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Photography Question 
Darlene Christensen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/30/2003

Advice on Stock Agencies

I'd like to start working towards submitting my images to stock agencies. Which agencies are supportive to photographers just starting out in the field of stock photography? Any suggestions? To be honest, I don't know if my images are good enough, so I'm hoping to find an agency willing to give me a chance! Thanks for any help! Darlene

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1/19/2005 2:44:18 PM


BetterPhoto Member
Below I have posted some paragraphs to answer your question about stock agents. This material comes from my lessons on Stock Photography, a course taught here at BP. Please excuse the broken flow, as I chose select paragraphs to answer your question. Also check out the following resources for more info:, is loaded with info for beginning stock photographers, and has the best book out there for established pros. There is also a variety of workshops out there. Santa Fe used to have one. I am co-owner of and the company president, and I will be teaching Breaking into Stock Photography this summer. You can check it out at, which will be online in about a month.

Where to Start
Stock photography is an exciting business when you can make money off your passion. I hope that the previous lessons have given you a good grasp on how and what to shoot for stock photos. Are you ready to move on and shoot with the goal of your own stock photo business or signing with an agent?

Before you quit your day job, letís look at the business realistically. First, what are you shooting and or planning to shoot? Here is a rough breakdown on the best-selling categories in order of what sells best.

1) Business
2) Lifestyle
3) Technologies
6)Nature and wildlife

Getting into a Stock Photo Agency
To get represented by an agency you should build a large body of unique stock photos. Stock agents are not exclusively for established shooters and are always on the lookout for new talent. They are as much interested in what you can do in the future as what youíve done in the past. Their primary interest is how much are you going to shoot and how good will the quality be. If you shoot what everybody else does, you wonít get in. With a larger supply of stock photos available than demand, and you shoot flowers, rocks, and moss, you will have a much more difficult time being accepted than if you shoot lifestyle or business. This will be the first point they address.

If you are a beginning stock photographer and approach an agency, they will look through your work. If they see talent and you are shooting something very unique, they may invest the time to nurture you. Some agents give shot lists for you to go shoot, and some donít. However, if you are accepted by an agent, then they consider you a pro and theyíll expect you to know how and what to shoot. My agents do offer suggestions and guidance when I ask. It also takes -on average - a year for images to find their way to a client and make you a sale. So calling an agent up two months after your images were submitted and wanting to know where the moneys are will get you nowhere and probably aggravate the agent. You should concentrate primarily on shooting lots and lots of imagery to increase the volume of images you have in an agency. The money will come!

These days, your agent will also demand that you are either exclusive or image exclusive with them. Exclusive means you cannot have any of your images at another agency or sell them yourself. Image exclusive means you can send images to another agency, but not the same ones, and sell yourself as well. Fogstock is image exclusive with the images we accept, and I recommend that you only sign contracts that are image exclusive. It is very difficult to put your entire stock business with one agent, not be able to sell images yourself, and rely totally on one company for your stock income.

My feeling as a photographer is to be with as many agencies as I can. However, this can present problems. I have been with a total of 10 different agencies in my career, although no more than four at a time. Some have done well, and some have not. The good part about being with many agencies is that you have multiple revenue sources and, hopefully, money coming every month from each. The problem is that each agency has its strengths and weaknesses.

We need content from highly committed and productive photographers. We actually require at a very minimum 200 stand-alone high-quality stock shots to consider any photographer for Fogstock. If we sign one with the minimum 200, we view them as a beginner because the pros we sign have 5000-10,000 images for us. It is a horribly competitive business out there. This is a business where survival of the fittest rule. The photographers with 5000 images online might make $1500 per month. The ones with 200 might make $20 a month. There is not much success for weekend stock photographers, it's all about volume.

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1/22/2005 7:27:30 PM

Lori Carpenter
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/31/2004
  Charlie... I just wanted to thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to help new (and old) photographers by giving such helpful and detailed responses. You are a role model for those of us wanting to get into the business.

