Stock photography and the Internet

Many photographers, professional and amateur, now rely on Internet based stock photography agencies for some extra income.  It is very difficult to generate a substantial income in this way but many contributors do enjoy a steady revenue stream through regular and repeat sales of their work.

The advent of the Internet caused a major change in the way in which stock photo libraries operated. Traditionally they would store images in their original form, i.e. in print, negative or transparency formats.  As can be imagined this caused major storage issues and was very labor intensive, as all the incoming material had to be examined for quality and catalogued into various subjects. Upon application from a client the collection would have to be searched to see if a suitable photograph was held. If one was found that met with the client’s approval it would then be delivered by conventional methods so that the image could be turned into print for use in a newspaper or magazine. This was a time consuming and somewhat laborious process.

Because of the limitations of the stock photography system in those days most publishers would only use the libraries for sourcing historic images and for photographs in specific genres that they did not wish to shoot themselves. National daily news images were no problem as newspapers and periodicals had their own staff photographers that were out shooting images on a daily basis.

Some agencies did specialize in news photographs on an international basis. Perhaps the most famous of these is Magnum that was started just after the end of the Second World War. The photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, George Rodger and David Seymour combined their collections (mostly war time images) and formed what was to become one of the most important photographic collections in the world. The original base was in Paris but the organization now has offices in New York, Tokyo and London. Magnum’s operation is now Internet based, supplying images taken by photographers all over the world to thousands of clients every year.

When photographs are purchased for use from a picture library the buyer does not buy the copyright to an image, merely a license to reproduce the image in print. This is tightly controlled with the cost being decided by the size of the reproduction, where in a newspaper or magazine it is to be reproduced (front page costs more) and the distribution.  The further afield a publication is to be sold the greater the cost of the license will be. For worldwide publication rights a publisher will be required to pay considerable more than for reproduction on a national basis.

In recent years the Internet has spurred the creation of new kinds of image libraries that cater for a wider range of contributors and customers. A recent addition was Alamy that invited submissions from all photographers that could meet the quality standards it demanded. The venture was a great success as photographers were attracted by its ease of use and before long Alamy credits could be seen in many national newspapers and magazines.

Another success story is Dreamstime, another Internet based stock photography outlet that fulfills a great demand, particularly by those seeking still images and video for use solely on the Internet. The free images and reasonable pricing levels on others, plus the credit buying system are a great attraction and Dreamstime stock footage is now in universal use. Contributors to Dreamstime now have the added convenience of being able to check their credit balance instantly by using an Android phone app.

The world of stock photography and the way in which it is accessed and used has changed dramatically over the last 30 years to the benefit of photographers and picture buyers alike.

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