An Insight into Shooting Picture Library Photography


Welcome to An Insight into Stock Photography. This article is based on a talk given at Focus on Imaging 2007. I hope you find it interesting. Just remember these are my views only, they are not gospel and have been put together based solely on my experience of shooting and selling stock photography, primarily through Alamy and photographic magazines.

We’ve seen a lot of change in the markets and the economy in general. This has affected the stock photography market. But don’t lose hope, magazines and newspapers have an insatiable appetite for images.

One Approach

Having many options – and finding opportunities to build a business from photography. And stock photography is just part of that – a chance for someone else to market your pictures for you and to for you to get paid, while off doing something else. It’s like having commission only sales people working for you. The thing is you have to give them something saleable but you can’t give them a kick up the backside if you’re not selling much!!

Some professional photographers don’t do it, some do, some make a living from it. The choices and balance is up to you, as a commercial photographer I do some of it.

It may seem daunting but it’s not and it’s within most people’s grasp. Provided you understand the customer. This applies to both the Picture Library and the Ultimate Buyers.

Take a look around you. Pictures are everywhere – the printed media in its widest context has a massive appetite for images on a daily basis.

Humans generally don’t like reading online – well not for very long – they like tactile magazines to flick though and dip into and if they didn’t, the newspaper industry would be long gone by now – wouldn’t it !!

Every magazine, exhibition, web site, company brochure and newspaper all need pictures on a regular basis – and if they don’t have it or can’t send a photographer to go out and shoot it – then they’ll buy it.

Printed media works on deadlines that go right down to the wire, so immediacy is important and the shots can’t be the same old ones used month in month out.

The corporate buyer generally will work to longer lead times and less tight deadlines – but not always – the images they buy can be more general or iconic – like these motivation posters you see in some shops .

Take for instance a sports shot of runners on a track – you might see it in the sports pages of a newspaper for a day, then maybe in a Athletics magazine that month – but it can soon become a poster with a motivational statement “Defeat” or “Winner” that has a whole new market.

So where are you – the photographer – in the food chain so to speak. Take a look below.

• The Photographer
• The Stock Library
• The Picture Buyer

You’re on the top of the list with the stock library between you and the buyer, but at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to getting paid. But whilst you need to meet the technical specifications of the library and other submission requirements, it’s the image buyer you must be thinking of long before you even contemplate picking up the camera.

The image library will do the sales and marketing of your images, for a cut which varies from library to library, but they must have images that buyers want.

Before you sign up, read through the agreement and see if the set up suits your requirements.

Diverse Sectors

Each of these publications, Gossip magazines, The Times Newspaper, Corporate Publications, serve a specific market – but each buy photos from Alamy to mention just one library – they also buy from many others too – in order to make the publication that day, week or month.

So what sort of pictures do these publications buy? Well it’s very varied. Just flick through and look at the side of the shot, it’s likely to have an image source next to it.

• Take a Break – items / products, staged poses – youth etc.
• Daily mail – travel
• Environment – utilities, waste, pollution etc, – front cover.

Get Rich Quick – NO!

Some say it’s a numbers game – true to some extent, but the way I look at it is this, if you’ve got 10,000 images of shots that won’t sell – you’ve got very little.

For me as a professional photographer that provides photography services, it’s the long term view – looking to build up and maintain a set of saleable images.

Remember pictures are perishable – i.e. – they become stale – and this will vary dependent upon the industry sector or subject they relate to.

Transport, fashion, IT, business, communications all need, in my view, re-shooting each year. For example a man in a suit by a computer the size of a house in the 1950’s isn’t the modern business image of today.

Wildlife, sky scenes, landscapes, travel pictures – less so – but look at any developing city – take London – since the Wheel and the Gherkin went up all the skylines are different, also look at Dubai – changing all the time.

Get rich quick – no it’s not – but you can build up an underlying income if you think about saleable pictures and keep them relevant – remember they have to illustrate a story – so need to tell a story in their own right.

What is Stock

So let’s take a look at how you get accepted and who there is to choose from. Each Library has its own benefits and key target markets, so find one that suits you and what you are good at shooting.

• Getty
• Alamy
• Comstock
• Jupiter
• Superstock
• Fotolibra
• Istockphoto,
• Pixtal
• Jumpimages
• Adams
• Nevstock

Most will have web sites and these will stipulate how to join of make submissions.

