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Stock photography is the supply of photographs licensed for specific uses. It is used to fulfill the needs of creative assignments instead of hiring a photographer. Today, stock images can be presented in searchable online databases. They can be purchased and delivered online. Often, they are produced in studios using a wide variety of models posing as professionals, stereotypes, expressing stereotypical emotions and gesticulations or involving pets.
Getty Images, Corbis and Sipa Press are the three largest traditional stock photography agencies in terms of revenue. They offer mostly photographs that have been shot by professional photographers. There are many alternative photo agencies which specialize in certain fields of stock photography, such as Photo Researchers. Stock photography is also available through microstock photography services, through which photographs sell more cheaply but in greater volume.
Whereas Getty and Corbis own the copyright to many of the images they sell, companies like Alamy sell images on behalf of major collections and individual photographers and agencies.
There are three different types of stock photography.
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, or in the case of the microstock photography websites as little as $1 for a low resolution license.
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. 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. 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 or purchased directly from the website.
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.
"Free" in this context means "free of royalties (paying each time you use an image)". It does not mean the image is free to use without purchasing a license or that the image is in the public domain.
(sometimes called "licensed images")
An important feature of web-based stock photography collections is that the images have been embedded with meta-data, therefore making the images searchable by using keywords.
Newspapers and magazines were first able to reproduce photographs instead of line drawings in the mid-1880s with the invention of the half-tone printing press. Initially starting with staff photographers, eventually independent free-lance photographers took over.
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.
The 1980s saw a surge of interest into stock photography by individual freelance amateur and hobbyist photographers spurred on by the publication of a book series (5 editions 1981-1999) “Sell&ReSell your Photos”, Writer’s Digest Books, -Rohn Engh.
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. In the early 2000s, Jupitermedia Corporation started buying some of the smaller players in the market, aggregating them under the banner of their Jupiterimages division, and became the third largest player in the market. The availability of the internet provided a means for other, smaller companies to get a foothold in the industry.
In the year 2000, istockphoto, a microstock image exchange website, began which later impacted the stock photo industry by driving prices of royalty-free images down as low as $1 per image. It was done because of the recent availability of high-resolution digital cameras in the mass market and the ability for amateur photographers to upload their images and share on the website.
In 2004 Dreamstime, Shutterstock and Fotolia evolved existing models of image sharing and became established players, followed by many other smaller agencies. The trend was continued by fotoLibra in 2004 and in 2005 Scoopt started a photo news agency for citizen journalism enabling the public to upload and sell breaking news images taken with cameraphones. In 2007 Scoopt was purchased by Getty Images, which closed it in 2009. In 2008, Cutcaster created a stock photography marketplace where buyers could purchase images at a price set by the photographer or let buyers name their price by submitting a bid, which a photographer could accept, reject or submit a new offer back to the buyer.
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