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Selling Premium Stock Photography

An Alternative Option to the Microstock Industry

Premium Stock Photography: Up until now, most of my stock photography guides have focused on helping you develop into a great stock photographer capable of producing photos to a standard desired by most agencies. You've got the equipment, you've got the experience and you know what people are looking for. All in all you're pretty good at what you do!

But what about those agencies that still won’t accept your work, the premium agencies that only accept the crème de la crème (and pay handsomely for it)? This guide is intended to help you get your photography accepted by premium agencies.

Note: All images greatly reduced in size/quality for web use.

Premium Stock Photography Surfer Underwater

Image: Mike Tittel / Image Source - 54MTI0065RM

The stakes have now changed. Images can sell for thousands, royalty rates can be more than 50%, but submission requirements are strict and the competition is tough. In short, to succeed you really need to know what you're doing! To help me put this article together I've asked Alex Jordan from Image Source to comment. To also provide some exclusive insights to help you succeed as a premium stock photographer.

A bit about Image Source

First, a quick note about Image Source…

Boasting the largest distribution network in the industry, Image Source is one of the world's leading premium stock agencies. We operate along with the likes of Getty, Corbis, and Cultura. Having specialised in premium imagery for over a decade, Image Source works with hundreds of professional photographers on a daily basis. Their personal touch and industry leading royalty rates have allowed them to become a firm favourite amongst the pro photographer community.

What does "premium" mean?

Whilst many microstock agencies talk about "premium images", the premium stock photography market differentiates itself. It does this by providing imagery with a higher production value, targeted at professional users. People such as advertisers and publishers, with a premium price point and licensing model. One that provides the level of exclusivity demanded by the intended customers. That's not to say that microstock images are not good quality, far from it. It's just those that are willing to pay a premium demand something a bit different.

Premium Stock Photography Man Shouting at Woman

Image: Liam Norris / Image Source – 17LI0046RM

Alex comments that:

"Premium photography can be interpreted in many ways; however from my point of view, there are obvious financial investments in shoots that can help. However, the subtlest of changes and attention to detail can truly elevate an image from being average, to competing in a premium market. The collaborative approach between an art director and a photographer can yield a visually strong and iconic image whilst retaining a readable, commercial message".

The intended use of a premium image usually differs to microstock images. Rather than being used for screen and small prints, premium images may be used on billboards, in professional publications and even TV. As well as requiring the equipment to produce images that scale to the required sizes, premium images must be thoroughly retouched so that quality isn't diminished with size. Model and property releases are also essential and there are more stringent checks to ensure that releases are accurate.

Premium Stock Photography Footballers

Image: Andreas Pollok / Image Source - 18AP0017RM

Is it hard(er) work?

In the pursuit of something a bit different, premium imagery is generally considered incredibly hard to produce and replicate. This may simply be due to access, such as to:

  • Factories
  • Hospitals
  • Laboratories etc

Or possibly the patience required to get the perfect shot. Either way, buyers are willing to pay a premium for the perfect image. An image that comes with a level of exclusivity that secures their investment. Consequently, premium agencies follow a more traditional high quality, higher price, low volume model.

Premium Image Licenses

Premium agencies tend to specialise in offering images on a Rights Managed license. This means that image buyers have to specify how an image will be used. This is reviewed by the agency and the request is either accepted or rejected. For example, the buyer may specify that the image will be used in the UK on a magazine cover for a print run of 500 between April and May.

Premium Stock Photography Couple

Image: Robin James / Image Source - 42RME0004RMG

On first impression this may come across as extremely limiting. However, agencies are able to manage exactly how an image will be used, allowing them to guarantee its usage history and future exclusivity. Premium buyers are therefore willing to pay a premium and a single image can be licensed for hundreds and even thousands of pounds.

However, many premium agencies also offer images on a Royalty Free license. Image Source, for example, licenses royalty free stock images, granting customers unlimited use for a one-time fee. Whilst exclusivity is not guaranteed, image buyers are able to use premium quality images at a lower price than rights managed, without being tied into a specific usage.

Producing premium stock photography

So now you know a bit more about what premium stock photography is, you can start thinking about producing premium images to approach agencies.

First of all you should make sure you have appropriate equipment. Premium agencies often require much larger images, in excess of 30MB and even as high as 60MB. You’ll never have your submissions accepted if your camera can't cope. Images must also be thoroughly retouched to ensure that quality is maintained even at the highest resolutions.

Premium Stock Photography Children Tug of War

Image: C. Camarena / Image Source - IS09A657W

You need to think about what you're actually photographing. Microstock tends to look fairly generic because it is demanded and sells well. The issue is that no one will be willing to pay a premium for something that is readily available as microstock. Premium agencies tend to go for imagery that is a little different and not too generic, or if the concept is generic, they look to explore new angles.

As an existing stock photographer this probably goes without saying, but you must secure model and property releases for your images. The release requirements of premium agencies can be tighter than microstock releases. If someone is investing in a premium image they are also investing in the security that the image is fully released. Agencies will have their own requirements so will be in a better position to advise on an individual basis.

Signing with a premium agency

Signing with the right agency can be the difference between success and failure. Most require a commitment of exclusivity, so you should always choose one that you feel will best meet your needs.

Exclusivity in itself should not be a problem. Many agencies have their collections represented through distribution partners. For example, Image Source has a number of collections represented through Getty and Corbis, whilst Getty and Corbis also have collections represented through Image Source. In fact, going exclusive with an agency that has a large network of distributors could be the key to increasing the exposure of your images.

Unlike many microstock agencies, premium agencies are usually very keen to form relationships with their photographers on a personal level. Possibly above all other factors to consider, it's essential that you choose to work with an agency that offers a dedicated art direction service.

This not only gives you a personal contact who can share the latest trending information, specific image briefs, advice and support, but it also gives you someone who can offer feedback, sound out your ideas and give hands-on instruction during shoots. Generally speaking, imagery produced with the assistance of an art director is likely to be more commercially successful than imagery shot without a brief.

Royalty Rates

Finally, look at royalty rates. Whilst most premium agencies offer royalties of around 50%, don't just go to an agency based on these figures alone.

Consider how much exposure you'll receive, the advice you'll be given, how likely it will be that your images will be sold and how you feel about working with the agency.

Premium Stock Photography People at Barbecue

Image: C. Camarena / Image Source - IS09A657W

Ultimately there's no right or wrong answer, some agencies will meet your needs better than others. So long as you've thoroughly researched who you will be working with and what it is you're producing, you should be in a great position to shoot premium stock photography.

Remember, premium isn't for everyone!

Becoming a premium stock photographer isn't the be all and end all! For many photographers, microstock has the potential to make more money than premium ever would. Both markets have their advantages and disadvantages and both markets have their own customer base. It's up to you, the photographer, to decide how you want to go.

Hopefully this guide has given you a bit more insight into shooting premium stock photography. If you do decide to shoot premium and are interested in shooting for Image Source you can enquire here.

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