What are stock photos?

Stock photos are images that anyone can license for creative use. Rather than hire a photographer, designers can search a large database of photos and quickly find one that works for their project. Some of the most popular stock photos include people, travel destinations, animals, and food. This system also allows photographers to earn a steady source of income from their work, in the form of small royalty payments.


Need images for your project? Shutterstock’s impressive collection of more than 70 million images can help! See what our library has to offer.

How was stock photography conceived?
Although it’s not quite clear how the term “stock photography” came about, agencies began selling stock photos in the early 1920s. Many of these images were outtakes from commercial photo shoots, which provided a more affordable alternative for creative projects. By the ’80s, it had developed into a full-fledged industry, with photographers taking pictures solely for stock houses. Often, these photographers would compose shots with a magazine or newspaper in mind, leaving space for their eventual placement in a publication.
 
Today, Internet search engines allow anyone to find the perfect stock photo in seconds. Content companies like Shutterstock have millions of photos in every theme, color palette, and style imaginable. We offer content in image packs and monthly subscriptions, depending on your creative needs.
 
What types of stock photos exist?
There are three main styles, each with different licensing rules:

  • Royalty-Free: These stock photos can be used multiple times once a license is purchased, with no time limit on exercising that usage. Unlike rights-managed images, there is no right to exclusivity with a royalty-free photo. Generally, the number of times a particular image can be used (i.e. 1,000) is built into the license, and this is called a “print run”.

  • Rights Managed: Depending on the usage, exclusivity, image size, and a handful of other factors, these licensed photos have a fluctuating value in the marketplace. If the buyer desires exclusivity, an image can be licensed with the agreement that another entity will not use the same image for competitive reasons.

  • Public Domain: These photos are free to use for any purpose, without purchasing a license. There’s no limit to how many times a person can use a public domain image.

Who can sell stock photos?
Anyone! Each stock photography site is looking to fill different gaps in their content. Before submitting your entire portfolio, take a look at their guidelines for success. For example, Shutterstock has found that buyers love photos that depict local cultures, fill a previously untapped niche, and leave enough space for text.
 
Alongside the photos, it’s also important to think of at least 25 keywords that accurately describe each image. When doing this, try to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes, since they’re the one who will be searching for the perfect photo. With smartly chosen words that describe the image’s subject, color, emotion, and abstract concepts, you’ll see far more sales.

Why should I use stock photos, instead of hiring a photographer?
Royalty-free photography is a far more affordable option; plus, you know exactly what images you’re getting, and they can be downloaded instantly. Hiring a photographer might make sense for an extremely specific project or covering an event for the first time, but stock photos have clear advantages.

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