In a couple of posts now I have mentioned in passing “Stock Photography” but it has occured to me that maybe not everyone knows what that is and how it can be a significant area for many photographers, hobbyists, amateurs and pros alike.
So what do I mean when I say stock photography? Well a definition of stock photography found on Wikipedia is “the supply of photographs, which are often licensed for specific uses such as magazine publishing or pamphlet-making” but that does not really cover the whole story. I would say its a case that Stock photography is about professional quality images for sale under a variety of licences for a wide range of uses – but that does not necessarily make it much clearer to someone unfamiliar with the term so I will break it down further.
“Professional Quality” – Well for a start this does not have to mean taken by a professional – just that it is of a standard expected from professionals. In photography as in many other areas in the right circumstances anyone can take a top quality picture. The right circumstances will most definitely include the right equipment – the camera and lens needs to be good enough which means a DSLR or equivilent. Ordinary point and click instant cameras will not do the job (for reasons I will cover in another post) and while there are some specialist agencies starting to accept phone camera images under some circumstances they tend to be selective as to the type of phones which they accept pictures from. Aside from the equipment (which many people own without considering themselves serious photographers) the requirements are that any photo is pin sharp focus when viewed at 100% size (which on modern cameras is way way bigger than people realize and bigger than most monitors), is correctly exposed (so not too dark or light considering the subject), is free of artifacts and chromatic abberation (has not got blotches in uniform colour areas and does not have odd colour outlines around things), and is not too noisy (visible grain dots at 100%).
“Variety of Licences” – Licences detail what the buyer is allowed to do with the picture and for how long, also whether any other customers can use the same picture. Stock licensing extends from be the only one allowed to use the picture in many different formats for ever, for instance for a franchise covering book film and merchandising, which will cost thousands of pounds all the way down to the photo being limited to an email sent to less than 1000 people on a single occasion with the same photo being purchased and used by many other people, which can cost only a few pence. Images sold to lots of different people for limited use each time for small amounts are usually called microstock. The licensing is of vital importance, the growth of the internet and the ease of searching for images on search engines has left a common misconception that any image found on the internet is free of copyright and can be used without paying. Unless a picture specifically says it is in the public domain or free of copyright it should always be assumed that it must be paid for to use.
Before the advent of the internet and good digital cameras stock agencies were limited to physical catalogues of physical prints taken mainly by pro photographers who made their living from the work. The advent of the internet saw agencies change from physical prints to virtual databases – and this was followed by the development of digital cameras and for a time, while the necessary quality cameras were considered expensive many photographers were able to make a fair bit of money. However as with most things the more they are developed the more affordable they become and good cameras are now within just about anyones reach especially if you consider the second hand market. The increase in the amount of people using good enough equipment has seen the number of images available increase hugely – and the prices drop. While there are still a small number of photographers who make their livings purely from stock, most photographers, including myself, have it as only one of a number of ways they earn money from their photography.