, birds, wine or business.

Take your time to investigate different options. Be aware of the potential threat to the stock photographers – is the picture agency an economic success? Do photographers complain about not getting their money on time etc.

Be also aware of aspects of exclusivity. Do you have to be ‘married’ to the picture agency or can you engage in other agencies with other pictures? In all cases you should expect to have each photo (and your similar shots) only at one picture agency.

Concentrate your efforts on one picture agency at a time. Be very, very careful with your first submission of a selection of your photography to be accepted.

Read the submission guidelines very careful and follow ALL specifications. Let other give you critique on your choice of pictures before sending the final edited selection. Response from potential users of stock pictures might be more useful than response from other photographers.

Some types of stock photography are flooded with submissions from photographers, like the fields of nature photography and travel photography. Other fields of photography are higher in demand and often better paid like lifestyle stock photography and business photography.

Model release and property release should be in place before the submission, if needed.

Use the links below to get into the field of stock photography on your way to become a real stock photographer.