Should You Seek a Stock Photo Agent?

In today’s saturated market for outdoor imagery, you should explore all options in marketing and selling your photography. Besides selling yourself, should you consider a stock photo agent? The answer depends on your area of subject specialty, the volume of your image archive, and how you wish to run your business.

What does a stock agent do? They house images, market them, distribute them, and pay royalties. Agencies are always on the lookout for talented photographers.  Stock agents want photographers who have the ability to consistently produce good imagery, lots of it, and in a new way. Today, they are wary of the photographer who shoots the usual subjects. They have plenty of imagery of flowers or the usual viewpoints in the national parks, but are eager for nature photography that illustrates today’s common outdoor and environmental themes.


How do you envision your business running? 75% of your time is in the field, 25% in the office or in reality, is it the opposite? Either way, a stock agent can be a valuable partner. Their websites are open 24/7 and your work can be licensed at anytime. Some agencies have researchers that monitor what is going on within the industry such as; trends, styles, political and economic changes, and they share this information with their photographers.

Would the stock agent be good for you? Most nature photographers do not have staff or resources to stay open 24/7 and deliver their

camping lake tent campfire beautiful adventure solitary reflection

This image once licensed to a beer company for $12,000 and it would not have happened without my stock agent.

products to clients as effectively or as expeditiously. With today’s demands for instant fulfillment, how many sales might you lose during the next two week shooting trip? One alternative is to set up your own e-commerce website and that may prove lucrative, but the administration and marketing required may keep you in the office more than the field.


Whether an agent is good for your business or not depends on your specialty. If you concentrate on your local community (the parks, the town, and community events), will the world will be interested? Have you researched the markets for these subjects? Are these images suitable for local, national, or international markets? If you shoot the 4th of July parade in your town (pop. 3600), who outside the local area would be interested in these images? If there is little international interest an agent may not want them.

If you shoot subjects such as the national parks, major city skylines, and current environmental subjects, you’ve vastly broadened your markets. Our parks and cities are major tourist destinations for visitors around the world making these images more in demand. If your area of specialty for example is rare and endangered tropical flowers, then how do the buyers of these subjects find them? This is such a niche specialty a stock agency may provide little help and selling yourself is the best option.


How does the calendar publisher differ from the ad agency when searching for images? In some cases there may be no difference, but generally speaking a calendar publisher is looking for the most beautiful images within a subject area. These images may be found searching an agency site, but it often is more efficient to work directly with the photographers creating the images. They list their needs and then email it to their photographer list letting them do the research. The ad agency will find the search of the agency website more fruitful because they are looking to fill a conceptual need and contacting individual photographers is often less productive. Consider a client in Germany looking for an image of a Sea Turtle to be used in an ad for a European company. How will they find you in Durango, CO, to buy your version? They probably won’t find you or buy your image unless you are with an agent or are highly recognized within the field.


Begin by researching the agencies out there and determine which is a close match to your area of interest. There are mega agencies that carry all subjects like Getty, Corbis, and Index while there are regionally specific general interest agents such as Idaho Stock Images or Alaska Stock. Then there are specialty agents that cover niches like Animals Animals, Grant Heilman (agriculture/horticulture), Lonely Planet (exotic travel) and others handling every possible subject from underwater to sports to scientific images. A search at the Picture Agency Council ( displays a list of members.

Next, determine their licensing structure and where you are comfortable placing your work. There are many licensing models but generally they fall into Rights Managed (RM), Royalty Free (RF), and Microstock. RM commands the highest usage fees and has stricter terms of use, but is clearly in the minority in volumes of sales. RF allows the client to pay once and use the images forever and prices rarely top a couple hundred dollars. Microstock is the low end of usage fees ranging from under $1 to $25 per use. Here again the client can use the image forever for one price. In this case you may make volumes of sales but be prepared to see your image on the cover of a magazine or book and your commission for the use being only a few dollars.

You should expect an image exclusive contract, meaning images chosen by the agent may not be marketed through another agency and quite possibly by you either. With the advent of the web, agencies have global reach and that has forced them to demand image exclusivity.


Selling nature photography to produce a reliable income is tough, but partnering with a photo agent is one more opportunity to increase income. Start by doing your research to insure a good fit with an agent who needs your work. Then dig in for the long haul, working closely with your agent and shooting high quality work because financial success will take time.

What’s your experience with stock agents? Please leave a comment.

This post originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of Currents, the journal of the North American Nature Photographers Association. If you are not a member, consider joining the best organization for nature photographer advocacy and learning.

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