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Stock photography is the supply of photographs licensed for specific uses. It is used to fulfill the needs of creative assignments instead of hiring a photographer. Today, stock images can be presented in searchable online databases. They can be purchased and delivered online. Often, they are produced in studios using a wide variety of models posing as professionals, stereotypes, expressing stereotypical emotions and gesticulations or involving pets.

Industry structure  Photograph of participants of the first Solvay Conference, in 1911, Brussels, Belgium, Getty ImagesGetty Images and Corbis are the two largest traditional stock photography agencies in terms of revenue. They offer mostly photographs that have been shot by professional photographers. There are many alternative photo agencies which specialize in certain fields of stock photography, such as Photo Researchers. Stock photography is also available through microstock photography services, through which photographs sell more cheaply but in greater volume. Images are filed at an agency that negotiates licensing fees on the photographer's behalf in exchange for a percentage, or in some cases owns the images outright. Pricing is determined by size of audience or readership, how long the image is to be used, country or region where the images will be used and whether royalties are due to the image creator or owner. Often, an image can be licensed for less than $200, or in the case of the microstock photography websites as little as $1 for a low resolution license. With Rights Managed stock photography an individual licensing agreement is negotiated for each use. Royalty-free stock photography offers a photo buyer the ability to use an image in an unlimited number of ways for a single license fee. The client may, however, request "exclusive" rights, preventing other customers from using the same image for a specified length of time or in the same industry. Such sales can command many thousands of dollars, both because they tend to be high-exposure and because the agency is gambling that the image would not have made more money had it remained in circulation. However, with royalty free licensing there is no option for getting exclusive usage rights. Some stock photography sites offer low-resolution photography free for the purpose of preparing advertising comps to demonstrate a design. If the advertiser decides to use the image, the rights to use the high-resolution image then can be negotiated or purchased directly from the website. Professional stock photographers place their images with one or more stock agencies on a contractual basis, with a defined commission basis and for a specified contract term. Some photographers fund their own photo shoots, or develop imagery in cooperation with an agency, while others submit photographs originally produced as part of editorial (magazine) or commercial assignments.

Royalty-free (RF)
"Free" in this context means "free of royalties (paying each time you use an image)". It does not mean the image is free to use without purchasing a license or that the image is in the public domain.
Pay a one-time fee to use the image multiple times for multiple purposes (with limits). No time limit on when the buyer can use an image. No one can have exclusive rights of a Royalty-free image (the photographer can sell the image as  many times as he or she wants). A Royalty-free image usually has a limit to how many times the buyer can reproduce it. For example, a license might allow the buyer to print 500,000 brochures with the purchased image. The amount of copies made is called the print run. The buyer is required to pay a fee per brochure, usually 1 to 3 cents, for additional prints. Magazines with a large print run cannot use a standard Royalty-free license and therefore they either purchase images with a Rights-managed license or have in-house photographers. Rights-managed (RM) (sometimes called "licensed images")

The value of a license is determined by the use of the image, which is generally broken down along these lines;  Usage: (e.g. Advertising - "Above the Line", Corporate - "Below the Line" or Editorial - "News Media") Specific Use: (e.g. Billboard, Annual Report, Newspaper article) Duration: (e.g. 1 month, 2 months, 1 Year, 2 Years etc) Print Run: (e.g. up to 10,000, up to 1m) Territory: (e.g.; USA, Europe, UK, Germany, or whatever combination of territories are required) The terms of the license are clearly defined and negotiated so that the purchaser receives maximum value, and is protected in their purchase by a certain level of exclusivity. Rights-managed licenses provide assurance that an image will not be used by someone else in a conflicting manner. The agreement can include exclusivity, and usually recognises that this represents added value. Not all Rights-managed licenses are exclusive, that must be stipulated in the agreement. A Rights-managed image usually allows a much larger print run per image than a Royalty-free license. Editorial is a form of rights-managed license when there are no releases for the subjects. Since there are no releases the images cannot be used for advertising or to depict controversial subjects, only for news or educational purposes.
An important feature of web-based stock photography collections is that the images have been embedded with meta-data, therefore making the images searchable by using keywords.
Newspapers and magazines were first able to reproduce photographs instead of line drawings in the mid-1880s with the invention of the half-tone printing press.[1] Initially starting with staff photographers, eventually independent free-lance photographers took over.

One of the first major stock photography agencies was founded in 1920 by H. Armstrong Roberts, which continues today under the name RobertStock.

For many years, stock photography consisted largely of outtakes ("seconds") from commercial magazine assignments. By the 1980s, it had become a specialty in its own right, with photographers creating new material for the express purpose of submitting it to a stock house. Agencies attempted to become more sophisticated about following and anticipating the needs of advertisers and communicating these needs to photographers. Photographs were composed with more of an eye for how they might look when combined with other elements; for example, a photo might be shot vertically with space at the top and down the left side, with the conscious intention that it might be licensed for use as a magazine cover.

In the 1990s, a period of consolidation followed, with Getty Images and Corbis becoming the two largest companies as a result of acquisitions.[2][3] Today, stock photography companies have largely moved online. In the early 2000s, Jupitermedia Corporation started buying some of the smaller players in the market, aggregating them under the banner of their Jupiterimages division, and became the third largest player in the market. The availability of the internet provided a means for other, smaller companies to get a foothold in the industry.

Using the Internet as their sole distribution method, and recruiting mainly amateur and hobbyist photographers from around the globe, these companies are able to offer stock libraries of good quality for very low prices.

In the year 2000, istockphoto, a microstock image exchange website, began which later impacted the stock photo industry by driving prices of royalty-free images down as low as $1 per image. It was done because of the recent availability of high-resolution digital cameras in the mass market and the ability for amateur photographers to upload their images and share on the website.

In summer 2001, Google introduced an Image Search Engine with 250 million images from across the internet.[4] This marked the beginning of a new era which enabled smaller stock agencies to compete with the very large stock photography agencies.

In 2003, ShutterPoint, Dreamstime, and BigStockPhoto mimicked istockphoto's model of image sharing and became an established player. The trend was continued by fotoLibra in 2004 (with a maximum of 12 images free) and in 2005 Scoopt started a photo news agency for citizen journalism enabling the public to upload and sell breaking news images taken with cameraphones. In 2007 Scoopt was purchased by Getty Images, which closed it in 2009.