The stock photo business has been around in one form or another since 1920. In fact that very first stock photography company, called RobertStock, is still in business. In the days before the internet, stock photos were primarily the outtakes or “seconds” from studio shoots. It wasn’t until the 1960s that stock photography became its own photography specialty and in the 1980s there was a surge of interest by individual and freelance photographers.
In the days since the internet and digital photography, the number of companies in the stock photo business has blossomed and the number of pictures has soared into the tens of millions.
Digital photography and the explosion of headshots reasonably priced high end cameras have democratized stock photography but also changed the entire pricing structure. The days when photographers could make a living strictly from stock photography are pretty much over, except for a select few at the top agencies. There are a few people who manage to earn as much as $300 per day, but it takes a huge amount of effort. For the majority of photographers it’s a part-time income that covers some of the bills for their photography habit.
It should be noted that stock photography can be a pretty decent part-time income. Those who have been at it regularly for a number of years are reporting incomes of $20,000 to $30,000 a year. That kind of income doesn’t come easy, but it’s a way to pay for your camera gear.
When comparing stock photo agencies there are a number of factors to consider before deciding which ones to submit your images. There are two basic types of stock photography sites: Stock photography and microstock photography sites.
Stock photography sites are the old school type sites where photos are licensed for fees ranging from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars. They are primarily the domain of truly professional photographers and the screening process for photographer acceptance can be both tedious and time consuming.
Microstock photography sites are the newer type sites on the block where both amateur and professionals mix and photo rights are sold for anywhere from $1 to $5. The idea is that lower license fees lead to more sales and more revenue for photographers.
Each type of site has different requirements for image submission and not all images are accepted. All sites screen images, but not all apply the same standards. Every site has different types of image licensing and determines price differently. They also have different requirements for photo releases.