The industry is divided between two types of stock, Royalty Free and Rights Managed images. A royalty free image can be sold limitlessly through the agency, and rights managed images are exclusive. A rights managed image, which is the more expensive of the two, can be purchased specifically for the buyers one-time use. Some companies choose rights managed images to risk the possibility of brand confusion. For years the industry was dominated by rights managed stock houses until the more affordable royalty free agencies came along and revolutionized the business of stock.

Stock photography is an industry that has been around for quite some time and generates billions of dollars. There are many photographers that have dedicated their entire careers to exclusively shoot stock. A stock image is an image that communicates an idea or generates a feeling, to most likely sell a product or accompany a story needing photography. Stock images are all around us in every form of media you can throw a stick at. Open any magazine and you’re most likely to spot a stock image in use.

Above: Stock image © Michael Reese (article author)

Below: Image used on a book cover

Stock images are as varied as the photographers making them, but to shoot stock you must adhere to specific guidelines given by the agencies. The most important being plagiarism and copyright infringement. Stock images are designed to be a blank slate of an image to sell products. What this means is that if you like photographing runners, it would be beneficial to have runners in your shot not wearing any recognizable logos like the Nike swoosh. If Nike or any other company sees unauthorized use of its brand, it can sue and easily win said case through copyright protection laws. When shooting stock you must be mindful of this or remember to edit out logos in post production. One approach that many stock photographers take is to orchestrate/art direct the shoot in a controlled environment. An example would be to ask your models to wear neutral clothing absent of brands or any artwork, which will save you many hours in post production.

The other vital part of stock photography is having your models sign official and legitimate model releases. A model release is a legal form that states you have permission to use the models image for your stock portfolio, which protects you and the agency legally. There are also times when you will need a property release if you have photographed a recognizable private building (the rules differ at certain agencies).

If you’re interested in shooting stock, the field is currently wide open, especially with the introduction of Microstock agencies like the juggernaut iStock Photo. A microstock agency is one that is most likely online and sells royalty free images for $1.00 - $2.00 an image. This business model has revolutionized the entire field, and has become quite popular. Since photographers are now being paid "micropayments", the photographer must shoot and upload in bulk to make any significant gains at a microstock house.

The first step is to find the stock agency that suits you best. Read the guidelines, submit your work for consideration, and hopefully it’s the beginning of a wonderful partnership!

A great book to get if your entering into the stock photography world is: Microstock Money Shots: Turning Downloads Into Dollars by Ellen Boughn, Andres Rodriguez.

There's a ton of stock agencies and websites, but here's a few to get you started:
* iStock Photo
* Getty Images
* Corbis Images
* Shutter Stock
* Dreamstime

- Michael Reese