When did Stock Photography Agencies Begin

When Did Stock Photography Agencies Begin — Detailed Answer

Over the years, stock photography has become part and parcel of the digital marketing world. As people are becoming more aware of the usefulness of stock photography, questions like what is the meaning and importance of stock photography, as well as for how long has stock agencies been in existence requires in-depth answers.

When did Stock Photography Agencies Begin
Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Also, individuals, businesses and organizations around the world are now capitalizing on the stock imagery to reach a global audience through a strong internet presence. But for you to understand the significant role stock photos play, you have to know its history, how it operates, why it is used, and the types that exist. These are the questions that we will try to answer in the course of the article. Stick with us!

What are the Types of Stock Photography?

The following is a list of the different types of stock photography:

i. Macrostock photography

ii. Midstock photography

iii. Microstock photography

Macrostock Photography

What is Macrostock Photography?

Macrostock photography is popularly referred to as traditional stock photography. The fee customers pay for macrostock image licensing is higher than the other types of stock images. But the good thing is that the customers get exclusive rights to any image they are buying.

In some instances, the right to use some macrostock photographs are limited to only a few customers to prevent adulteration.

Midstock Photography

How Expensive is Midstock Photography?

Midstock photographs are less expensive than macrostock images but more expensive than the microstock ones. In addition, midstock photography agencies offer both exclusive and non-exclusive rights option to customers.

Microstock Photography

What is Microstock Photography?

If you are looking for the cheapest stock photographs available, then what you will get are microstock photographs. These images are cheap because they do not come with exclusive rights.

Microstock photography, which began in the early 2000s, is the latest type of stock imagery. More volumes of microstock images are sold compared to others because they are cheap and readily available.

The microstock agencies stated out by selling CD-ROMs because they were the trend at the time. But as CD-ROMs phased out, the agency adopted more convenient methods like monthly subscription charges, credit top-ups, and one-off payment.

What are the Types of Stock Photography Licenses? 

There are three types of stock photography licensing and they include:

i. Public domain licenses

ii. Royalty-free licenses

iii. Rights-managed licenses

Let’s take a closer look at them…

Public Domain Licenses

What is a Public Domain License?

A public domain license gives the general public freedom to use stock images for personal or business purposes. In addition, there are no hidden charges or subscription fees associated with the use of stock images under public domain license.

Furthermore, the reason you can access these stock photographs for free is that the property rights to the images have expired, forfeited, or currently inapplicable.

Royalty-free Licenses

How Does Royalty-free Licensing Work?

Royalty-free stock photography licensing involves a one-off payment to acquire the copyright of a photographer’s work. Once the customer pays for the license, he is free to use the work as many times as he wants.

But the thing is, the license is not exclusively to a customer unless he is willing to pay additional charges for it. The royalty-free licensing works on a microstock photography model, so it’s not very expensive.

Rights-managed Licenses

What is a Rights-managed Licensing Agreement?

Rights-managed licensing agreement is a little different from the royalty-free licensing. It offers conditional use of the stock imagery even after a customer buys a one-time property right.

Also, in rights-managed licensing, a customer specifies what he wants to use the imagery for. And if any other unspecified need arises, he has to purchase additional property rights. Rights-managed licensing is available on an exclusive and non-exclusive agreement, depending on the use of the imagery.

Another thing to note is that rights-managed licensing is very expensive, so ensure it’s a worthy investment before purchase it.

How Does Stock Photography Agencies Work?

Stock photography agencies provide individuals and businesses with stock photos to facilitate their marketing campaigns and reach a larger audience.

When stock photographers create these images, they submit them to stock agencies. Then these agencies draft out a licensing agreement and showcase the images to customers who might be interested in buying them to increase their bottom line ultimately.

In light of the above, it’s safe to say that stock photography is a vital part of modern digital marketing.

Using Stock Photography as a Digital Marketing Tool 

Now that you have purchased a stock photography license from an agency, how does it help your business to scale up will be the question on your mind. So let’s dive into that.

Apart from the fact that stock photographs save you the precious money, time and sweat you would have used in developing original images for your business campaigns, they also offer invaluable benefits. To start with, you can use them for your personal needs or business campaigns.

Stock images can help to create, direct, and fill a void in your marketing campaigns. For example, creative directors and designers can use stock photos to improve their works and thereby attract more customers.

In addition, advertising agencies, bloggers, brand influencers, writers, and vloggers often use stock images when developing content that would resonate with their audience. So it’s not surprising that almost every event flyer, pamphlet, and poster you see on digital and traditional media has some elements of stock photography.

Due to the high demand for stock photographs, the industry tries to release new themes frequently while those that are unrecognized are phased out over time.

Also, stock agencies increase their fees for themes that are high in demand but low in supply. But the sad thing is that photographers now concentrate only on creating images that are high in demand while neglecting other low demand but vital themes.

