Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 10 | WebReference

Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 10

Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 10

By Nathan Segal

This week is the last article in this series which features an abbreviated glossary of terms, information on stock photography pricing software, image editing applications, resource materials and Web sites.

Below is a list of stock photography terms and definitions discussed in this series. More information is available in the reference section.


A contracted assignment to create a specific image or images. Costs are usually agreed upon in advance. In addition, unless stated otherwise (in writing), all images belong to the photographer.


“Comps” are low resolution image that you can download from a stock photography Web site and use as part of the layout and design process. This will help determine if your design "works," or if you need to choose another approach or image. It's an excellent sales tool.

Copyright Issues on the Web

Enforcing copyright on the Web is an entirely different world. There is often the prevailing attitude that: "If it's on the Web, it must be free." This isn't true, as many people are finding out. One of the reasons that copyright issues are so challenging is that there are many gray areas. One good resource for copyright issues is Photosource International, a Web site designed for stock photography professionals. It deals with many issues and will answer a lot of questions.

Copyright Ownership as an Employee/Independent Contractor

If you work for a company as an employee and you take photographs as part of your job, then those images belong to your employer, unless you make prior arrangements otherwise. This applies even if you've not signed an agreement. If ownership of the photographs is important to you it's necessary to create an agreement in writing of your request. A verbal agreement is not enough.

If you're an independent contractor/freelancer, the photographs that you take are yours, but when you hire yourself out to a client there may be some misunderstandings about who owns the images (and the copyright). According to copyright law, those images belong to you, the originator, unless you agree otherwise. See the Assignment definition above.

Image Slicing

A valuable techinique for the Web, image slicing allows you divide a single image into multiple smaller files, where each slice is an independent file. These individual files contain their own settings, such as optimization, rollovers, etc.

Model Releases

Quite often, stock photography depicts people as the main subject. As a result, photographers need to be aware of the private and public rights of individuals that they photograph. The purpose of the model release is to create a legal contract between the photographer and the model, giving the the photographer permission to market and publish the model's image (likeness) for a wide variety of purposes, including advertising. While a model release is generally not required for editorial use (as in books), it's required if the image is for use in advertising. Stock agencies often ask for model releases, partly because it increases the market potential of the images.


Refers to the people who buy images. Examples are Art Directors, Book Publishers, Photo Editors, Web Designers, etc.

Property Release

Similar to a model release is the property release. Like the model release, the property release is a contract between a photographer and the owner of property that has been photographed. The reason for this release is that some locations or objects could potentially cause difficulties if they're photographed without having a release in place.

Public Domain Photographs

When looking for stock photography, you can sometimes lower or reduce your costs by using public domain images. A good source for these is at You can search for images on their site, pay low prices for images and hire a photo researcher to find images for you. An additional resource page lists a number of free articles and books on the subject. you can write to directly at: National Press Building - Suite 296 - Washington, D.C. 20045 Tel: 1 (202) 277-8985 Fax: 1 (770) 818-5513 E-Mail:

For further information about what images may/may not be in the public domain, check out this document at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Reading Room. You can also browse through their catalog. Be aware that not all images on these sites are in the public domain. To find out more, you need to read through their legal notices.

Rights Protected vs. Royalty Free

Rights protected images are licensed for a specific period of time and for a specific application which is negotiated in advance. The reason one would use rights protected imagery is to prevent competitors from using the same image in the same marketplace. Only after the prescribed period has elapsed is the image free to be licensed for another application. Another option is purchasing complete exclusivity for a period of time where the image is licensed to only one client and no one else. In this case, the fee would be considerably higher as the image is taken out of circulation until that license has elapsed.

In contrast, royalty free stock photography gives the image buyer the option to use the image in as many ways as desired while only paying one fee.

Royalty Free by Subscription

Another option is to purchase royalty free images by subscription, where you pay a monthly fee, then obtain the ability to download large quantities of images. Some agencies which offer this service are Comstock (part of the JupiterImages division), Imagegrabber and ShutterStock.

Note: Fees and file requirements will vary, so you’ll need to contact each agency to obtain their terms.

Royalty Splits

This is the commission structure between the stock agency and the photographer. When I got into stock photography, that split was 50/50. Today, royalty splits are often 60/40 in favor of the agency and can be even more, depending on the agency.

Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a photographic technique where you create imaginary lines in your field of view, breaking up the image into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. The task is to place the key elements of your image where the lines intersect. While this creates balance in images, it can also lead to images becoming static, where the main focus in on the center of the image. Breaking this rule and experimenting with different placements will give you more creative freedom.

Stock Agency

A company that specializes in the marketing of stock photographic images. Their databases can contain anywhere from thousands to millions of images. The usual format is 35mm but can extend to 4x5 and even higher, especially with digital image. In addition, digital imagery simplifies the process, as there is no longer the need for storing transparencies.

Stock on Demand

The modern use of images has given rise to the term "Stock on Demand," meaning that you can sort through images online, make a selection, pay for it and download it within hours or minutes, depending on the file size and the agency arrangements. In some cases you can search for photographs though a single interface. A couple of companies that provide this servcice are ImageGrabber and the JupiterImages division.

Image Editing Applications

Currently, the image editor of choice (in my opinion) is Adobe Photoshop. I would venture as far as to call it an industry standard, but it's not the only image editor on the market. One can make use of Paint Shop Pro, ULead PhotoImpact or Corel's Photo-Paint (part of the Corel Draw graphics suite).

One of the more common sets of plug-ins also comes from Corel, the KPT filter collection. Other notable manufacturers are Alien Skin and Andromeda software. An in-depth list of plug-ins can be found on the Adobe web site

Stock Photography Pricing Applications

The main application that I use is Fotoquote, published by Cradoc. This application is used by many stock professionals to determine image pricing. You can also get an idea of what images cost by visiting some stock photography web sites which have a pricing calculator built into their service. A good example is Index Stock. Using the drop-down boxes, you can get an idea of how image pricing works.

Other Stock Photography Applications

Photo Agora offers complete stock photography management. A sampling of features are: delivery memos, creation of low res image pdf files for digital submissions, invoicing, keyword and self-customized category searches by thumbnail or list, contact management, and more (designed to run on the Macintosh only).


Web design is a combination of skills so quality resources on the subject tend to be few and far between. Design includes skilled page layout, graphic design, use of white space, rhythm and nuance. On WebReference, have a look at our HTML Style section and Production Graphics for more information. Another invaluable rerource is Dmitry's Design Lab. Dmitry Kirsanov, author of Top Ten Web Design Tips and HTML Unleashed, shows how you can use Style Sheets, graphics, and layout to make your pages stand out from the crowd.

In addition, here are some books (and Web Sites) to reference:

ASMP Stock Photography Business Forms book. ISBN: 1880559706.

Avoid Being a Clip Art Clone

Business and Legal Forms for Photographers. By Allworth Press. This book contains 31 ready-to-use forms, a negotiation checklist and also includes the forms on a CD-ROM. ISBN: 1-58115-206-X.

For additional detailed information on copyright, check out the PhotoSource International Copyright Q & A for Stock Photographers.

Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus and Later , by Johannes Itten.

Elements of Color, by Johannes Itten.

IF IT LOOKS LIKE A DUCK, IF IT WALKS LIKE A DUCK. . . . Looking Back on Royalty Free

Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging, by Peter K. Burian.

In the event that copyright has expired on some works, these images will now be classified as public domain, meaning that they can be used by the general public. For more information, check out The Multimedia Law and Business Handbook.

No More Free Ride: campaign against royalty-free art

PDN (Photo District News) Business and Legal Library. This contains information on Model and Property Releases, and much more.

PHOTOLOSOPHY: The Problem with "Good" Royalty-Free

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act extends protection for unpublished works, works of corporation authorship, and other categories of copyrighted material.

The Stock Photography Business, by Dan Heller

Stock Photography FAQ: What disadvantages are there for photographers selling their images to clip-photo disk publishers?

For copyright questions, visit the US Copyright Office.

An additional resource for Web sites that sell stock photography comes from one of the About network.

About the Author

Nathan Segal is an Associate Editor for He is an Artist and Writer who has been writing for computer and photographic magazines for 8+ years. His specialty is taking complex methods and explaining them in clear, easy-to-understand terms. To learn more about his work and background, click here.


March 27, 2003
Revised: March 30, 2006