Stock Photography Licences Explained

Stock Photography Licences

In the stock photography industry, we don’t actually sell photographs. We sell stock photography licences.

This is an important difference.

Remember this; Above all, the photographer retains the copyright to the photograph. The only exception to this is if the photographer sells the copyright. It is normal to demand a high fee in these circumstances.

A licence allows a customer to use that photograph for an agreed period of time and for a particular use. As a result, any use outside the terms of the licence could be classified as an infringement. As photographers we own the copyright to all our own photographs, irrespective of how many times the photograph ‘sells’.  Primarily the most attractive element of stock photography is that a licence can sell many times and we (as photographers) still own the copyright.

Lets look at the different types of stock photography licences.

Royalty Free

A royalty free stock photography licence is most commonly (but not exclusively) associated with microstock libraries such as Shutterstock. In addition they are usually available as a standard licence or as an enhanced licence.

All royalty free images must have model release forms for anyone in the images. Of course, all body parts require a model release form even when the person is unrecognisable. This may seem trivial but this is a professional industry and all libraries are looking to protect themselves should a claim arise.

Royalty free photographs demand that no logos or recognisable intellectual property are visible. If it is otherwise impossible to exclude them then  they should be erased using a cloning tool.

Furthermore it is worth noting that silhouettes are not allowed if it is of a recognisable form such as The Angel of the North.

stock photography licences
A man is stretching at daybreak in silhouette. This as an example of when stock photography licences are required, even though the person is unrecognisable.

Standard Royalty Free 

Primarily a standard royalty free licence allows a buyer to use the image as often as they want to. Its use usually includes:

  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Books
  • Electronic usage (websites etc)
  • Emails
  • Slideshows and presentations
  • TV shows
  • Movies
  • Advertising
  • Brochures
  • Billboards
  • Business cards

A standard royalty free licence usually has a maximum print run of less than 500,000.

Maybe some of the usages mentioned above will give you ideas that you could shoot? (maybe you could think of some business card ideas?)

Enhanced Royalty Free

An enhanced royalty free licence can be used for all the usages mentioned in the standard licence. In addition the image can also be used for commercial purposes including:

  • T shirts
  • Calendars
  • Mugs
  • Other projects where the buyer wants to resell the image and the image adds value to the item (Jigsaws, postcards  etc).

The buyer routinely has print runs in excess of 500, 000 for any purpose.

Rights Managed

A library that offers rights managed licences is usually known as a macro stock library.

This is a good place to sell images you take on your holidays or in your home town that contain people you don’t know. These should be available for sale as editorial use only.

A rights managed stock photography licence has tighter controls  regarding what an image can and cannot be used for. Consequently this will typically stipulate what an image may be used for and  the period of time the licence lasts.  In addition when the licence expires the customer can purchase a new licence to continue using the image. This can become a revenue stream with repeat sales!

Furthermore, factors that determine how much a licence sells for include:

  • The size and resolution of the image.
  • The purpose of the image, the industry and its use. (Advertising, newspaper, book cover, etc).
  • The geographical limits of the limit (UK, worldwide etc).
  • The medium for intended use (TV, website, presentation etc).
  • The length of time.
  • The print run or volume of copies
  • If the customer wants an exclusive licence (as available!)

Finally, the most noteworthy stock photography libraries that sell Rights Managed licences are probably:

  • Alamy
  • Getty

I know from experience that Alamy have a very good discussion forum where members can ask and usually get good answers.

This is a good place to start doing further research.

Stock photography licences: My opinion

It is worth noting that individual libraries terms and conditions do vary and so all the above is in very general terms. Furthermore, if there is a specific query you want answering you can leave a comment below or you can ask the library direct.

In my experience, a rights managed portfolio is the most financially lucrative option as they usually achieve higher licence fees than royalty free licences.

Microstock libraries usually sell royalty free images for pennies or a few pounds. While macro stock libraries selling RM achieve sales for substantially higher fees albeit less frequently.

However, this depends upon which library you place your images with. It is worth remembering that some libraries such as Alamy allow you to sell both types of licence. Alamy merely stipulate that any RM image is not  available for sale as RF on other sites.

Whichever route you decide to go down, you shouldn’t place the same photographs on micro stock sites and macro stock sites at the same time. While this may seem obvious, I have seen examples where the same photo is available on both. This seems self defeating to my way of thinking.

Finally it is worth remembering that photo buyers are looking for bargains too just like everyone else. If the photo is available cheaper on one site then guess where they will buy it from?

