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Stock Photography - Trade Organizations, The Future of

images industry agencies photographers

HENRY SCHLEICHKORN
Custom Medical Stock Photo

Stock photography is defined as business that represents photographers who offer their photography for licensing and reproduction. A stock photography business maintains a library of images, markets those images, performs picture research for prospective clients, negotiates the terms of the license with the client, prepares the agreement, takes a commission, and reports to the photographer. The future of stock photography is bright, offering more images that will be used in editorial media and commercial advertisements. Stock images will be used in conjunction with ads on consumer packaging, Web sites and cell phones and just about everywhere. As technology continues to change, so will the demand for stock images.

Stock photography enables the copyright holder of images to grant or sell usage rights to the images. Photographers, illustrators, and stock photo agencies can sell and resell images as either rights-managed or royalty-free imagery.

Stock image libraries “stock,” or collect, images to sell or license usage rights to image users. Most image buyers or users of stock photography are magazine and book publishers, graphic designers, and advertising agencies. Stock photos are also licensed for use in Web sites, movies, TV shows, annual reports, calendars, postcards, brochures, and newspapers. Similar agencies sell stock music, sound effects, and clip art.

In the earliest days of stock photography, a successful photographer had to know how to use complex medium-format, large-format, and 35mm cameras. Different subjects and lighting situations required certain films and processing combinations. Today just about anyone with a digital camera can be a stock photographer. Amateurs and hobbyists are creating near-professional looking pictures. What differenti-ates a successful stock photographer today is the quality of the images and the files produced as well as whether the pictures are part of a vast distribution network that allows a multitude of art buyers access to the images.

During and after the American Civil War (1861–1865) photographers Mathew Brady and Timothy H. O’Sullivan believed they could create photos of that war and then sell them to magazines and newspapers, as well as to consumers—as war souvenirs in the form of stereoscopes. Many historians have described this activity as early stock photography. At the time, the photomechanical process to reproduce pictures economically in newspapers was not invented yet, and because of the death and destruction captured in these battle-field photographs, the public had little interest at the time in buying pictures of the war.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a young man named H. Armstrong Roberts (1883–1947) realized he could create commercially viable “illustrative” photos in advance of selling them to the printing industry, which was flourishing in the wake of World War I. With experience gained while script-writing for movie studios in Edison, New Jersey, he borrowed motion-picture production techniques to use with still photography. He assembled a production crew of photo assistants, lighting technicians, and make-up artists and started to script and execute photo shoots. The images created could be licensed commercially because model releases were secured from every person photographed. Many in the industry believe that he started the first stock photo company, now known by the names robertstock.com and classicstock.com, which is the oldest stock photo company still in existence.

In 1935 German emigrant Otto Bettmann (1903–1998) came to New York City carrying a few trunks filled with photos, illustrations, books, and sheet music. He arrived in New York city during the Great Depression, just as editorial
magazines with a journalistic appeal such as Look and Life were becoming popular. Because he was based in New York, editors used his resource of images and were willing to pay for the services Bettmann provided. He would research their requests and deliver the images within 24 hours.

As the stock photo industry grew throughout the 1970s and 1980s, stock photos had the reputation of consisting mainly of the reject shots of professional photographers: The best photos went to the paying client that had hired the photographer, while the “B” images filled the drawers of agencies in the form of 35mm slides and medium- and large-format transparencies. Magazines and textbooks were the largest users of editorial stock photos; however, as travel became more widespread, stock photos were being used commercially. Many of these agencies were owned and operated by entrepreneurial photographers and/or husband and wife teams.

As the Internet became a reality in the early 1990s, many changes occurred within the stock photo industry. In the beginning, few items were sold over the Internet. Businessmen who knew nothing about artist’s rights or complex photo licensing, however, saw the stock photo industry as an opportunity. Flowers, clothes, collectibles, even books could be ordered online, but still needed to be shipped. Digital pictures—which come under the category of intellectual property—were a kind of information that could easily and inexpensively be delivered over the Internet. As a business model, the Internet is even more attractive for stock photography when you consider that you can never sell out of your inventory, no matter how many units you sell. This caught the attention of big companies and investors, propelling the industry to a $1.5—billion international business. Some analysts predict that by 2012 this figure will grow to $4 billion.

Between 1990 and 2005 more than 40 stock photo agencies were purchased by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates’ privately held digital media company, Corbis Images, and by the largest stock photo company, Getty Images. In 1995, the Bettmann Archive, one of the world’s largest photo collections with more than 16 million images, was Corbis’ first major acquisition. The third-largest stock photo agency is Jupiter Images, which has acquired at least 10 companies.

With the consolidation of general stock agencies, dozens of new companies began specializing in niche collections of stock photography, such as medical, science, minorities, gay and lesbian lifestyles, aviation, maps, panoramic, historical, sports, and celebrity homes.

There are several advantages of stock photography. The most obvious is that the image already exists. Image buyers can see, in advance, exactly what they are buying. The buyer usually has a choice of several images created by various photographers. The look, style, and feel of the photos are often different, which can lead to creative options for designing marketing materials. The buyer doesn’t have to hire a photographer or models, seek out locations, or wait for images to be edited and delivered. Most stock photo agencies work closely with their photographers to shoot specific subjects or themes. Stock photo shoots by photographers are often shot on spec (speculation), meaning photographers do not get paid until someone contracts an image-usage license. However, some photographers can make many more times their day rate if they shoot the right stock photograph.

