Getting Started In Stock Photography

Posted on 5/5/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

If you’re new to the stock photography business, or would like a refresher course on some of the things that have been happening in the last few years, or if you would like to get some idea of what the future might hold, this story will give you some links to several in-depth articles on this site that may be helpful.

I recommend that you start with (JHP2020) for a general understanding of how the business is changing and then look at (JHP2121) to get an idea of the size of the worldwide market today and compare it with (JHP2009) for an idea of where the market was two years ago and most of the past decade. Part of the change is due to the crash in the world economy, but there are several other factors that have played a bigger role in the revenue decline and because of them we cannot expect the stock photography business to recover when the economy recovers. (JHP2041) talks about where pricing and volumes are headed and (JHP2104) discusses the declining opportunities for those photographers hoping to earn a living solely from producing stock images. There is also a handy chart of revenue trends at (JHP2120).

The principal reasons for the revenue decline are the rise in the use of microstock (over 70% of the images licensed for use today are priced at microstock levels), and the decline in the use of print. So where have the customers gone (JHP2106)? The future is in micro-targeted communications.

A few photographers have significant earning from microstock. See (JHP2129) for earning figures for the top 150 iStockphoto contributors. (JHP2044) shows revenue estimates for the top 1800 out of 80,000 contributors. (JHP2032) provides the dates the top 50 started uploading images to iStock, total downloads, images in their collections and links to their portfolios. You can get more information about iStock photographers from ( When reviewing these figures keep in mind that expenses (counting time invested in preparing images for marketing) tend to be a much higher portion of revenue earned than is the case for photographers licensing rights in the traditional manner and earning the same gross revenue.

Up until recently I have always recommended not trying to build your own web site and sell direct, despite the fact that a searchable web site can be built for relatively little money these days. The problem is not in building the site, but in the marketing required to let people know that the site exists and getting them to come to it when they need an image. Most customers want to go to sites with hundreds of thousands of images, not a few from one photographer. A personal web site can work if you are trying to develop assignment business, or if you already have a major reputation and a niche, but it is generally not a good way to try to license rights to stock.

However, this said, there are a few things happening that bear watching. At least one photographers (JHP2135) has had quite good success licensing rights to his images on Flickr. I know there are others, but I don’t have a lot of specifics yet. Google is beginning to make some noise (JHP2138) about making it easier for customers to find professional images on There is no hard news yet, but it bears watching. PACA is also introducing pacaSearch (JHP2147) in January 2010. This service allows customers to enter a search term once and instantly search across 100 or more agencies. So far this search engine is solely for agencies and distributors that represent a large number of photographers. But, if the technology is widely accepted, it would be easy to set up a companion operation that would simultaneously search hundreds of individual photographer sites. Again, nothing for right now, but worth watching because changes come rapidly in today’s technology environment.

If you need information relative to pricing specific stock photo uses check out (JHP2151). There you will find list of stories that deal separately with all types of photo use including: advertising, brochures, posters, banners, corporate annual reports, magazines, newspapers, books, television, fine art, electronic, etc. One of the issues when it comes to pricing is should we, or should we not, license rights for small personal uses. There are lots of strong opinions on both sides of this issue. I believe the small use market is significant and thus a market photographers can not afford to ignore. The problem is whether it is necessary to charge the same for use on a personal blog as you charge for a magazine or book cover. The microstock people argue that the price should be the same no matter how the image is used. They do allow for variations based on file size delivered, but that is not really a measure of the value the customer receives from the use of the image. I think you can and should charge a lot more for magazine covers than for personal blogs. I think the fees should be based on use based on use. In 2008 I proposed a solution (JHP2013) that simplifies the standard RM pricing strategy (already a lot simpler than today’s microstock pricing) while still making it possible to take into account how the image will be used.

You also may be interested in definitions of the various licensing models (JHP2014), what the term RF mean (JHP2016) and the justifications, or lack thereof, of paying only 20% in royalties on RF sales (JHP2034).

Copyright © 2010 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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