It’s a good idea to get the basics of licences nailed so that you don’t get wrapped up in a legal battle years down the line. It does happen so be warned!

And remember, If possible always get a model release form. Even if you intend selling it as rights managed. It is simply good practice!

Simply for clarification:

Macro sites usually sell rights managed (RM) e.g Alamy, Getty.

Micro sites usually sell royalty free (RF) e.g Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolio.

Model Release Forms: Are they required?

Do I need model release forms?

Model release forms sometimes confuse photographers but they are usually straightforward.

Should you use one?

The short answer is YES!

The long answer is NO!… (sometimes)

Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t.

Model release forms simplify stock photography but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have one. It merely limits what you can and can’t do with your photos.

It may not always be possible to get a model release form, however if you can then do!

Lets try to break this down a bit.

The nuts and bolts of using Model Release (MR) forms

Model release forms are contracts or legal documents that stipulate:

  • Contact details of the photographer
  • Contact details of the model
  • Details of payments exchanged.
  • What the photographs may be used for.
  • What the photographs may NOT be used for.
  • Who owns and has copyright of the photographs.

No matter how well you know someone and regardless of how well you think you can trust or rely on someone, the watchword is ALWAYS!…ALWAYS get a signed model release form (if possible). Relationships, attitudes and a host of other things can change over time. Your model may happily sign a model release form today but change his/her mind over time. Sometimes problems arise after a licence is purchased. These become issues beyond your control and a good model release can be your best friend!

General members of the public sometimes have a mistrust of model release forms and be suspicious when asked to sign anything in case they are signing something away or something that will be used against them.

When requesting a model release form it is always best to ask in a polite and courteous manner. Simply explain what you hope to do with the photo and where it may potentially be found. Often people are just interested as to where it may end up and are flattered. Usually a friendly smile is enough to sway it… and don’t forget to say please!!

When to USE Model release forms

This depends upon which library you are submitting to.

Some libraries such as Shutterstock insist on model release forms when individuals are recognisable, so ALL Shutterstock submissions require a model release form when people are in your photos.

Regardless of the library, if the photograph has potential for use in advertorial work it should always have a model release form attached. It could possibly cost you sales if you don’t have one.

If in doubt use a model release. It can make your life a lot easier just for the sake of a piece of paper and a pen! It can also remove nagging doubts you may have and end any possible litigation from models who change their mind years down the line regarding using their likeness.

You should upload model release forms to the library when you submit your photos however some libraries such as Alamy allow you to add model release forms at any time.

Model release forms are required for all body parts even the the model is unrecognisable
© Stock Photography Tutor

This involves scanning the model release form by uploading it to the library then attaching it to a specific photo or series of photos.

Model release forms are required for ALL body parts on some libraries even when the model is unrecognisable.

Occasions when you don’t need Model Release forms

As previously stated it’s better to have model release forms if possible but they aren’t always essential.

Some libraries such as Alamy don’t require model release forms as they sell rights managed (RM) licences in addition to royalty free (RF) licences. This can be a good outlet for your photos if they are of public places and have general members of the public in your photos.

Photos of still life and wildlife don’t require model release forms. This includes food and cooking which can be a good outlet if you aren’t happy using model release forms.

Organising your Model release forms

I find it useful to use a system when labelling model release forms so that they are easy to find

I put all scans of model releases in a separate folder and then I use a specific format.

If I was labelling a model release form for a model called John Smith after a shoot in which he was ironing and the date of the shoot was today (29th April 2018) I would label it as such.

180429 John Smith Ironing

This gives it some meaning and a degree of organisation such that any subsequent shoots would automatically be in chronological order. I find it works great!

Most libraries offer a template to download.

It’s good practice to print these off and carry them around with you when you are out and about.

This is an example of a good model release form.

 Alamy model release form

The Alamy model release form is acceptable at libraries including Shutterstock but you should check first if you plan on submitting to other libraries.

One word of caution!

A separate model release form is required for minors under the age of  18 years of age and signed by a parent or guardian.

Nude models are required to be over the age of 21 and this includes when the model is unrecognisable.


3 Tips to INCREASE stock photography sales

3 Tips to INCREASE stock photography sales

“How can I increase stock photography sales”

Once you have started down the path of stock photography then it is only a matter of time before your find asking yourself this question.

Does it sometimes feel as though you have hit a wall and your photography is getting stale?

Sales have plateaued with no sign of getting any better?

We have all been there!… It happens to us all!

You hit a rut and no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to get out.

It’s not getting into a rut thats the problem. it’s staying there!

Well there is some good news!

