In the Picture

October 1st, 2007 Design Features, Desktop, Tech

Selling photos from collections is as old as the camera itself, but as Drew Turney discovers, the old dog knows some new tricks.

Who could ever forget the old days of stock photo purchase? You’d call the stock photo companies’ local office or distributor and pretty soon 10 and 20-kilogram boxes full of catalogues would start to show up at your studio. You’d put them all on a high shelf and — if large campaigns weren’t your business — rarely look at them again unless you were bored.

The advent of widespread digital connectivity opened the field for stock photo companies not just for provision but to flog their wares. Often with several million images in their stables, the big providers would never have the time or funds to disseminate them all by catalogue.

Some might have thought the old method of calling a stock library researcher to put together a virtual lightbox for you was doomed once we could search through libraries online, but the explosion in digital content has made in-house advisors who know their way around such exhaustive collections and the niches therein invaluable.

But the Internet’s wrought more changes to the photo library industry than just finding the photo you want. Where it was unwieldy to send your whole catalogue on paper before, it was impossible to send an entire video clip catalogue. Of course, in those days TV was about the only market for stock video footage, but our age of mobile and computer connectivity puts the potential for stock video clips in your marketing message in front of anyone. If Australia ever joins the rest of the digitally developed world with a decent broadband data network, it’ll open up the field for bigger — and more — content in stock video, music, animation and more.

New Paradigms

With the advent of ubiquitous and widely available stock photography — one provider claimed it takes three minutes for a shot to reach online availability after it’s taken — the old purchase conditions are evolving all the time.

There’s still the old staples of rights-managed and royalty free. If you’re
new enough to the area to not know the differences, it’s simply a matter of usage permissions.

Royalty-free images are provided on a once-only basis regardless of the use of the image. You can use it any way you like, for any purpose, for as long as you like. Rights-managed refers to when the restrictions and price of an image depends on how, where and for how long you’re going to use it. You simply tell the stock library all the details of your job including things like print run, geographic area, etc, and they work out a cost.

But there’s also subscription-based services, much handier when you need an image quickly and find it on your favourite photo library’s website. After paying a subscription fee you simply download it and it’s yours. JupiterImages claims to have invented subscription-based stock photography and their flagship offering — JupiterImages Unlimited — is their flagship, where one flat fee buys you unlimited daily downloads.

Industry leader Getty Images offers a service called rights-ready. Based on the rights managed model, rights-ready means your image comes with a 10-year license term regardless of the territory and with wide usage parameters to suit your campaign over a longer term. It also has eight price points to suit common commercial or editorial uses.

Movements and additions

In the pre-web era, you could have been forgiven for thinking the business model for a photo library was to just collect up as many millions of images as they could, sit on them and wait for an art director or designer to come along and buy one.

But it’s about much more than just having pictures under your belt. Like in any creative industry it’s about branding, and photo libraries will go in search of images that suit the many collections they represent.

But it’s not just about photo libraries finding the right picture and then making it available to you. Many images are commissioned directly by collection holders to ensure they have the sort of images in their stable that reflects the collection.

More importantly still, photo library providers need to stay abreast of what people are buying — the style and content in images that are making their way into various marketplaces as everything from photographic styles to hairstyles change. Last year it was reported Getty Images researchers conduct a regular forum called ‘taking the temperature’, where they scour the contents of magazines, digest websites in their hundreds, watch movies and follow fashion to take the creative pulse of society and identify trends as (and before) they happen.

There’s plenty of competition out there, and the players are always making improvements. Perhaps the most active in the last little while is AAP Image. Business manager Lane Markham explains more.

"In January this year we upgraded the backend of our website to improve search response times, and in March we changed to a new skin and sitemap layout to make searching for images easier too," Markham explains. "We also categorised images into four main sections — newsroom, entertainment, creative and royalty free and the response from our customers has been very encouraging."

As well as their image base having doubled in six months, AAP Image have included wider search parameters, so you can search by time period, orientation, composition and more, and they’ll soon be talking to their customers the way their customers talk to each other. "As always, our customers can call our research service agents until 10pm seven days a week, but by the end of the year we’ll have a web-based feature, similar to an online chat."

Corbis are one of the first off the block with another digital age feature — mobile content and a new way to simplify it. Where traditional stock photo content served its purpose in your print marketing, Spokesperson Michele Yeung explains that it’s a different world out there. "We’re adding new packaged options to existing rights-managed and royalty-free models to streamline licenses for advertising and broadcast channels like the Internet," she says. "They can be things like Web-only video commercials, webisodes and mobile device advertisements. We’re also combining traditional TV ad usage with web and mobile uses so you can extend broadcast campaigns to the Internet and mobile devices."

Putting their money where their mouth is, Corbis has a centralised collection of more than 30,000 images of common objects and backgrounds for applications like e-cards, screen savers, desktop backgrounds and galleries.

Fotolia is a new kid on the block and has made the very clever step of making itself easy to stitch into your own operation. Its recent upgrade (Fotolia V2) has given the company a 30 percent increase in image downloads and has made them ‘the leading micro-stock firm in the world after iStockPhoto’.

But what’s really cool about their site is that they’ve made their programming interface public. As director of communications Julie Wohlberg claims, that means you might find Fotolia anywhere. "We launched our public API (Application Programming Interface) to make it possible for partners to integrate Fotolia in their applications or products," Wohlberg says. "Dozens of partners from printers to blog platforms have integrated Fotolia in their services, and it’ll help developers build applications to improve the user experience with plug-ins, add-ons and widgets."

In another development, industry biggie Getty Images has itself dipped its toe into the often-murky waters of music. "We’ve recently stepped into the music licensing market," says spokesperson Simone Esamie, "so as well as searching and downloading film and stills online, it’ll soon be possible to do the same with music."