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1/23/2005 7:17:42 AM

Laura Berman
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/23/2004
Good advice form Charlie, as always. I'd suggest that you look at the following sites to begin your education into the world of stock. :

There is also a Yahoogroups forum for that you can sign up for from that site.
And I'd suggest that you go to some of the bigger agencies websites and find the "Info for photographers" section or whatever they call it. (you can find tons of agencies by googling "stock photos"). That will tell you all about their requirements, what they look for, etc. Peruse many stock sites and find ones that have images that you like and that are a fit to your type of work. Then get together a large amount of photos and submit them--you've got nothing to lose!
One important thing to be aware of: there is a lot of discussion these days about rights managed vs. royalty free images. It's complicated and has many sides. Read all about it at Stock Artists Alliance.
And even more importantly, there are many new agencies out there that sell only royalty free for very little money per image and pay the photographer 50% of next to nothing per sale (there are several that give you 50 cents or less per sale--honest!!) . Stay away from these! They are obviously trying to make it on volume and are appealing to photo buyers on tight budgets. They demean the value of all photographers' work, whether new or long time pro.

Good luck with this! It can be well worth it, especially if you love to shoot.

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1/25/2005 7:10:50 PM

Darlene Christensen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/30/2003
  Thanks to both Charlie and Laura for some very sound and important advice! I see that stock photography is a very complicated field and I really need to do my homework! Darlene

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1/26/2005 10:09:22 AM

Fred W. Voetsch   I own and contribute to Acclaim Images at

We are always looking for talented, committed photographers, but I can tell you that most any agency will expect a photographer to have some basic working knowledge of the trade.
You should learn all you can about model releases, privacy concerns, and all the other legal issues you will have to deal with. If you are thinking to yourself, "I don't want to deal with all THAT stuff!" then please move on to another career. Photographers must be business people if they want to make a living at it.

Some agencies: Getty Images, Alamy, Corbis, Comstock, Acclaim Images, The Stock Solution. Some are hard to get into, and some are easier. We are in the middle. Going with a low-cost agency is a sure way to kill your career before it starts. Giving your photos away for $1 apiece will not make you popular with the established stock photography agencies. A little sacrifice, a lot of hard work, and some good photos will ensure your success.

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7/19/2005 7:19:48 AM

Howard Sandler   From Charlie B's response, I infer that stock at established agencies can generate on average $1-3/image/year. I would therefore not be so quick to write off the so-called "micropayment" sites, especially for someone just starting out. They're accessible and a good way to see what images you have are marketable and what are not. The volume of downloads makes up a lot for the low royalty per download. From my first couple months at istockphoto and shutterstock I seem to be averaging towards $4/image/year. Shutterstock is doing the best for me.

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7/29/2005 9:29:59 PM

Darlene Christensen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/30/2003
  I've really appreciated the interest this thread has generated and the great advice I've gotten! I'm still working towards submitting to agencies and have been busy building my portfolio. But I've been pretty scared away from submitting just by the shear "bigness" of the whole "STOCK AGENCY" thing. I kinda feel like I'm trying to go to work for Donald Trump without being in the "BOARD ROOM" a few times! I would ask all of you what your opinion is on rights-controlled vs. royalty free. I seem to be going around and around in my head about it. As Howard just mentioned above ... it might be easier for me to break in at that level. BUT if I designate certain images as royalty free ... does that mean I can never sell them as rights-controlled to another agency?

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8/1/2005 1:50:10 PM


BetterPhoto Member
The biggest part of your question I will address first. You do not want to put the same images at one agency as RC and at another as RF. This could lead to some very big problems for you. If the RC agency licenses it for a nationwide advertisement with an industry exclusive, say for cosmetics, you will receive a handsome royalty. At the same time, if the RF agency puts it on a RF CD and your image is picked for something close to the cosmetics ad and blasted all over, the exclusivity that the RC client paid for is greatly diluted. This is lawsuit material and I have witnessed similarities to this scenario. So I highly recommend you be very careful and frankly just don't place an image both ways.

To determine whether your image should be RF or RC will require you to make an effort to do some research. Get on RF sites and search for the subject you have - say, flowers. If there are a ton of similars to your in RF, then that is where you should go as well. However, if you just got an image of a flying saucer over MT Rushmore, that is a one-of-a-kind and will go RC.

Here is a link to an article I wrote for where I am a contributing editor and it will aid you some in pricing and placement.

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8/1/2005 6:49:45 PM

Darlene Christensen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/30/2003
  Charlie ... you're the best! You've answered my inquiries before and you've given me sound advice ... always! Thanks so much for taking the time! I will do exactly as you've suggested. I'm trying soooo hard to think before I shoot and am getting better at it. I still love taking pics of the places I travel ... even though most are of the "tourist" variety! BUT ... I'm learning to think "outside the box" and really trying to shoot salable stock. My hometown vineyards will continue to be a mainstay for me since the market doesn't seem saturated...yet. But I know I need to continue to pursue the lifestyle and business concepts and that's where I need to learn what and how to shoot. I've checked out Fogstock and printed out all the information it provides to photographers. It would be my hope to someday be good enough to submit my photos for consideration. Thanks again, Charlie!