With a structured approach you can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes it’s simply a case of looking at it from a different angle.

I’m going to share with you 3 tips to make you think about your photography from a new angle and to help improve stock photography sales.

1. Copy space helps to increase stock photography sales

This is sometimes referred to as ‘negative space’.

Copy space is an area of your photograph where the buyer can insert their own text (also known as copy).

Many years ago when I first joined camera a club I can remember being told to ‘fill the frame’.

Filling the frame is supposed to give your photo more impact but it can also be detrimental. It all depends who is looking at your photo, and what they want to do with it.

Thinking differently can help increase stock photography sales

Did you know that filling the frame  can cost you sales?

Maybe It sounds disturbing and alien to everything you have been taught?

When you go to camera club or are reading through photography magazines, you aren’t necessarily looking to sell your images.

In the professional world of stock photography, different rules apply.

Heres the reason why…

If a buyer wants to insert text into a photograph then they will be looking for a photograph that isn’t too fussy. They are looking for  photograph where there is an empty area into which they can insert their message.

If the image is full and too busy then their message will get lost in the sea of ‘noise’.

However I have some good news for you!…

So are most of the photographs out there!

And the best bit is…

You can use this to your advantage!

Heres how…

Next time you are out shooting just think a bit more carefully before you press the shutter and allow some space for text. It’s simply case of re framing your photograph. Slow down. Think before you shoot!

In time it will become more natural and you will be doing it without thinking too much.

But for now, think first!


Photo of London Shard that demonstrates how to increase stock photography sales
© Stock Photography Tutor

You can see in the example above that negative space allows the buyer to insert their own copy.

And that’s not all!

It isn’t just about achieving a higher volume of sales…

When you have images with copy space, there is the added bonus that they are more attractive for advertising purposes.

And this is the best bit…

Advertising licences attracts bigger prices!


2. Rotating your camera can increase stock photography sales

I bet your thinking that rotating your camera sounds too easy to be true?

Sometimes in life, the simplest things are the best.

This is also true in stock photography.

Let me explain!

Ever thought of producing a book cover?

Some picture buyers are looking for a certain type of photograph.

Publishers need a photograph that is taken in portrait mode, and need it for a very specific purpose.

They are looking for an image to illustrate a book cover.

The range of topics can be quite varied but therein lies the upside!

Almost any subject can make the grade so it makes perfect sense to make it work around your area of expertise or interest

However to make regular sales of book covers then the need to do some basic research and study the style of photography that is craved by publishing companies is imperative.

First of all decide which subject areas you would like to tackle. Its good to try and specialise, at least, initially so that you can become proficient on a given subject.

You may have easy access to children in your family with parents who are willing to sign a model release form.

Maybe you have attractive family members who fancy modelling?

Or elderly family members?

You don’t even have to have people in your photographs. It’s very cliched but think about all the murder mystery books that have a knife or a gun on the cover. (and yes It’s ok to use imitation guns!)

It’s about working with the attributes at your disposal. We all have different strengths therefore  it’s about working with them and not wishing things were different.

Copyspace can increase stock photography sales

Another element of book cover photography is something that I mentioned earlier. Copy space.

example of photograph used to increase stock photography sales
© Stock Photography Tutor

Copy space is crucially important to book covers for obvious reasons. Remember to PLAN the photograph and leave negative space into which a title can be inserted. This is important but something that is easy to overlook unless focused.

The thought of producing a book cover may seem daunting when  you first start but in fact it is no more difficult than any other area of stock photography.

What are you waiting for? Give it a go!

3. The best way to increase stock photography sales.

There is no easy way to say this so I’m just gonna come out and say it…

Better keywording!

Keywording is the means by which picture buyers will find your photographs.

It’s not glamorous and it’s not sexy but it is essential!

Too many keywords (otherwise known as spamming) can be detrimental to your ranking within the agency (or library). However when they are done with thought and reason they will produce results time and time again.

Where possible,  it is worth going over all your old images to see if they can be improved. Some libraries don’t allow keywords to be changed, but some do!

Sometimes you may remove words that you think are superfluous and unnecessary but equally you may find terms that simply have to be added. It can be surprising just many times you add words that seem impossible to omit.

I wrote an article about keywording photographs earlier this year.


Stock Photography Ideas: Finding new ones

New stock photography ideas are easy to find aren’t they?

Do you find yourself running short of stock photography ideas?

I used to be like that too! But now I can quickly and easily come up with new stock photography ideas to keep me motivated.