New Models

Services like iStockPhoto and Fotolia are forging a whole new paradigm in photo libraries, the former offering royalty free images for between USD$1-15. Welcome to the era of the micro-priced imagery library, the antithesis of the old school services charging up to several hundred dollars for a single image depending on the usage.

Then there’s the other new and in many ways most interesting thrust in digital photo stock — the entire photographic body of work of the human race prior to the digital revolution is slowly coming on line (literally as well as figuratively). We’ve had a little over a century to build up a huge library of our collective experience, and organisations from old world media conglomerates to museums are using their old, dusty wares in exciting new ways.

They’re coming into the public domain for commercial and reference use from bodies as disparate as the New York Public Library to John Fairfax, publishers of Australian newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Financial Review and Melbourne Age.

"We have a strong online presence with our current imagery," says Fairfax Media Information Services product manager Jane Brimacombe as she describes the vast back-catalogue of pictures in Fairfax vaults, "but we also have access to over 10 million hard-copy images – from early glass negatives right through to the dawn of digital media. If it can’t be found online, the research team is happy to conduct research on behalf of clients, which is free."

All that aside, there’s one huge change to the field of photography photo libraries can’t overlook, and that’s the fact that there are simply more photos than ever before. With more people taking more photos on more cameras, we’ve probably taken more pictures in the digital era than the sum total of human history previously. Within that huge network is a pool of assets bigger than the photo libraries could ever marshal alone.

Despite the free stock photo services like the Stock Exchange giving creatives access to a fantastic wealth of imagery, the photo libraries aren’t going to be stopped from getting in on the action. Taking a leaf from Flickr and similar user-generated content paradigms of Web 2.0, Corbis has created SnapVillage, a portal where photographers and their potential clients can meet, the former creating profiles and uploading images to a virtual marketplace, the latter dealing with them the same way they would any other photo library service.

Another micro-stock site, SnapVillage perhaps represents a large, expensive, full-service photo library jumping onto a bandwagon it knows will hurt its core offering before the tide turns.

Or it might mean something different. A casual search around free or user-generated stock imagery will reveal its good points (fresh perspectives, niche appeal), but there are still some pictures and styles of pictures you can only get from pro service that’s used to catering for agencies and studios who know the expense is often worth the result.

So perhaps — as in all creative industries changed by ubiquitous connectivity — there’s plenty of room for the old school libraries with their millions of images to co-exist with the small, cheap ones you can contribute to yourself. Like everything else in the new scheme of things, the conversation is now going every which way, and it’s taking the humble stock image with it.

The Needle in the Haystack

After dealing with so many stock photo companies and working on so many campaigns, you’re going to end up with a lot of photos. What do you do with them all, short of leaving them strewn around the server in oddly named folders with no indication what they were for?

We’ve all spent hours searching for a file we just know exists (with no idea it’s called 203_3443freCMYK.jpg), and there is another answer.

Good photo library management software works not just by filing your images and assets but tagging them with metadata to make tracking them down easy.

The trick is to devise a standardised categorisation plan across the studio or company that everyone adheres to, then apply it to the searchable metadata of each image in your library, which can offer you a larger array of search and view formats to find exactly what you’re after.

An application like Canto Cumulus is an out-of-the-box solution that offers all the above including a host of add-ons and user functionality. It’s accessible through a browser front end you can easily share with colleagues, clients and other stakeholders online, and has email, slideshows and other features built in to the application. Whether you’re a studio of 1 or 2 or a large organisation with hundreds of users, it’s scalable to your needs and could save you hours of fruitless searching.


Photo libraries

From the free to the pro, there are as many photo stock libraries as there are niches in photography, but kick your search off with our selection

Professional Photo Libraries

AAP Image


Getty Images



Jupiter Images




Stock Xchng


Fairfax Photos

National Parks NSW

Picture Australia

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (US)

New York National Public Library

Full client and publication list:

  • 3D Artist
  • APC
  • Auscam
  • Australian Creative
  • Australian Macworld
  • Australian Way (Qantas)
  • Big Issue
  • Black Velvet Seductions
  • Black+White
  • Bookseller & Publisher
  • Box Magazine
  • Brain World
  • Business News
  • Business NSW
  • Campaign Brief
  • Capture
  • Cleo
  • Cosmos
  • Cream
  • Curve
  • Daily Telegraph
  • Dark Horizons
  • Dazed and Confused
  • Desktop
  • DG
  • Digital Media
  • Disney Magazine
  • DNA Magazine
  • Empire
  • Empty Magazine
  • Famous Monsters of Filmland
  • Fast Thinking
  • FHM UK
  • Film Stories
  • Filmink
  • Follow Gentlemen
  • Geek Magazine
  • Good Reading
  • Good Weekend
  • GQ
  • How It Works
  • Hydrapinion
  • Inside Film
  • Loaded
  • M2 Magazine
  • Marie Claire Australia
  • Marketing
  • Maxim Australia
  • Men's Style
  • Metro
  • Moviehole
  • MSN
  • Nine To Five
  • Paranormal
  • PC Authority
  • PC Powerplay
  • PC Update
  • PC User
  • PC World
  • Penthouse
  • People
  • Pixelmag
  • Popular Science
  • Post Magazine
  • Ralph
  • Reader's Digest
  • ScienceNetwork WA
  • SciFiNow
  • Scoop
  • Scoop Traveller
  • Seaside Observer
  • SFX
  • Sydney Morning Herald
  • The Australian
  • The Retiree
  • The Sun Herald
  • The West Australian
  • TimeOut
  • Total Film
  • Video Camera
  • Video&Filmmaker
  • Writing Magazine
  • Xpress
  • Zoo