Stock photography

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Stock photography is photography or other imagery of common landmarks, concepts, and events that can be used and reused for commercial design purposes. Book publishers, specialty publishers, magazines, advertising agencies, film makers, web designers, graphic artists, interior decor firms, corporate creative groups, and other entities utilize stock photography to fulfill the needs of their creative assignments. By using stock photography instead of hiring a photographer to perform on location shooting, customers can save valuable time and stay on budget. With a wealth of images, stock photography databases that may be searched online save photo researchers valuable time when they are looking for just the right image. With today's digital delivery methods, images may be purchased online and delivered via FTP or email, the very same day.

Stock photography is sometimes called a photo archive, or just stock photos. The term photo archive often refers to the website or physical location where the photographs are stored. Photo archives are also sometimes called image banks. As modern stock photography distributors often carry stills, video, and illustrations, none of the existing terminology provides a perfect match for the state of the industry.


Industry structure

Images are filed at an agency that negotiates licensing fees on the photographer's behalf in exchange for a percentage, or in some cases owns the images outright.

Pricing is determined by size of audience or readership, how long the image is to be used, country or region where the images will be used and whether royalties are due to the image creator or owner. Often, an image can be licensed for less than $200. The client may, however, request "exclusive" rights, preventing other customers from using the same image for a specified length of time or in the same industry. Such sales can command many thousands of dollars, both because they tend to be high-exposure and because the agency is gambling that the image would not have made more money had it remained in circulation.

With rights managed stock photography an individual licensing agreement is negotiated for each use. Royalty free stock photography offers a photo buyer the ability to use an image in an unlimited number of ways for a single license fee. However with royalty free licensing there is no option for getting exclusive usage rights.

Some stock photography sites offer low-resolution photography free for the purpose of preparing advertising comps to demonstrate a design. If the advertiser decides to use the image, the rights to use the high-resolution image then can be negotiated.

Professional stock photographers place their images with one or more stock agencies on a contractual basis, with a defined commission basis and for a specified contract term. Some photographers fund their own photo shoots, or develop imagery in cooperation with an agency, while others submit photographs originally produced as part of editorial (magazine) or commercial assignments. International professional stock photography organizations include the Stock Artists Alliance.


One of the first major stock photography agencies was the one founded in 1920 by H. Armstrong Roberts, which continues today under the name Retrofile.

For many years, stock photography consisted largely of outtakes ("seconds") from commercial magazine assignments. By the 1980s, it had become a specialty in its own right, with photographers creating new material for the express purpose of submitting it to a stock house. Agencies attempted to become more sophisticated about following and anticipating the needs of advertisers and communicating these needs to photographers. Photographs were composed with more of an eye for how they might look when combined with other elements; for example, a photo might be shot vertically with space at the top and down the left side, with the conscious intention that it might be licensed for use as a magazine cover. Leading agencies during this time included The Image Bank, Comstock Images, FPG, and Masterfile.

In the 1990s, a period of consolidation followed, with Getty Images and Corbis becoming the two largest companies as a result of acquisitions. Today, stock photography companies have largely moved online.

Photo archives

The following is a table of photo archives, image banks, or image search engines. If possible, please include rates or discount rates for different types of use.

