Irene Lamprakou

What is Stock Photography?

It might seem an obvious question and an even more obvious answer to those that have had exposure to the industry, but for many just starting out, it’s often a question that requires a solid answer. So, for the benefit of newcomers to the Arcangel Images stock library or for those who just want to know a bit more about how it all works, read on…

Many moons ago, the photographic stock library was dominated by a small number of larger agencies, some did extremely well, some disappeared and some were bought up by the giants. Some of the giants are still dominating the market today.

Over the years however,  the industry has evolved and developed with some agencies such as ourselves creating a niche in the market, others did too, Photonica was one that we always quite liked in the early days.

So, what are the differences and how can there be space for them all?

Well, the answer is quite simple. You have large agencies supplying a bit of everything, medium sized agencies crossing sectors and of course also you have smaller agencies specialising in certain genres. On top of that you have different format and purchase/license options in which picture buyers can get their hands on images.

It can all get a bit confusing.

Here’s a snapshot…

There are three different models of stock photography:

Generally, the view is that there are three different models of stock photography:

  1. Macrostock: Premium stock photography, also known as traditional stock photography – Professional photographers
  2. Midstock: Stock photography priced between micro stock and macro – A mixture of pro and intermediate photographers
  3. Microstock: Low-priced and inclusive stock photography – Entry level and mid level

In reality, this is now probably outdated. With the evolution of camera technology and business models in the industry you will see a more mixed picture. One thing that is sure never to change is quality. There will always be images that fit into stock and images that stand out in stock and that is also where you tend to see variance in license. That is not to say that you can’t find quality in microstock, in the last few years microstock has developed and continues to grow in all areas.

There will always be a demand for low cost options as there will always be a demand for premium photography that cannot be sold or licensed at dropdown prices, this competition is what keeps the industry alive and workable across different industry sectors. Here is a breakdown of license models.

Royalty-free (RF)

In this model clients pay a one time fee without time limits on usage but nobody can have exclusive rights to the image.

Pros: can be cheap, lots of images usually in the portfolio

Cons: no exclusivity is a problem for many clients given competitive challenges in their markets, lack of choice with premium feel although getting better.

Rights-managed (RM)

Based on a license model around certain criteria such as:

: Usage




:Size of image

:print run



A wide choice of premium imagery taken by highly creative and proficient photographers, exclusivity so nobody else can use the image.


Can be a bit more expensive than other micro-stock although a very different product.

Public Domain (PD)

Says it all really … free to use without license in commercial and personal use.

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