What is stock photography?

Photographs are everywhere. When you walk in a mall or your favorite store, You’re bombarded with them. When you read a magazine or a newspaper there are photos to illustrate the articles and more photos in all the advertising. When you pick up your mail there is usually more advertising than actual mail and all that is illustrated by colorful pictures. All those photographs typically come from one of two places, either someone hired a photographer to take a custom picture to well defined specifications, a very expensive undertaking, or they purchased an already existing picture comparatively inexpensively from a library of photographs called ‘stock’.

In other words, a stock photograph is one that a photographer has already taken and made available for other people to use for a nominal licensing fee. A stock picture may not exactly fit a designer’s precise specifications but for the difference in price, it is often good enough.

The photograph at the top of this page is a good example of a stock photo. That reptile is a common chuckwalla which is on Utah’s sensitive species list. I shot the picture on a trip to Utah in May 2010 and uploaded it to my stock portfolio a few weeks later. If you needed a photo of one of these handsome critters, you could pay a photographer to travel there and pay for his hotel and transportation to go out looking for one. That would amount to thousands of dollars. Or you could license the use of my picture for a mere $1 to $40 depending on the size and quality you need. My picture appears to be the only common chuckwalla in a library of approximately 7 million pictures.

Obviously, a photographer like me will make a lot more money from a single picture by shooting custom work. And I do accept custom assignments. But with stock, I usually average only $1-$2 on each sale. I rely on reselling the same picture many times and having a very large library of different photos in my stock portfolio. I am continually working on new projects to expand my portfolio.

I distribute my stock images through the web-based microstock agency iStockPhoto.

View My Portfolio