The stock photography industry connects image licensors, those who wish to license images, with image licensees, those who own the license to the images. The three tiers of stock photography, in order of the most expensive for the licensor to the least expensive, are 1) macrostock photography, 2) midstock photography, and 3) microstock photography. Stock agencies can charge anywhere from $0.25 to several thousands of dollars per image to license. Stock photography is big business, with “the Global Stock Images and Videos Market Size are Expected to Generate Revenues of Over $4 Billion by 2023, Growing at a CAGR of Over 5% 2017-2023.”
Types of stock photo licenses
Public domain – Public domain stock photo images are free to use. A person or company may use the photo without purchasing a license for either personal or commercial purposes. Public domain images result from intellectual property rights that have expired, have been forfeited, or are simply inapplicable. Many images on popular websites like unsplash.com and pexels.com fit this category.
Royalty-free – Royalty-free stock photos are photos that can be used multiple times, after paying an initial fee, without paying a royalty each time they are used. A common misconception is that these images are free to use without any cost to the user. However, the “free” in royalty-free only refers to the fact that the user does not have to pay royalties each time the image is used. For example, a small business could purchase a royalty-free license to use an image from a website like Shutterstock and use that image for multiple projects or advertising campaigns.
Rights-managed – Rights Managed stock photos are also known as “licensed images.” Purchasers of these licenses can typically only use the image once, as specified by the license. Each use requires an additional purchase. Rights Managed stock photos are typically the most expensive of the three.
Stock Photography Styles and Subject Matter
As large stock photography websites grew and developed better indexing and technology, the subject matter changed from standardized, universal subject matter to more niche, targeted subject matter. These days, you can find an image to match almost any topic.
Common themes are lifestyle photos of people engaging in a hobby or activity, corporate photos of people working or collaborating, and conceptual photos depicting stereotypes or emotions. Landmarks, people, places, holidays and things are also commonly depicted in stock photos.
For more information on stock photography, please read any of the articles below.