Stock Agencies Focus On Custom Shoots

Posted on 9/8/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Since 2012 ImageBrief has been helping image buyers submit briefs to photographers about their image needs. Now Shutterstock and Getty Images seem to be getting interested in offering their customers custom shoots. In June Shutterstock acquired Flashstock and in early July Getty introduced its Custom Content assignments program to Getty Images and iStock Exclusive contributors.

It seems that there is increasing demand from corporate customers for images showing their own products in use, or for building in-house photo libraries of pictures that are specifically tailored to their needs.

While knowing that a particular customer has a very specific need, and being able to shoot to that need is attractive photographers need to approach such “custom shoot” with caution. Photographers should recognize that in most cases there is absolutely no guarantee they will receive any compensation for the work they do on such a shoot.

We have seen some Flashstock request that indicate they are offering $225 to $300 for a shoot that would probably take a half-day of shooting time. For this fee the photographer is expected to deliver at least 15 photos (maybe more). The photographer may be provided with certain props and clothing that need to used on the shoot. The photographer is required to find the models.

The one big advantage here since props are being provided is that the photographer is probably the only one who has been chosen for the assignment and is not competing with other photographers. If no props are provided then it is certainly possible that the same assignment will be given to several photographers from Flashstock’s list of 10,000 (or Shutterstock’s 250,000) to see who can come up the best, most appropriate pictures.

The photographer is only paid for images the client accepts. While they want 15 images delivered, it is unclear whether they will either accept of reject all the images a photographer submits or if they will only accept a few. Also do the images need to be from 15 totally different situations, or can some of them be similar from the same situation? Chances are the customer will accept no more than one from any particular situation, and maybe only one.

If some of the images are found to be unacceptable is the photographer only paid a proportional share of the total fee? Suppose the photographer submits 15 images and only 5 are accepted. Is the payment then $75?

Getty Images

Getty says the rates for accepted images in its Custom Content program are expected to be between $200 and $400 per image. That sounds good until you realize that “contributors will receive their normal royalty share of these fees” as a one-time payment for unspecified, unlimited use. Thus, if the contributor gets a 30% royalty he/she will receive between $60 and $120, That’s better than Flashstock, but not necessarily that great unless a significant number of images are accepted.

From the information I’ve received it is unclear how many images are likely to be requested, how many likely to be accepted, how long a shoot is likely to take and how many other photographers you’re likely to be competing against. It will be very important to carefully consider all these factors before deciding to spend time on a Custom Content shoot.

Getty says, “There's a fast-growing market for brand imagery that is shot for clients on demand,
but which is very different from a traditional commissioned shoot.” (The difference from a traditional shoot is that there is no guaranteed payment. You could end up with nothing for your trouble.)

Getty also says, “Shooting for briefs will also provide great opportunities to create additional non-similar content on much needed subject areas, which can be submitted separately as general stock.” (It will be interesting to see how well that actually works in practice. Will the available subject matter be so tied to a particular brand that it is unusable by any other customer?)

Finally, Getty adds the images will be “simple, easy to shoot, highly relevant topics. The content is meant to be loose and authentic, so making the images should be fast and easy. Customers come to us looking for large sets of imagery, in a variety of styles, on a specific theme or subject that fits their brand. They often have very specific needs, for example that the images contain their product or are taken in specific countries or cities. They typically want the imagery cleared for commercial use (released). They want to license this imagery exclusively.”


With ImageBrief you know upfront what will be paid for an accepted images. In a few cases the fee for the right image is in the thousands of dollars, but usually it is about $250 to $500.

If the image is determined unacceptable for any reason then the customer pays nothing. Photographers tell me that frequently lots of images from many photographers are submitted to a brief and nothing is accepted or purchased. In such situations it is unclear how the customer ends up getting images for their project.

In some cases the customer may simply be looking for someone to do research for them. By using ImageBrief they get an idea of what photographers have in their stock files, or can produce, around a focused request. If only a few images are submitted, or nothing that is submitted meets their needs, then the buyer may decide to go ahead and hire someone to produce what they want.

In some cases they may hire one of the photographers who submitted something close to what they were looking for, but it is unclear how often this happens.

Or the customer may decide to take a totally new approach to the project, or kill the project altogether. In any event the customers saves themselves time and effort by using ImageBrief and the photographers have provided them with a lot of free research.

If the image is rejected the photographer can then place it with a stock agency, but the subject matter may be so specific that there may not be much general demand for it from other customers.

Some ImageBrief suppliers have had good success in responding to briefs that requested images they already had in their stock files. In such a case the photographer didn’t have to do any additional photography to produce an image, but they had to spend time to research their files and prepare their submissions. Despite that lower cost, many top photographers tell me that they respond to many requests and only occasionally make a sale.

For the buyers, it is often easier to publish a request to a large group of photographers and see what they can come up with rather than wading through large stock files.  

For more about ImageBrief check out this story, or do a general search for ImageBrief on


When considering this new market demand I'm reminded of OnRequest Images which was co-founded by David Norris in 2002. They put together a worldwide network of professional photographers who were willing to shoot speculative assignments for corporate and advertising customers (they called it Custom Stock) and deliver the images within 48 to 72 hours of the request.

Within minutes of receiving a request, OnRequest Images would distribute the assignment to a select group of three to five photographers in its network of 1,600 photographers in 53 countries.

OnRequest went through several iterations and according to Crunchbase received a total of $24 million in equity funding in 4 rounds from 3 investors. The company appears to have ceased operation around 2010 although there is still a website that doesn’t seem to show any images. The website primarily leads customers to where they can search multiple engines for stock photography.

Trade associations pointed out that there is no such thing as “Custom Stock Photography.” Images are produced in one of three ways: (1) on assignment where a fee is guaranteed, (2) outtakes from a previous assignment that the photographers has retained the right to re-license, or (3) images that were produced on speculation.

OnRequest assignments offered the photographer an advantage over a pure stock shot in that they knew the specific needs of a particular customer. But there was no guarantee that the photographer would be paid anything is he/she produced the images. In addition, the photographer didn’t know if he or she was the only one shooting on the project, or if several photographers had decided to produce images for the same project.

In OnRequest’s case they found that it was hard to supply exactly the image the customer had in mind in a timely manner. Instead of servicing advertising agencies and design firms with very specific and time sensitive needs they eventually changed their model to the production of custom libraries for corporations. In such cases the companies were just looking for a variety of images that related to their products or services that might be readily available to use in the future.

Things For Photographers To Consider

1 – How much time is involved in responding to one of these requests and what else, more productive might you be doing with your time? It takes time just to keep checking to see if there are requests and to consider them, time to research your stock files, deliver selected images and time to do actual shoots if that is the course required.

2 – What will be your direct out-of-pocket, unpaid production costs?

3 – How many other photographers are likely to providing similar images and what are the odds that one of yours will be accepted?

4 – What is the likelihood that images produced on such a custom shoot will be generic enough to be of value to other customers and have any future stock photo value? If the shots are tailored to a specific customer then the images may have little future stock photo value.

5 – Are you allowed to use the unaccepted outtakes from the shoot, or is the shoot really a work-for-hire?

6 – Is this a case of an art director dreaming up a perfect concept that they can't afford?to hire a photographer to shoot? Are they hoping to find someone who will do the work for less than what it really costs?

7 – Are they just using you for research without having to pay for that service?

8 - Don’t be misled by the promotions about a single photographer who made a blockbuster sale. There will always be a few such sales. The question is not the time and effort spent on one lucky sale, but how much time, and cost, overall is spent on all sales including those that don’t generate any revenue.

Copyright © 2017 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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