Licensing Rights To Film Images

Posted on 6/25/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I receive regular requests from photographers who want to know how they can license rights to the images they have created over the years on film. Here’s what I tell them.

Licensing rights to images is very difficult in today’s market because there is such an oversupply available compared to the demand.

There is virtually no market for images shot on 35mm or 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ transparency film. Everyone wants digital files. The cost to make good scans of film is prohibitive given the average return-per-image you are likely to receive from the licensing rights to such images. And the only way you can let potential customers know that your image exists is to have a digital file of that image and display it on the Internet.

If you have images that were shot digitally you may want to try to get some of them accepted by the following four agencies –,, and  iStock will be the most difficult to deal with. Go to each site and read the submission instructions carefully. They differ slightly from site to site. Images will be rejected with little explanation as to why, if the submission instructions are not followed to the letter. The same images can be submitted to all four sites on a non-exclusive basis.

The good news is that if you follow all the instructions to the letter there is a good chance that some of your images will be accepted. You don’t have to be a volume producer to get images accepted on these sites, but just getting them accepted is no guarantee they will ever sell. You receive a royalty every time the image sells. No sales, no royalty.

If you have questions go to or and pose your questions to others on the blog. You’ll be more likely to receive useful information there than from any of the four distributors. The distributors also have blogs and once you have signed up you can communicate with other member photographers of the site on its blog.

Go to these four sites and search for the kind of images you have in your collection. Search for the subjects in your files like bee or dandelion or pansy or cat and see how many such images they already have. Organize the search returns by download. On most of the sites you can see how many times someone has purchased the image. Ask yourself if the best selling image of the subject is selling frequently enough to make it worth your trouble to try to sell yours?

Ask yourself why someone would purchase your image instead of one of the ones that is already there? Recognize that most customers search for images based on the number of times they have already been downloaded or purchased. Thus, if they search for one of the subjects you have, they will see the other better selling images first. Ask yourself why the customer would keep going through the pile of images until they come to your image?

Keywording is critical. If you have an image of a “cat looking at a bee on a yellow dandelion” and someone asks for that phrase your image may be the only one there is and thus you have a good chance of making a sale. However, it is very difficult to come up with truly unique images that no one else has shot, and if you do no one may be interested in buying such unique subject matter.

Some people feel they have images of historical significance. These photographers should check to see if the same subject matter is available on, or If nothing similar is available on these sites then they should ask themselves, does anyone really want that image any more? If they feel sure someone will want to use the image then they can probably place the image on Alamy, at least, but recognize that less than 200,000 of the 19 million images on Alamy are licensed each year. The rest, no one is interested in using.

The fact that your images have “won awards in photo contests” has no bearing whatsoever on whether an image has commercial potential. There are tens of thousands of blue ribbon awarded images that no one has ever paid a dime to use. Enjoy the awards you receive in photo competitions, but just because judges like an image doesn’t mean it has commercial potential.

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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