In this post I am going to show you where to look for inspiration so that YOU always have new ideas for your next shoot!

Always having something to shoot regardless of the weather or your location will guarantee that you can be shooting with purpose everywhere and anywhere!

Stock photography ideas on the TV!

The TV and radio is a great source of inspiration when it comes to finding stock photography ideas. The same stories that you hear about on the news are the same stories that will appear in the newspapers (both print and online).

Keep your eyes and ears peeled and look for trends. I can remember when the word Brexit first became a ‘thing’. I already had an image of a union jack and the European union flag flying side by side. It had been a part of my portfolio for years but only sold once. I simply added ‘Brexit’ as a keyword to my image and very shortly I had numerous sales simply because I had spotted an early opportunity and acted on it. Back then there was only a handful of images with the Brexit keyword. It has been my best selling image every year since then.

I benefited by seeing an opportunity. The same library now boasts over 62,000 images relating to Brexit. The opportunity has gone, but new opportunities are appearing every day!

I recently wrote in my photography blog: A day at a the coast regarding the issue of plastics being found in the sea. I believe this story will run for years. Just saying! 😉

Stock photography ideas that are different sell more!

Do you want to find ideas that are original?

You can!

And the best part is…

They sell more! They sell more than obvious, cliched, overdone photos of a smiling woman eating an apple!!

I’m being facetious, but only a little bit.

The pictures of attractive women smiling and eating apples with a healthy glow obviously sell, but the competition for those types of images is colossal!

It has been so overdone that I would never even contemplate trying to compete! Why would I?

It’s so much easier to find your own niche where there is only a little competition. With a little research it’s easy to find such subjects.

And thats not all…

Many of these subjects can be done at home using everyday objects and people. Look around you and look for subjects that you could use.

Question yourself every time you buy something. How can you use this?

New items photograph better than used items. They are clean and shiny. This is especially true if you are doing close ups. In  an image orientated business you need to think in these terms.

I can say that speaking from my own experience. Thinking differently to everyone else pays dividends. Think in terms of opposites!

Try this on your computer…

Using any photo library, type…

" young woman smiling apple"

I picked Alamy and found 17,548 examples

Now type…

"old woman smiling apple"

I picked Alamy and found 1,048 examples

And the best bit is …

In the second search, most of the images were of a young woman! Obviously this only frustrates the picture buyers but it increases your chances even further as there is even less competition than first thought!

If I had to choose between the two I know which market I would rather focus on!!

Don’t look too far for stock photography ideas

Where do Mexicans travel to when they want to shoot travel photography?

The UK maybe??

How often do you think to yourself

“I can’t do travel photography because I live in ************,  If only I lived in ##########”!

Wherever you live, there are countless opportunities for travel style photography. You just need to take a step backwards and try to see it as a visitor would.

What would I shoot if I visited your town?

What would you shoot if you came to my locality?

Can you see how this works?

Travel photography is a style rather than a location.

Sunny skies with a few fluffy ‘dry day’ clouds are the mainstay of travel photography. Try  to include people but always get a model release if at all possible. If you can’t get a signed model release then upload it as ‘editorial use only’.

Night photography can transform a location. Somewhere that looks a bit drab and uninteresting during the day can be transformed at dusk.

Really it should be called dusk photography. When the lights are gone and all that’s left is black sky then its time to pack up and go home!

Regardless of where you live you have the opportunity to produce outstanding travel photos. You just need to change your thinking.

How far do you need to go in order to shoot travel photography?

…Not very far!!

Stock photography ideas at local events

Every week of the year I can pick up the local paper and read about upcoming events that have huge potential for  stock photography ideas!

Its almost as if the world is centred around me and my photography!

And the best bit…

Most of these events are free!

Does it get any better?

The options for stock photography ideas is almost endless.

I live in a small village and yet there are countless ideas that just seem to scream ‘shoot me’. From the Village Fun Day on the green to the local bonfire on Guy Fawkes night and the local amateur dramatic society the opportunities seem endless!

© Stock Photography Tutor

This young lady was found at a steam punk festival in a local railway museum. There were numerous people dressed up in the steam punk style. Access to the museum was free!

There are many events which are advertised locally ranging from veteran car rallies to bell ringing. They all make excellent subjects.

If approached in the right manner you may be able to find willing models for planned photo shoots.

Just remember to always get a signed model release whenever possible.

Regardless of where you live and irrespective of the weather there are always countless opportunities for stock photography ideas to be found. You just need to change your thinking and open your eyes.

Further reading and stock photography ideas can be found in this selection of books available from Amazon.