Commissions are paid to artists after the agency sells usage rights to their images. Commissions vary from one agency to another. Initially, rates were 50 percent to the agency and 50 percent to the photographer. However, because of higher costs of doing business, those commissions have changed dramatically. Some agencies offer as little as 10 percent of the gross sale to the photographer. The industry standard is between 30 percent and 50 percent to the photographer. Agencies have to earn the lion’s share because of increases in advertising, salaries, taxes, technical support, hardware upgrades, and insurance.

Production companies have emerged as part of the stock photo industry, supplying large amounts of images to many agencies. They take care of everything required for the creation of stock images, including fees for models, locations, and photographers. When an agency sets up and pays for a stock photo shoot they can own all the images. This is referred to as wholly owned imagery. When agencies own their images they do not have to pay commissions, making those images more profitable.

The growth of the stock industry and digital photography helped pave the way for photographers to be stock photographers, shooting specifically for stock photography. A stock photograph is defined by its content and purpose, which is influenced by content, lighting, style, focus, and the overall quality of the image.

Below are some suggestions for creating good stock photography:

  1. Make sure that every recognizable person in the photo signs a model release. Use models of different ages. A good model release will state the images are to be used for stock photography purposes. Make sure the release you use does not grant royalties to the models. It is virtually impossible to track image usage once it is submitted to a royalty- free collection. Useful releases are often supplied by your favorite stock agency or can be found online.

    Here is an example of an adult model release:

    For consideration received, I hereby give (photographer’s name), the absolute and irrevocable right and permission, with respect to the photographs that he has taken of me or in which I may be included with others:

    To copyright the same in his own name or any other name that he may choose.

    To use, re-use, publish and re-publish the same in whole or in part individually or in conjunction with other photographs, in any medium and for any purpose whatsoever, including but not limited to illustration, promotion, stock photography and advertising and trade.

    To use my name in connection therewith if he so chooses.

    I hereby release and discharge (photographer’s name) from any and all claims and demands arising out of the use of the photographs, including any and all claims for libel.

    This authorization and release shall also insure to the benefit of the legal representatives, licensees and assigns of (photographer’s name) as well as the person for whom he took the photograph(s).

    I am over the age of twenty-one. I have read the foregoing and fully understand the contents thereof

    Subject Name
    Subject Address
    Witnessed by:

  2. The more potential applications or captions that can be given to an image, the greater its potential for sales. With that in mind do not include trademarks. Trademarks such as the Olympic Rings, athletes, and torch; anything Disney; car emblems from Rolls Royce, Maserati, and Porsche; and professional sports teams and their insignias should be avoided unless property releases are secured, which is unlikely. Make sure models wear generic clothes without corporate labels and names. Props should be generic as well. Use good looking models whenever possible. Shoot horizontal and vertical versions. Shoot the largest digital sizes possible.
  3. File size and image quality are extremely important factors to consider. Some agencies are currently offering 75- to 100-MB files. Industry leaders such as Getty and Corbis will dictate the standards of the industry. Whatever they do the industry will follow, or at least will try to follow.

There are four key business models in the stock photo industry today: rights-managed, royalty-free, subscription, and micro.

Rights-managed (RM) refers to a license with restrictions purchased by the user allowing a specific usage, such as a onetime use on the cover of a brochure. If the same client wants to add an additional usage they will need to purchase a license indicating additional use(s). At times a client wants to use an image exclusively. An RM image can be licensed exclusively or non-exclusively.

Royalty-free (RF) means the user pays a one-time license fee to use the image without restrictions. The buyer can use the purchased image in several projects without acquiring additional rights. Exclusivity is not possible.

In the subscription model, clients pay a subscription fee for access to a preset number of downloads from a specific collection of royalty-free imagery.

Micro sites offer stock photos for as little as $1 to $5 each, depending on file size.

Trade Organizations

In the United States, the stock industry’s trade organization is the Picture Archive Council of America (PACA). According to their Web site, www.stockindustry.org, their mission is “to foster and protect the interests of the picture archive community through advocacy, education, and communication.” In Britain, the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA) works to raise the profile of the picture library industry and to promote greater understanding of its value and diversity. BAPLA works to promote good trading practices between libraries, their contributors, and their clients. The Coordination of European Picture Agencies Press Heritage (CEPIC), at www.cepic.org, represents more than 900 picture sources in Europe with members from 17 different European countries. The aim of CEPIC is to be an united voice for the picture library and agency associations of Europe in all matters pertaining to the photographic industry.

The Future of Stock Photography

Around the world, imagery still communicates better than words. Fortunately for photographers, there will always be a demand for high-quality, exceptional images. Areas for photographers to shoot stock include global concepts, medical, business, communication, and technology.

The future of the stock photo industry will be a return to quality imagery by great, well-paid artists creating rights-managed work, says Roger Ressmeyer, PACAs President and CEO of Science Faction Images.

The stock photo industry is growing. Global marketing and distribution as an industry will embrace the changes in technology, and stock photography will continue to thrive.

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