Trends in the Stock Photography Industry 

Over the years, the stock photography industry has witnessed a lot of trends that helped shape the way we see the industry today. These trends have also reflected in the way people run their businesses and live their lives.

Stock photographers use their works for more than just business. They have succeeded in using their art to rewrite the negative narratives and misconceptions about a particular class of people. Some stock photographs question stereotypical roles in gender roles in society, while others navigate around the boundaries of cultures and traditions.

Furthermore, stock photographers have been able to imbibe the consciousness of societal challenges on the minds of individuals and business owners. Thanks to stock photographs, many persons are now aware of topics like sustainability, climate change, sexual orientation, race, gender equality, inclusion, diversity, and lots more.

Stock photography has also been a vital tool in politics and governance around the world. Through stock imagery, the people are now able to communicate their feelings and opinions to the government of the day.

When was the Term Photography First Used? 

While the term photography was first used in 1839, stock photography did not start until 1920, when printing presses used the available technologies at the time to produce photographs in magazines and newspapers.

Stock photography started because there was limited access or availability of some images. Photographers would reenact the scene of a particular limited or unavailable image and capture it. And that gave birth to stock photography. It was focused on themes that could be used for advertising like people laughing, working, eating, or walking.

Evolution of Stock Photography

Early stock photographs were shot with cameras that had only black and white films. And of course, those images were seen as a big deal at the time. But over the years, stock photographers began to make improvements on the way they edited existing stock images and the way they develop new ones. Check out this book on Amazon to learn more.

Additionally, these improvements led to the establishment of the first stock photography library in the early 1920s. In addition, the library helped to preserve and showcase over 20,000 stock images, which would have been lost within a few years.

Furthermore, after World War II, the stock image industry experienced a massive boom, thanks to the photographers who managed to create physical image archives that served as a means of documenting history. This archive was called the Gibbs-Smith system, and it helped researchers, students, and knowledge-seekers get easy access to the stock images about World War I & II.

Following the introduction of computer systems into homes and businesses in the late 1980s, the physical archives were transferred to digital storage platforms. This helped to better secure and store the images from theft and unforeseen circumstances.

Today, those digital libraries that stored images are now known as stock photography agencies. As the market grew, more stock image agencies were established to meet the growing demand. Some agencies grew to the point that they started establishing subsidiaries, while some emerging stock agencies formed mergers to survive.

Hence, as the competition in the stock photo market continues to grow, the macrostock agencies are have started slashing their prices or offer better services.

Who First Used the Word Photography?

The term “photography” was first used by Sir John Herschel, a British scientist in 1839. Photography simply means drawing with light and was coined from two Greek words: “phos” and “graphê,” which means “light” and “drawing,” respectively.

As a scientist, Sir Herschel, therefore, understood that the optics and chemistry involved in the invention of a photograph. So he explained that as light rays converge in a camera, an image is formed. And for the developed image to be captured, there has to be a photosensitive or light-sensitive material.

Today, it’s quite hard to imagine living in a world where photographs do not exist because they have become an integral part of human life. Photography is a way to freeze our priceless moments so that they can last in our hearts forever. Plus, everyone loves to take pictures now and then, just for the fun of it.

Who Invented the Pinhole Camera in 1811? 

The person who invented the pinhole camera is not known, but Ibn al-Haytham, an Arab scientist, was the first to study the working principle of the pinhole camera in the early 19th century. The pinhole camera is also called the camera obscura and it’s a simple camera designed to function without lens, so it has a very small aperture, unlike digital cameras.

Looking at a pinhole camera, you will notice that it is basically a box with a tiny hole in one corner. So, for it to work, a photographer allows light to pass through the aperture, which then displays an inverted image on the other side of the box. This natural phenomenon is called the camera obscura effect.

Hence, as time went on, other scientists took an interest in it and started performing experiments with it. But instead of using a box, they used a completely dark room with tiny openings to understand the movement of light rays and study solar eclipses.

One of such scientist was Giambattista Della Porta, who discovered that convex mirrors could be used to reflect images onto paper. But not too long after his discovery, the camera lens was introduced. And when the pinhole camera is fitted with a lens, it can be used as a good drawing aid.

Also, another scientist that took the time to study pinhole photography was David Brewster. After his years of study, he wrote a book, which he titled “The Stereoscope,” to describe how a camera works without lenses. Some other researchers that dedicated their lives to the study of pinhole photography include William de Wiveleslie Abney, James Ferguson, and Sir William Crookes.

Video: How a Pinhole Camera Works

This video sheds more light on how pinhole cameras work. Check it out…

What are the Uses of Pinhole Cameras?

The following are the uses of a pinhole camera:

i. Taking photos

ii. Experiments

iii. Editing negatives

Taking Photos 

To begin with, the basic use of the pinhole camera is to take pictures. Nonetheless, its sharp image depth and wide range of frequencies, makes its pictures quite attractive and unique.