$ Sites

For me I don’t like them and here’s why. I’m going to set you a challenge and at the end of it I will buy the photograph from you. So you go and shoot a subject you like, do your research, do the shoot, post produce the image and upload it to my site and hey presto – I pay you 50p at today’s exchange rate — any takers ? I rest my case!

Submission Rules

All image libraries will set technical standards and these will vary depending on how much server space they want to invest in.

Alamy work to 48mb TIFF minimum – 1, to keep the bar high enough that only the serious photographer applies and 2, to give their customers’ choice and immediate access to high quality images. Now they’ve changed this from the above to accept JPEG images – so your file size is down to around 8 meg.

Others work on thumbnail sizes then let the buyer contact you. Personally, I think, trying to judge a shot off a 100 or 200k image is not doing the shot justice.

Others specify minimum requirements of camera / model, or make you go though an approval or recommendation process. The thing with this is to find a library that matches your needs and capabilities. Also the amount time you have available to dedicate to stock photography.


Non-Exclusive License

The buyer pays a licence fee each time they use the image, but another image buyer can also purchase and use the image under the same licence.

The image buyer must specify, each time: intended use, media, territory and duration.

Pricing is based on intended use, media, duration and territory. The territorial pricing will be matched to the specific country.

Exclusive License

The picture buyer pays a licence fee each time they use the image.

The picture buyer obtains exclusive use of an image under the terms of the licence: these terms may affect the use, media, territory and/or duration in which the image can by used by other buyers.

Rights protection can be an advantage for high-profile projects such as ad campaigns and promotions.

Royalty Free (RF)

The picture buyer pays a one-off fee – they do not have to pay royalties to contributors on a use-by-use basis.

The picture buyer will not know who else is using the image.

The picture buyer should check that the image has the appropriate releases before using the image where a release is required, for example Model release for people and property release for prominent buildings or logos.


  • 50/50
  • 60/40 but with global distribution
  • 70/30
  • 80/20 – Photographers Direct

Again find a picture house that works for you and also find out when you’ll get paid and any minimum balances you must have to get paid. Sometimes you can wait 3 months for your money.

Work Flow

As a provider of photography services I shoot RAW and make minor adjustments to pictures . Now I’m using Adobe Lightroom in place of Raw Shooter and it’s speeded up my work flow considerably. Photoshop – I use this far less now but only to colour and touch out any dirt or what might look like dirt – by this I mean the occasional bird in the sky can look like sensor dirt if it’s a way off in the distance. Resize your image. Output the file to the required format.

Then depending on the library upload over the Internet or cut a CD / DVD.

An Example

Take an older camera the Nikon D70 – 6.1 mega pixel camera. Raw files were around 4 or 5 MB and a TIFF was at 17MB with the JPEG at 4MB.

To meet the submission guidelines you need to Interpolate the image – make it bigger. In Photoshop this was Image > Image Size>Percent. Increase by 168% to give a 48 – 50 MB sized image. Then Save as Jpeg – 5 – 7MB.

I now shoot on a Nikon D300. RAW files are now 18 – 19 mb, opened in CS3 at 34 mb – requiring interpolation by only 20%.

What I’ve Sold

Wonderful sunsets, superb travel pictures, glamour images, or maybe my Dad’s cat! These are just a few examples of shots that have sold.
My dad’s cat, police cars, road signs, street scenes in New York, studio models and traffic jams.

Finding More Value

There are plenty of publications that will promote your sold work, FPME (Now out of print March 2009) is just one of them and if you have sold a shot just let the editor know – chances are it can earn you some more money.

Not only that, look out for sites like Photographer Direct that offer an Image Request service – all you need to do is send 1 email. Also look to the corporate clients – they too may take an image if it fits with their style – be brave, make that approach, but do your research first.

Top Tips


  • Find a image library that suits you
  • Don’t be put off by submission guidelines
  • Know your end image buyer
  • Start shooting what you are comfortable with – then move on
  • Check out what images already exist
  • Read the Picture Needs
  • Remember pictures images are perishable

    Check out how many pictures of your subject matter already exist in a library, then ask yourself – can these be improved, shot differently or updated.

    Read the picture needs issued by Stock libraries, they tell you what sells and what is needed, don’t ignore them.

    Thank you for reading this article, I hope you found it interesting, should you have any questions, please feel free to make contact through the web site.

    Author : Peter Davey Ma DipM
    First edition Feb 2007 – updated March 2008 and March 2009