UGC vs. Stock Photography

Posted on 7/29/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

What’s the difference between User Generated Content (UGC) and stock photography?
Maybe nothing!

When people talk about UGC they are usually referring to pictures that can be found on the web (mostly on social media sites) that “someone else” may want to use. If that someone else wants to use the image (and doesn’t want to steal it) then technically it becomes a stock photograph.

Many stock photographers are placing some of their images on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and even Flickr. Often the images stock photographers place on these sits are more candid, authentic and believable than many of the images normally found in stock photo files. Often these images are not designed specifically for licensing, but usually the stock photographer would be happy to license use of any of the images for some commercial purpose.

It seems to me that what many people are talking about when they use the terms are candid and natural vs. carefully planned, styled and undifferentiated. Both types of imagery can be found on stock photo sites, as well as on Facebook and Instagram. In both locations some of the imagery is very good and useful for commercial purposes, while a huge percentage is of little interest to anyone.

While photographer contributing to stock photo sites might like to believe that every one of their images is a masterpiece that is simply not the case. A huge percentage of the images that can be found on the best stock photo sites are never licensed for any type of use.


There is increasing demand for “candid, natural, less posed, less styled, authentic and believable” images. To some degree there may be lesser demand for the carefully styled and polished stock images that have been widely used in the past, although certainly there is still a huge market for those clean, carefully planned, styled and well lit images.

Increasingly, art directors want images that are believable, credible, spontaneous and honest. Millennals tend to respond better to such images and they often generate more revenue for the brands that use them, than other more “stocky” images have generated in the past. That’s why the brands want to use them. According to Olapic 63% of consumers trust UGC photos more than brand-created images.

To find such images brands often create and promote unique campaign or contest hashtags. If an image creator responds to a specific call-to-action there is an “implied consent,” although not necessarily a legal consent. Problems can arise if the brand wants to use the image in several different types of marketing, particularly if the images are of celebrities or children.

Many professional photographers produce such images as well, and more and more of the images found on stock photo sites look spontaneous, candid and credible. But such images produced by professional photographers seldom result from actual candid shooting. Usually there has been some very careful pre-planning. The trick is in very carefully producing images that look like they were caught a natural everyday moment.

That brings me to Olapic.


Olapic is designed to help brands identify user generated photos that can be safely used. They have developed a system to aggregate images submitted by users on various social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Using a curation algorithm and human editors, Olapic then identifies which images are best suited to specific use-cases for each brand. They help the brand get explicit permission to use the photos before they are posted on the brand’s website. The company has recently raised $15 million in new funding.

Brands such as Calvin Klein, West Elm, Target and more than 200 others that Olapic represents have recognized that UGC photos are a key to conveying the authenticity Millennials crave. According to Olapic UGC is increasing revenue and engagement for the brands they represent.

Olapic is designed to help marketers extend the use of customer photos beyond web galleries into advertisements, print catalogs, e-mail and other types of promotions. More and more brands want to move in this direction and they realize that they need explicit rights. Olapic says that 70% of Instagram users give consent to use their photos when asked.

Why Should You Care?

If you’re a professional and are occasionally posting pictures on social media, it might pay to participate in some of the hashtag contests. Chances are your images are better designed and produced than many of the other UGC images you’ll be competing against. Thus, your images might get chosen for use.

The brand will contact you before use and at that point you can name your price. If 70% of Instagram users consented to allow use of their photos for free, that still means that 30% either said the brand couldn’t use their photo under any condition, or they charged a fee. It is also possible that some of that 70% also charged a fee.

A few things are clear. There will be increasing use of the “buy it now” features on web sites. More and more brands will try to get some of the images they use for these programs via UGC content. And, Increasingly, brands will rely on Olapic and companies like them, for the images they want to use rather than turning to stock photo agencies.

As companies begin to source their images in different ways, image produces must find ways to place their images where companies will look for them. Times change and we can’t expect brands to source the images they need in the same ways they always have just because that is what we could like them to do.

For more on Olapic check out its webinar “Putting UGC to Work for Brands and Retailers” tomorrow (July 30) at 11am PT, 2pm EST.

Copyright © 2015 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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