Stock, Copyright and License


Sell Terms

By Andrew Hudson Published: June 7, 2011 Updated: September 1, 2016


By Andrew Hudson Published: June 7, 2011 Updated: September 1, 2016

We’ll be using the term “stock” a lot so let’s discuss it. A “stock photo” is a picture that you’ve already taken — it’s in your stockpile (your storage, inventory) of pictures available to use now.

The opposite of stock is “assignment” or “work-for-hire” photography, where someone pays you to take a photo. Notice the difference in time. Looking from the perspective of a designer, “stock” photos have been taken (past tense) and exist now, whereas “assignment/hire” photos will be taken (future tense) and don’t exist now.

Designers like using stock photos because the pictures already exist. Hiring photographers is time-consuming and expensive. Unless there’s something very specific that the designer, publisher, or client wants (such as in advertising), it’s faster and cheaper to buy stock photos.

In the past, stock photographers had to perform manual searches and mail slides (often originals), which required a lot of time and effort. But today, photography allows for quick searches of “tagged” images, and fast delivery with “uploading,” email, and “FTP.” The combination of cameras, computers, and the Internet, has greatly empowered photographers, allowing more people to make money from photography.

The key to stock photography is not so much the photo itself but the photo’s ownership. For this, we give thanks to the important concept called copyright.


“How do I copyright my photo?” You don’t. It’s already copyrighted. You don’t need to submit a form, and you don’t have to use that “©” symbol or a watermark — those are just customary ways of identifying the copyright owner.

Copyright is an intellectual property right which (in U.S. and European law) is automatically bestowed exclusively upon the author (you) at the instant the artwork is created, e.g. when you press the shutter release. If you took the picture, you own the copyright, and it’s yours to use. (Note that other laws limit what type of picture you can sell).

But: “Will publishers use my photo without paying?” Generally no, as publishers live by copyright law and they usually have established rates which they gladly pay. A more likely problem is that publishers may not know that you are the copyright owner, which goes back to that “©” symbol and watermark.

Now that you automatically own the copyright, you can sell rights to other people with a license.


The benefit of copyright, is that you can license your photographs. With a stock photo, you don’t sell the photo, you license it — you permit a client to use the image in exchange for money. You can negotiate the terms of the license — in what ways the client can reproduce the image and for how long — and the price.

For example, you can offer to license a photo to a magazine client for the following terms: $50 to use the photo on a web page, $100 inside the magazine, $600 on the cover, $1,000 on an advert, non-exclusive for one year. Thus, if the client uses your picture on the web and in the magazine, it’s $150, and if they want to do that for two years, it’s $300.

Most importantly, you don’t give up the copyright, you retain the copyright.

Since you retain the copyright, you can license the same photo again and again. (That’s why the above example included the term “non-exclusive,” to note that you can still license the image to other clients.) Thus, you can get a future revenue stream. You can do nothing and get a monthly check — now that’s the life. Many professional photographers make a large part of their income from stock.

Note that assignment photography can be different. If you are hired to take a photo, depending upon the agreement, you effectively “sell” the photo (the client owns the copyright). This is called “work-for-hire.” You get a one-time payment when the job is done, but you don’t get any money in the future (except, perhaps, from more work). Some professional wedding and portrait photographers get the client to sign an agreement stipulating that the photographer gets paid for the work and retains copyright, thus allowing them to charge for reprints. They get to have their cake and eat it. Smart.

O.K. With all that under our belt, let’s start selling some photos. The fastest way is with microstock.

Next page: How do I sell my photos?


Reply by Anonymous

October 8, 2014

I figured this out. Another issue is depositphoto review states they sell photos to shotshop so they pay contributors less is this taking advantage of sellers like myself trying to make as much as i can off my images?

also is it a bad thing dreamstime wants a seller to have images on the site 6months is this only to exclusive sellers?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

October 8, 2014


Shotshop is a German agency that DepositPhoto partners with. I believe you get the standard DP commission amount. So you get extra sales as though they were being licensed from DP (but not a higher rate commensurate to the higher prices on Shotshop). If you don’t want this, I believe you can opt out of the program by unchecking the box for partner sites on your profile page.

I think that “six months” is not a requirement. New (<6 months old) images get a higher rate than old (>6 months old) images, presumably to encourage new work to be added. Exclusive contributors get a higher rate, to encourage unique work. Competing agencies have similar terms.

Your photos are always yours, and you can deactivate your account at any time, and/or upload your photos to a competing site at any time.

Best wishes,

Reply by Shally

October 6, 2014

My jpeg images from film are too small to send to Dreamstime. How can i increase the size without the original film negatives? They aren’t 4MP.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

October 8, 2014

Hi Shally,

Your JPEG images may be > 4MP, even if they are < 4MB, as MP and MB are different (see below).

As for your question about increasing image size: There are ways to increase image size. This is often called “upsampling” and can be done in Photoshop, other image editors, and online at image editing websites. But a stock agency does not want upsampled images as they do not contain more image data, and often look murkier / less sharp.

The better approach is to get a new scan of the original film negative, or go to the actual scan file. If you had your scans put onto a CD, the files might be PhotoCD or TIFF format. You could submit the original scanned files. Or, if JPEG is required, use a desktop or online image editor to convert to a full-resolution JPEG.

As for my earlier point about MP and MB:

Drag the image file onto your Internet browser. The pixel dimensions should be displayed in the title/tab bar. If the numbers are greater than 2124 x 1416 (for a horizontal 3:2 image), then your image is greater than 3MP and sufficient to submit to Dreamstime.

MP (megapixels) is the size of the image, in pixels (picture elements). An image which is 3,000 pixels wide and 1,000 pixels high is 3,000 x 1,000=3,000,000=3 million pixels=3MP. MP describes the resolution of the image.

MB (megabytes) is the size of the data file; how much space it will take up on a hard drive. This depends on how the image file is encoded. For example, a 3MP image could be:

  • 1MB JPEG (compressed, 100%, 24bit/pixel)
  • 2.4MB PNG (lossless compressed, 24bit/pixel)
  • 4.5MB RAW (uncompressed, 12bit/pixel)
  • 18MB TIFF (CMYK, uncompressed, 48bit/pixel)

So the MB file size doesn’ directly tell us about image resolution.

Stock agencies, such as Dreamstime, care about MP. Dreamstime requires a minimum of 3MP, which is 2124 pixels x 1416 pixels (on a standard 35mm image with an aspect ratio of 2:3). This makes a 4”x6” print at 350dpi.

In your case, we need to see what the MP image size is. A 1.8MB JPEG image could be around 6MP (3000 x 2000 pixels). So you would be OK.

Best wishes,


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