Field Report:

The Non-Glamorous Side of Photography

Stock Photo Agencies

To start this blog off the right way, let’s take on one of the most popular photo business topics of them all – stock photo agencies.

Quick background info: Stock photo agencies are a source where art buyers (advertising agencies, publishers, corporations, small businesses, etc…) can license pictures for publication. A stock photo agency can range in size from large corporations like Getty Images to a family-owned business such as Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Photography. Getty is considered to be a general photo agency that has every type of photo imagineable while Rowell’s is a niche agency consisting of his own outdoor adventure and landscape photos primarily.

Getty is the industry leader by far, but not too popular with many professional photographers at the moment due to questionable business decisions and unfavorable contract terms for their contributors. In recent years, photographers have flocked to competitors like Alamy Images and start-ups such as Digital Railroad Marketplace and the Photoshelter Collection.


– Reach markets that you currently aren’t

– Let someone else handle the day-to-day licensing of your images

– Earn $$$ for your photos


– Some agency contracts take more than 50% commission ie. Getty.

– Some agencies require image exclusivity, meaning that you can’t license those images anywhere else for the duration of your contract. ie. Getty, Corbis, Age Fotostock, Lonely Planet Images

– Time consuming to produce and supply a large quantity of digital files on a regular basis

– The market is over-saturated with images

– The need to keyword and caption your images

– Most do not tell you the exact source of your photo credits, some will give you basic info about the type of publication

– Competition with other agency photographers for a share of the pie

Legit stock photo agencies:

The Big Ones- Getty, Corbis, Alamy, Jupiter, Age Fotostock

Up & Comers: Photoshelter Collection, Digital Railroad Marketplace

For a more comprehensive list of agencies check out A Photo Editor’s Stock Photo Agencies list. Be sure to avoid the agencies under the “Crap” category…

(I have images with Alamy, PSC and DRR (distributed via a niche photo agency) and will discuss my own experiences with them in a future blog post.)

Exclusive or non-exclusive?: The idea behind signing an exclusive contract is a matter of maintaining higher prices by limiting the amount of photos available in the market. Getty Images for example makes contributors agree to not market their images elsewhere during the duration of the contract. The goal is to maintain a higher licensing fee because those same images cannot be licensed anywhere else but through Getty. Before the onslaught of high-resolution digital cameras the past few years, Getty routinely licensed images for $500+ so this made sense. Those rates are a thing of the past now partially due to an over-supply of images in the market and some naive photographers giving away rights to their images for pennies. I have read that Getty’s average licensing fee is around $250 now.

So if non-exclusive agencies tend to go for a slightly lower rate, why would the photographer choose to do so? Because you can submit the same images to multiple agencies in addition to marketing them yourself.

Photo agencies that ask for exclusive terms are usually established enough so that can back it up with numerous sales of your images. So the question is can you make an equal amount of sales if not more through your four non-exclusive agencies? Either way, it is pretty hard to get by with only licensing images through stock photo agencies these days whether or not you decide to go with Getty’s 30 / 70% commission split or Alamy’s 65/35% commission. There are a number of photographers out there that have had a fair amount of success using a combination of non-exclusive photo agents as well as running their own licensing business. Much like investing in the stock market, diversification is a smart strategy.


July 14, 2008 - Posted by | Photo Business, stock photography | ,


  1. Richard,

    This is a great write-up! I look forward to reading your upcoming posts. You have done a fantastic job of putting this blog together and I think there is a real need for information such as this.

    Also, I agree that diversification is the best strategy.


    Comment by Sherri Meyer | July 14, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks Sherri. This will be interesting to see where this goes as this type of material requires more research than the photo blog. Plus, I like the way that this looks being hosted on WordPress.

    Comment by Richard Wong | July 14, 2008 | Reply

  3. […] – bookmarked by 2 members originally found by jessimalay on 2008-10-06 Stock Photo Agencies – bookmarked by 1 members […]

    Pingback by Bookmarks about Stockphoto | October 20, 2008 | Reply

  4. Hi Richard,

    I’ve tried few of the ones you describe in your post. I agree with you with the carp list including all the microstock “agencies” who are just abusing photographer and rip them off by selling pictures as low as few cents while giving back ridiculous commission rates.

    However, I would also add Age fotostock in the crap list as they have a very blurry way of doing business.

    first they don’t show prices online. As a buyer or photographer, you have to fill a painful form on their site waiting to be contacted back, while better agencies like Getty, Corbis and Alamy give the price directly online in seconds.

    Why do they hide their prices ? What do they really want to hide behind that (very low prices and therefore low revenue for artists) ?

    Secondly:Slowness is their motto.
    Submitting images is only possible by FTP and take ages (maybe their name come from that).
    Reviewing times are the slowest in the industry (up to 30 days), and processes to keyword, amend pictures is made on a rigid, inflexible, unfriendly interface that you just want to run from as soon as you use it.
    Contracting with them is amazingly made like in old times, by post. It looks like in Spain the legality of signed electronic documents is still not a commodity of the 21st century. And again, it take AGES to sign, send and receive the signed contract.

    Thirdly: Very poor or no communication. While the rules and T&C on their website are well hidden and contain many contradictions with their current practices, they also fail to answer any request or question in a timely manner while ignoring totally what you might ask.

    Four: Organization: Zero. I’ve never seen such a disorganized way of doing business, they complicate everything while even the worst microstock carp is much more simple to work with. I have the impression here to deal with good old soviet union civil servant rather than a modern company.

    In conclusion, I wonder how they could survive 30 year with their amateurism way of doing things, arrogance, archaism, chaotic and unprofessional business skills.

    Comment by eLWOOD | October 11, 2012 | Reply

  5. Hi Elwood. Thanks for sharing your experiences with AGE. I know they’ve been around for many years, and I’ve communicated with them several times in the past about contributing but haven’t done so to date. That is odd that they would hide the price, when all the other agencies make them available. From what you describe, it sounds as if they have been slow to adapt to digital which is a common problem with big companies in all industries.

    Comment by Richard Wong | October 11, 2012 | Reply

  6. Hi Richard, thank you for sharing this info.
    We have a new stock photo agency specializing in vintage images at Please have a look, it is a good collection of old pictures.

    Comment by marco colazingari | December 6, 2012 | Reply

  7. Thanks for sharing, Marco. nice work.

    Comment by Richard Wong | December 7, 2012 | Reply

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