Also, a pinhole camera does not require lenses or other digital features to take pictures, unlike most digital cameras. So the excessive reflection that comes with using lenses won’t be an issue.

Additionally, a very talented and professional photographer can use a pinhole camera to take pictures that can be mistaken for the ones taken by a digital camera.

So don’t be surprised if you see a very clear, smooth, and bright image that was taken by pinhole camera showcased with the ones done with digital cameras.


While most studio photographers may feel that the long exposure time associated with pinhole cameras is a bad thing, experimental photographers think otherwise. This is because the long exposure time provides ample time for experimental photographers to carefully images, movement of light, and blurry sequence of events. That’s the major reason why pinhole cameras are commonly used for experiments and researches.

The reason for the delay in capturing images with pinhole cameras is because of the absence of lenses, which would have helped to focus images onto the film. So, sometimes, it may take the pinhole camera about 20 seconds to focus, especially in poorly-lit areas.

Editing Negatives 

Due to the simple nature of the pinhole camera, it can be a great tool for editing all kinds of negatives. And unlike most digital cameras, pinhole cameras can work with different sizes and types of film. Hence, the end product of this is a clear, large, and bright image that can rival those taken with digital cameras.

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Stock photography started in the 1920s because of the need to have a location where images can be easily accessed. What began as a physical archive of images has now been transformed into thousands of websites.

Today, everywhere you look, you will see traces of stock photos because it has become part and parcel of society and the business world. Stock image agencies provide a wide array of stock images that capture different themes, subject matters, colors, and uses. Hence, as the demand grows, more photographers seize the opportunity to supply the needed works while making a living for themselves.

When Did Stock Photography Agencies Begin – Related FAQs

Are Stock Photos Free?

There are free and premium stock photos provided by different stock photography agencies. Individuals, businesses and organizations that needs free stock photos can get them in from agencies like StockSnap.io and Unsplash.com without any copyright restrictions.

Free stock photos are licensed by the Creative Commons Public Domain, so they can be edited, copied, distributed and commercialized without requesting for permission from the original creators of the photos. However, some stock photos, albeit free, require the user to give attributes when using them.

Is it Worth Selling Photos on Shutterstock?

Selling stock photos on Shutterstock is worth it because it is the biggest and most popular stock photography website in the world. Shutterstock does not only sell stock images, but also podcasts, and videos. This is why the brand has been able to make a payout of over $500 million since its 15 years of establishment.

Through Shutterstock, stock photographers can sell their photos, make money and still retain the copyright of their works. Shutterstock goes further by providing credit to photographers who are trying to build a reputable brand for themselves.

How Do I Choose Stock Photos?

The following tips will help in choosing the best stock photos:

i. Choose photos that depict the content they are going to be used in.

ii. Use only well-lit stock and clear photos taken by a professional photographer.

iii. Choose only high-quality, high-resolution photos.

iv. Editing stock images should be done with Photoshop, Canva and other professional editing tools.

v. Use relevant, contemporary and creative imagery.

vi. Do not choose an overused photo because it will most likely not draw the needed attention.

vii. For professional or business use, choose stock photos that are not politically, racially, sexually and religiously offensive.

Why are Stock Photos So Expensive?

From the point of view of a stock photographer, stock photos are only expensive because they should be commensurate with the effort in making the photos attractive, high-quality and in-demand. But then, not all stock photos are expensive. Stock photography agencies like Pexel, Pixabay, Unsplash and StockSnap.io offer free stock photos that usually do not even require attribution.

Expensive stock photos are so because the photographers are required to purchase licenses and copyright for them. The advertising agency is also expected to get a commission from purchases.

Is Stock Photography Dead?

Stock photography is not dead. It is still a source of income for photographers around the world. But the thing is, stock photography libraries make more money than photographers who create the photos. Stock photography was more profitable in the 1990s than presently because a lot of agencies offer their collections for free and with optional attribution.

With the multiplicity of stock photographers and agencies, the competition is fiercer than ever. The has reduced the profit margin and created the notion that the stock photography is slowly dying.

How Do You Sell on Alamy?

To sell it stock photo on Alamy, do the following:

i. Sign up on Alamy as a contributor within a few minutes.

ii. Go through Alamy’s stock images uploading guidelines and strictly adhere to them.

iii. Wait for a few hours while the Quality Control team of Alamy goes through the images to verify compliance with the stipulated guidelines.

iv. If the images comply with the guidelines, they will be successfully verified and the photographer will be prompted to enter tags and captions for them.

v. Once the tags and captions are added, the images will be on sale the following day.

How Much Can You Make Selling Stock Illustrations?

The amount of money that can be made from selling stock illustrations depends on their quality and number. A stock illustrator who uploads 10 great stock images cannot expect to make the same amount of money as someone who upload 100 high-quality images. The number of stock images a photographer has on a library is the portfolio that customers see and are compelled to buy.

The best-selling stock illustrations are the stylish and sophisticated ones. They are bought by people from all walks of life.