Name Description Images/Photographers Commercial Educational Personal
360-berlin In German / English 300,000+/ ? Yes Yes Yes
Acclaim Images RF and RM 33,000 / 40 Yes Yes Yes
Action Press In German
AGE Fotostock Yes Yes Yes
Alamy Images Wikipedia:Alamy UK based stock portal for RM and RF images 3,400,000+ , 316 agencies, 4900 photographers Yes Yes Yes
Accent Alaska Alaska 275,000 / 106 Yes Yes Yes
Banana Stock $, £, € Yes Yes Yes
bigcheese Yes Yes Yes
BigStockPhoto Royalty free 150,000+/ 3,000+ photographers Yes Yes Yes
BrandX 20,000+ / ? Yes Yes Yes
Can Stock photo Affordable royalty free stock photography community 11,000+/900+ Yes Yes Yes
Catchlight Visual Services Family life picture library 60.000+/14 Yes Yes Yes
CITB-ConstructionSkills online image library Images from the construction industry. Registration required. Unknown Yes Yes Yes
Comstock Images Yes Yes Yes American Photographs: Past, Present, Future.™ Yes
Corbis (DE) Wikipedia:Corbis 25,000,000+ Corbis Professional Corbis Educational
Cotheeka Stock Photo Agency Fine Art Pictures and Commercial Stock Images 10,000+ / Unknown Yes Yes Yes
Culver Pictures Historical Photos and Prints 2,000,000+ / Unknown Yes Yes
Dennis Kunkle Microscopy, Inc. Scientific stock photography, mainly microscopic images Yes Classroom Only Yes
Dreamstime Royalty-free 15,000+/380+ ImageBank Earth/Science Pictures No Free Free
fStop High-end, royalty-free pictures for designers 4,000/100 Yes Yes Yes
Free Digital Photos Free pictures for websites, newsletters and documents etc. For commercial and non-commercial use. 1,500+ Yes Yes Yes
Getty Images Wikipedia:Getty Images 25,000,000+ Yes Yes Yes
Henry Westheim Photography RM Asia, including the Middle East. Yes Yes Yes
Hicker Stock Photography travel, nature, wildlife 15,000+ Yes Yes Yes
Iconica Sleek interface Yes Yes Yes
If Images Wikipedia:If Images London based. Royalty Free and Rights Managed. Yes Yes Yes
Imagesource UK-Based Yes Royalty free. 5,000+/1,000+ Yes Yes Yes
Index Stock Imagery First agency to go digital. also Photos To Go for small business licensing. Index Open and Photos To Go Unlimited for royalty free subscriptions 900,000+ images / 1,700+ artists Yes Yes
Inmagine Photos Image aggregator. Inmagine and Inmagine Asia. 1,000,000+ images Yes Yes
iStockphoto Created the concept of a micropayment photography site in 2000. Collection grows by more than 11,000 images per week 500,000+ / 28,000+ Yes Yes Yes
iStockpro Royalty-free distributor for major vendors and independent photographers. 500,000+ / 450 Yes Yes Yes
Jupiter Images bought FoodPix [1], Comstock [2], PictureArts (Formerly 500,000
Ron Kimball Stock Transportation and Animals. 500,000+ Yes Yes Yes
LOOK travel, outdoor, active-sports 800,000+ /50 Yes Yes Yes
LuckyPix Rights-Managed and Royalty-Free, Midwest, Chicago 8,000+ / 90+ Yes Yes Yes
Masterfile Rights-Managed and Royalty-Free, Multi-lingual. 375,000+/200+ Yes Yes Yes
Matton : Royalty Free Images Royalty Free Stock. Multi-lingual. 750,000+ Yes Yes Yes
Mira Creative Eye Cooperative. Artist owned, professionally managed 40,000+ Yes Yes Yes
morgueFile Royalty-free photos 30,000+ / 200+ Yes Yes Yes
Photofeatures International Music Stock photos since the 60's Yes
Photonica Indexed by photographer Yes Yes Yes
Pixerver Free stock photography and digital pictures Free Free Free
PunchStock royalty-free photos, images, illustrations and stock photography 750,000 Yes Yes Yes
Seattle City Photography Royalty-free stock photos and prints of the Seattle/Eastside Yes Yes Yes Stock photos of Seattle Yes Yes Yes
ShutterStock microstock by subscription 300,000+ images / 13,000+ photogs Yes Yes Yes
StockToGo Download royalty free stock images for as low as $6.95 each 250,000 Yes Yes Yes
the Stock Solution Stock photography agency 200,000 / 100
stock.xchng Free stock photography exchange 161,000+/ 14,500+ Free Free Free Images of 300 countries and territories - stock photography >1 million / 200 Yes Yes Yes
Trauma Imagebank Medical photographs of trauma Free Free Free
Veer Distributor and agency. Royalty-free and rights-managed images, plus motion and type products 350,000+ / 300+ Yes Yes Yes
Whalephoto Whale and Marine stock Photography from the North East Atlantic 10,000+ Yes Yes Yes
wildcolour A variety of Wilderness and adventure photography available for instant download 10,000+ Yes Yes Yes
Wildlife & Genre Stock Images Nature / Wildlife / Animals / Birds / Religion and more - Holy Land stock images 30,000+ Yes Yes Yes
Zefa Visual Media in German

See also

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