What is a Digital Stock Photo?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 28 May 2020
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A digital stock photo is an image file available for use by people willing to abide by the terms of a license agreement. People may be able to use stock photos for free or for a fee, depending on the use and the image, and the images are available for anyone to use. Stock photography for a variety of purposes ranging from news reporting to package design is available, and a number of companies offer digital stock photos.

There are a number of sources for stock photos. Some photographers specialize in stock photography, and may travel to take photographs of various locations around the world in addition to setting up studio shoots for staged scenes. Photographers may also agree to license their work for stock use, even if it was not shot with this use in mind. Many photojournalists, for example, allow distribution and reprints of their work, and some do so through digital stock photo companies.

The digital stock photo will come with a license agreement spelling out the terms of use. The person buying the photo may need to credit the photographer or abide by other terms, such as not performing certain kinds of edits. People who sell stock photos usually sign a basic agreement with a firm, allowing the firm to handle licensing issues, and may not have very much control over how, when, and where people use their images. Photographers interested in retaining more control may work with a personal agent or representative to protect their interests.

One advantage to using a digital stock photo is instant accessibility. People can sign license agreements electronically, transfer funds, and immediately download a high resolution version of the image to use. Many firms also allow people to download watermarked test images they can use in layouts and proposals to see if clients like the image before they pay for licensing. This allows people to play with placement of different images in a design to achieve the desired effect.

Fees paid for a digital stock photo can vary. Licensing images is less expensive than hiring a photographer, but the disadvantage is that the same image is available to everyone. People concerned about originality may want to consider hiring a photographer or consulting with a stock agency about obtaining an exclusive license for an image. Exclusive licenses are more expensive, as they limit the ability to sell the right to use the image to another person.


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