How Do You Do Premium Stock Photography?

Premium Stock Photography

While I’m sure many photographers have heard about stock photography, most probably haven’t given much thought to shooting premium stock photos. The vast majority of people doing stock photography shoot microstock. Companies like Fotolia and iStockPhoto manage millions of images, selling high volumes at low prices on a royalty free license. But if you’re an advertising agency you probably want larger resolutions, higher quality, something a little less generic, and a degree of exclusivity. That’s where the premium market comes in.

What is premium?

Premium stock photos have higher production values than microstock images. Usually shot using top-end equipment, art directed, professionally retouched and featuring niche content, premium images command higher prices and are available on both rights managed and royalty free licenses. Many in the industry still refer to this type of photography as ‘macrostock’, but the term ‘premium’ is the chosen buzzword of the industry leaders, Getty, Corbis, Image Source and Alamy. While microstock sites are now also offering ‘premium’ photos, the reality is that these images are still following the microstock business model and often lack the production techniques that make a stock photo a premium stock photo. has a great article that explains what makes a premium stock photo in more detail.

Better Royalties

Premium stock agencies not only sell images for higher prices than microstock agencies, but they offer their photographers higher royalty rates. As a person doing premium stock photography it is likely that you will sell fewer images than if you opted for microstock, but the earning potential from a given image sale is much higher. While many microstock agencies typically pay a 15-35% royalty, premium stock agencies offer between 30% and 50%. Image Source is even reported to be offering North American photographers a 60% royalty rate.

Choosing a license

Most premium agencies specialize in the rights managed license model. This requires image buyers to specify their usage to ensure that there is control over how images are used, allowing agencies to guarantee exclusivity. However, many premium agencies now offer royalty free images. For example, Image Source specializes in both royalty free images and rights managed images, as do Getty and Corbis. By comparison, microstock agencies Fotolia and iStockPhoto only license images on a royalty free basis.

Choosing the right license for your images is usually done by the stock agency, although most will consider your views if you have a strong preference. Ultimately it’s about choosing a license that will maximize the sales potential of your image. This really depends on the content you are producing, the underlying concepts portrayed, and market demand. With knowing what image buyers are demanding, the agency is usually in the best position to offer advice.

What to do next?

If you are interested in doing premium stock photography you should first think about whether you can meet the requirements. Do you have the equipment to produce 60MB images? Do you have the time and resources to research and retouch? Premium agencies are much stricter than microstock when it comes to accepting submissions so it is essential that you are committed to meeting the submission requirements.

If you are still interested in shooting premium stock, the next step is to get in touch with agencies to find out about royalty rates and the additional services they offer. Agencies sell your images, but many also offer art direction and keywording services, whereas others may not.

Make sure the agency you choose offers a dedicated art direction service and make sure you use it. This is incredibly important because art directors will be in a position to advise you when it comes to choosing the content to shoot. With lower volumes being sold it is essential that you produce and submit what buyers ACTUALLY want and not what you think buyers MIGHT want.

Remember, premium stock images cater to a completely different market than microstock. To ensure that your images are accepted and are then bought by image buyers, you must do your research, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be creative with your concepts; don’t just do what everyone else is doing.

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