The Value of a Stock Photograph

Cradoc Bagshaw

It’s possible that you might have to battle with one client to get paid $150 for the use of a photograph yet you might get $15,000 from another client for the use of the same photo. What makes the difference?

The answer is image uniqueness, but this may not be what you think it is.

To some extent it has to do with whether an image is a “one of a kind” shot. But often the profitable shots are chosen by how uniquely the image fits the client’s specific need. Often these shots can be the non-spectacular images that you are thankful you didn’t throw away during an edit.

Agencies used to say that they only needed 10% of the images they had in their files, but they didn’t know which 10%. Buyers see things in photographs that have always been difficult for the sellers to predict in advance.

It’s understanding what the buyers are seeing, what is going on inside their head when they are looking at your photo, that will give you the edge when you negotiate with them. You need to understand what is going on from their point of view. You get this information by asking questions.

In stock photography the word unique does not describe your photograph as much as it describes the way your photography is being used in any given project.

Clients use your stock photographs to add value to their products. It’s that simple. Your job in negotiating a price is to convince the buyer that your image will add enough value to their product to be worth what you are charging.

Learning to judge the uniqueness of your image is one of the most important and difficult skills that you must acquire to compete as a stock photographer. It is an important skill because the amount of money you make is tied directly to your ability to understand the client’s needs. It is a difficult skill because the uniqueness of a single image can vary from sale to sale, depending on the value being added to a client’s product.

A second consideration with image uniqueness is supply and demand. It isn’t the number of photographs that can compete with yours, but the number that the buyer is aware of that matters.

In the past when an art director researched a particular image, he or she probably only looked at two or three stock agency catalogs at the most. Or they called one or two photographers. If you got the call, or if your picture was selected from the catalog, you probably made a sale.

Now, with the internet, art directors have many more resources for picture research with the on-line stock agencies, for both rights-managed and royalty-free images.  

Because of this common or ordinary images have a lot more competition, but one of a kind images will become even more valuable. If you can recognize the difference and negotiate properly you should still be able to be paid more for your unique work.

The way to develop skills in judging your work is through practice. Ask the right questions. You should also be familiar with the subjects and images that are out there. Scan magazines to see how stock is being used. Spend time online with the various agency websites and review their collections to get a sense of what style of imagery is grouped together. Research the “non-agency” way individual photographers can promote their work.

It’s important to get the best price you can for unique images to make up for lower prices being paid for common pictures. In the end it all comes down to your negotiating skills, and your ability to convey to the client the unique aspects of your image.

Cradoc Bagshaw has been a freelance photographer for over 40 years and is the founder of Cradoc fotoSoftware, the makers of fotoQuote, fotoBiz, and the fotoKeyword Harvester. A longtime advocate and champion of photographer rights, Cradoc has worked for years to educate and empower independent photographers. FotoQuote powers the  PhotoShelter rights-managed calculator. Learn more about his software products for photographers.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 3 comments for this article
  1. Ryan at 4:57 pm

    Having Unique imagery is important!!! In today’s market you have to be a great salesman also… Thanks for all the wonderful info on your blog!

  2. Tim at 5:41 pm

    This article was useless. No insightful info at all. We all know that a photograph has value, but the title of the article suggests that this ‘value’ would be defined and explained…yet, NOTHING. The content of the article was disappointing. I hate to be harsh and critical, but Photoshelter can do much better.

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