Stock Photography: What you need to know


Humans have been telling stories for quite a long time, probably once they were able to communicate with each other, as time went by communication went beyond words to non-verbal cues like body language which includes facial expressions, body posture and gestures. Hence, we let visual contents to do the talking for us and that is what stock photography is about.

Stock photography is a business that has been around for quite some time now. However, only a few Nigerians (either creators or contributors) have been able to take full advantage of it.

In this article, I will be shedding more light on the basics of stock photography and how you can begin selling stock photos.

Introduction to Stock Photography

  1. What is Stock Photography?
  2. The concept of stock photography
  3. Is every photo a stock photo?
  4. What’s in it for me?
  5.  More about stock agencies
  6. How to get started.


What is Stock Photography?

Stock photography (stock photos) are photographs of people, common places, landmarks, nature, or events whose licence are bought or sold on royalty-free basis or for specific uses. 

They are photographs or royalty-free images that can be used by publishers or designers to achieve their storytelling needs. 

Stock photo of a African person using a mobile device.

Stock photo of a African person using a mobile device.

What’s the concept of stock photography?

It is quite simple. It begins with the photographer (obviously), the photographer must first define what he wants the photograph to say, before going ahead to take the photo of people or objects. Then submits the photos to stock libraries or agencies (as they are popularly called).

Once the images are accepted into the stock agencies, the photographer has given the agency the right to sell the image licence on his behalf in return for some form of commission. These agencies provide marketing, search capability, license management, and a client base in exchange for some percentage the royalties.

Now, clients who need photos for their projects which range from commercial purposes such as advertising, book covers, magazine articles, blog posts, packaging, television commercials, web banners, annual reports, presentations, textbooks, and signage, to personal use. They go to these agencies and search their database for photos which meets their needs and purchase them from the agencies.


Ok, well does it mean every photo is a stock photograph?

Sadly, no. Not every photo can pass as a stock photo, there are different forms of photography such as assignment photography and news photography.

Assignment photography is when a client pays a photographer for their time or the images supplied. Most times these images are commissioned for a particular use like image on the cover page of magazines.

Vougue Magazine Cover

Photographed by Craig McDean, Ariana Grande covers the July 2018 issue of British Vogue

News photography has to do with current events happening. News photos are time sensitive, usually needed within days. Over time, the best news photos may become good stock photos since a buyer may require such in the future.

In contrast with the two above, stock photos can be used multiple times for different purposes across a long period of time, hence serving as a continuous source of income for both the photographer and agency.


So, what’s in it for me?

I’m glad you asked, after all why should you bother yourself getting these photos when you wouldn’t get anything in return?

The first is money, it serves as a source of income for the photographer. The amount of money may vary from photographer to photographer, also depending on the volume and quality you have with the stock agency.

Look at it this way, the more images you have with the agencies the more likely you are to sell more and the more commission you get in return. It’s important you manage your expectations accordingly, this is not a get rich quick scheme but it will serve as another source of income to support your studio expenses.

Secondly, if you are looking to focus your photographic efforts and need a goal to reach, may be improving your shooting technique, photo quality or stretching your creativity, then shooting for a stock agency is one way to go.

Thirdly, you may get the opportunity to see your work published in high profile places. Just like turning raw materials into finished products.

Finally, it boosts your portfolio by giving it a professional lustre.


Cool, can you tell me more about stock agencies?

There are many stock agencies around, from 2005 many have been popping up here and there, this was largely due to the accessibility of the internet, increase in the amount of digital photos and an ever-growing demand for authentic photos.

Some stocks agencies are general collectors, simply put they collect a wide range of categories of photographs such as Adobe Stock and Getty Images. Some stock agencies offer specialised collections, they offer only photos from specific categories it maybe wildlife, buildings, food, from a time period or event such as Stockimo. This makes choosing the right agency crucial if you hope to make money, otherwise it is as good as wasting your time.

Recently, due to the high demand of authentic photos we have seen some come up with something in between. There are now stock agencies that are general collectors, but, they specialise on a particular race, colour or people within a certain geographic area such as Swart Stock and FotoArabia.

Also, there are stock agencies who take images from only specific devices like smartphones such as the iPhone brand, top Samsung brands or simply phones with really good cameras.

These stock agencies host millions of images (photos and illustrations), footage clips and at times audio files, which can be licensed to their clients. For the sake of simplicity I will be sticking to only still images (photos).

Although these stock agencies all license photos, they have different modus operands (mode of operation), different challenges they are trying to solve and different business models for generating income for both themselves and their photographers.

I will talk about the business model a bit.

First, there is the subscription model, this is where their clients pay a subscription fee to them for a certain period of time in return for a limited amount of images licensed.

Then there is the credit model, here photos are assigned certain amounts of credits (this usually varies from agency to agency), the clients buy a pack of credits for a certain fee. This usually gives the client a certain degree of freedom in varying the sizes of photos they buy depending on the amount of credits available. It also removes the time constraint experienced in the subscription model.

Lastly, there is the pay on demand model where the client only pays a certain fee for the photo they intend on buying.

The truth is no one model is the best. In fact, most agencies combine two of these model to generate income.


Interesting, how do I get started?

Well, if you are a seasoned photographer you probably have a tons of photographs.

First step is going through your albums and choosing your best works. You probably want to locate the release forms for the photos.

If you are just starting to build a portfolio you can take a few creative shots and ensure you have the release form filled for the photos.

Next step, choose an agency to work with. Ensure you do your research on the agency to know what is required of you. Read through their licence agreement and terms of service before signing up.

Also, the agency you choose should be in the category that suits your specialty and geographic location.

When your photos are accepted you are officially in and ready to make money.


It is time to get started

If you have been wondering what stock photos were all about, now you have an idea what it is about.

Swart Stock is a stock agency that specialises in African content, what better place to start that here.

You can start contributing photos to Swart Stock today, by signing up here.

Have any questions about stock photography, let me know in the comments.