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What is Stock Photography?

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

I get asked this question a fair bit when I tell people about my latest passion project. Sooo, what do you mean? What is stock photography exactly?

What is Stock Photography?

Stock Photography Explained

Think about every article you read online, every blog post you read, every advertisement you see, even every business powerpoint presentation you watch - they’ll virtually all be accompanied by images. Think of the billions of different pages on the internet that all include photos or other types of images.

Some companies, like newspapers for example, can justify hiring their own professional photographers and may need highly specific images specific to illustrate what (or who) they’re talking about. Many companies will commission a photographer to shoot a specific advertisement for them highlighting their products. But more often than not, the images used are stock photographs - generic photos they’ve found on one of the many online stock photography websites after searching through their gallery using specific keywords to find exactly what they’re looking for.

Traditionally stock photographs were quite cheesy - think white men in business suits shaking hands with big smiles on a white background. Or a pretty blonde lady eating salad with a big smile and pearly white teeth. Those old-school stocky photographs are slowly (and thankfully) becoming a thing of the past as businesses opt for real people and more diversity instead, and recognise that people connect more with authentic images that actually reflect real life.

How big is the stock photography industry?

It’s big. There are billions of stock photographs available online. And nope, I’m not exaggerating.

On Shutterstock alone there are 350 million stock photos, graphics and illustrations, and another 250 million different images on Getty. 650 000 people contribute images to Dreamstime and 160 000 contribute to iStock.

And that’s just a little taste - there are more than 30 competing stock photography agencies around the world, growing rapidly.

According to Shutterstock's website, they've paid out more than half a billion dollars to their contributors.

While the demand for stock photographs is growing, the supply seems to be growing at a faster rate, as everyone with access to a smart phone can suddenly take great photos without having to invest in fancy equipment.

In short, if you're wanting to start out, it's more important than ever to find the gaps in the stock photography market and try to shoot what's in high demand but low supply.

What is Microstock vs Macrostock photography

I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of microstock or macrostock until this year. So, what is microstock and macrostock photography and what’s the difference between the two?

In simple terms, a Microstock stock photography agency has a higher volume of lower cost images, whereas a Macrostock agency has a smaller volume of higher cost images.

The benefit of a macrostock agency like Stocksy or Getty is that they’re very selective about which photographers they accept and equally as selective about which images they accept, so it’s much easier to find great images to use as you don’t have to wade through all the crap to find “the one”. You’ll save time and get great quality images, but you’ll pay a premium for it.

Microstock sites like Shutterstock or Dreamstime accept all photographers without an entry test and are much less selective about the type of images they accept - as long as they fit the minimum quality requirements. So you’ll have a much greater selection of photos to choose from, it’ll probably take you a whole lot longer to find what you’re looking for, but it will be there somewhere and you won’t pay much for it. The high quality great photos are all there - they’re just surrounded by other average photos that you have to sift through. For example, if you search for “bunch of bananas” in Shutterstock, you’ll find 120 THOUSAND image results. Thankfully (for buyers) the algorithms are such that the best and most popular photos are on the first page and very easy to find. Unfortunately (for contributors) you’re unlikely to have any luck making money from something as common as a bunch of bananas. Find that gap in the market instead!

Hopefully that answers the question of what is stock photography. If you're interested in giving it a go and making money by selling your photos, I recommend starting with these sites Shutterstock or Wirestock

Keep reading to learn more about selling photos online:

The gaps in the stock photography market - what you should be shooting

Shutterstock contributor review - making my first $150

Discovering Wirestock - the site that does all the keywording and descriptions for you: a review

4 reasons why your stock photos aren't selling.

Stocksy - getting rejected by Stocksy United

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