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8/4/2005 12:51:00 PM

Carolina K. Smith
I have thought very long and hard about stock agencies, and I have to say that I believe the microstock agencies (which are basically royalty free) have a rightful place, and I believe they represent a paradigm shift in the stock agency world.

I respectfully disagree that they demean all photographer's work and value. Does a bicycle maker demean a luxury car maker? Does a Motel 6 owner demean a Ritz Carlton owner? No, they coexist healthily because they serve different markets. A microsite stock agency offers quick feedback (I have uploaded and had buyers download THE SAME DAY) and I have had some buyers tell me what they were using my photo for, which has been very rewarding.

One buyer contacted me to tell me how they were planning to use my 'Soldier Meets Son' (one of the photos on my BP Deluxe website homepage)... that it would be used for a nonprofit military aid website that helps soldier's returning from war to readjust to civilian life. Now THAT really boosted the morale of my son, who is currently deployed to Iraq, since he is the soldier in the photo...

I know I have the caliber to make it professionally, because I have had requests to join non microsite agencies (the last was from the Chief Art Director at Inmagine (he even wanted to talk to me by phone from Malaysia) and I have been offered assignments from people viewing my BetterPhoto website. I have been requested to do limited editions for an art gallery. But, after CAREFUL and THOUGHTFUL consideration, I have decided to go the way of microstock agencies.

I am a very passionate photographer, and I have decided that when I die, I want my photographic legacy to be spread as far and wide as possible... not to make a few (or even many) killings in the commercial field. I am very happy to know that my photos are serving a purpose other than commercial, though they can be used commercially as well.

What has surprised me is that actually making money through the microsites is real and possible...

So far, I agree that the average I am making actually will come out to more than $4/image per year... and like any agency, these images have the potential to payback for years to come.

You are not married to a microsite... you can leave at any time... the images' copyright still belong to YOU, the photographer, and some photographers will use the microsite agency to hone their skills if they want to step up to a more exclusive agency.

For many buyers who don't have much of a budget to speak of (like nonprofit agencies), or for a small mom and pop company who want to grace their website with a photo, it serves a real need. My earnings as of today are $360.81 and I started with just 3 photos and even now, only have ~ 124 photos in my gallery at one microsite, for example. This in just 4 months, and in the first month I had less than 30 photos! This can pay for your photography hobby, or more.

There will always be a need for the Gettys, Corbis, Fogstock, for commercial projects for corporations with the big bucks. But why shut out the smaller buyers?? There is room for both, and the microstock agencies, I believe, offer and fill a needed service to a different (read noncompeting)segment of buyers. This is a paradigm shift that is here to stay, and I believe can co-exist well with the 'big boys' because they serve different markets.

For sure, it offers photographers a great way to cut their teeth in stock photography, to learn what sells, to hone your skills. Then you can decide to stay on, move on, or whatever. This is America's freemarket place at it's best.

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8/10/2005 3:11:43 PM

  You can't just hand over pictures and its that easy. There is alot of paperwork, you need a lawyer. It'll cost you a minimum of $5000 to start it up and lot of meetings on the phone.

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8/10/2005 3:46:25 PM

Carolina K. Smith
  Sorry, Justify, it IS that easy...
I treat this like a real business, we have a tax accountant on board, and I am registered as a legitimate business in my city/county/state. $5000?? RUBBISH...

It costs us ~ $20 to set up our DBA (Doing Business As).

Cut and paste this link, and you will see just how easy it is. I haven't handed over anything, I retain the full rights to market my photos as I please (though I would never sell Royalty Free as Rights Managed, like Charlie says)

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8/10/2005 3:59:21 PM

Paul Hakimata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/29/2005
  I have been using Dreamstime for a while now. I'm very satisfied and sales are good. According to an article that was published in PDN a few months ago Dreamstime was the fastest growing and most paying of the the microstock sites. I have a link top the entire article on my site:

In case you decide to give it a shot and sell through Dreamstime, you can go here:

Good luck, and have fun!

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9/28/2007 7:48:18 AM

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