Saturday, August 18, 2012

to getty or not to getty :: that is the question

The business of stock photography has grown, over the past few years, into a media making monster (I couldn't help but alliterate). There are a few big wig companies that have taken control over the industry.

What is stock photography? Stock photography is a supply, usually web based, of photographs, licensed for specific purposes. Typically, the end user, be it a small or large organization, will go to a stock photography site, search their database for an image suiting their specific creative needs and purchase a variety of different licenses to use the image, based on their specific project. The reasoning for this type of media buy is to avoid hiring a photographer, allowing the given organization to stay within or below a budget.

The big questions; Is it ethically and/or morally sound for a photographer to work with a stock photography company? And, Is that said photographer a "sell out" for selling their work to a stock supplier?

More after the jump...

No Politics, No Religion

If you haven't seen the movie "Sleepers," then I suggest you do so immediately after reading this literary masterpiece. If you have seen the movie than you are well aware of the bar scene where a couple of well dressed businessmen are having drinks, speaking of a Ronald Reagan speech. Two of the main characters, regulars of this particular watering hole, are insulted by the conversation. Long story short, the surly bartender explains to the dapper gentlemen that they "know the rules, no religion, no politics." [Here] is a link to that particular scene. Outstanding film. Watching that scene makes me want to close this computer and go watch the movie. I digress.

This little lesson is far from fiction. I spent some years as a bartender and I have, on more than one occasion, said those words to certain patrons. The place I worked had such a diverse clientele that certain conversations by one group could have sparked rage among another. Booze and debatable conversations are a quick and easy recipe for violent bar brawls.

What's the point, you may be asking yourself. The point I'm making is that I'm not the type of person that will typically write a blog, instigating trouble, for trouble's sake and the discussion of whether or not stock photography is a good thing or not, is well beyond my scope of knowledge. Before a few days ago, I really didn't think of the topic. Referring back to the second paragraph, you will notice I mentioned that organizations buy stock images as to avoid the cost of hiring a photographer. On the other hand, when the buy purchases an image license, aren't they doing just that?  Hiring a photographer? But by a different channel? This is where the pot begins to get stirred. Freelance photographers may be angered by the fact that companies can simply purchase image licenses for prices that the freelancer just could not compete with. On the flip side of that coin, there are photographers who advocate stock photography and can make a living by working with the stock agencies. On which side of the fence do I stand? Until recently, I just didn't. I had my blinders on, not even able to recognize that there was a fence.

Until recently.

It was Thursday when I was reading one of my favorite photography blogs, Fstoppers, that I came across the article that Getty images was acquired by the Carlyle group. I found the information less than thrilling since I was not a person even remotely interested in the inner workings of the stock photography industry.

It was around this time when I went to my Gmail inbox to see what's happening in my world of email. I happened to notice at the top of my inbox, an email with Getty in the subject box, along with some other words. I didn't really read the entire subject as I immediately thought it was a link to an article about the recent acquisition, as I'm a subscriber to numerous photography newsletters. About to trash the email, something made me open it before deleting it.

Getty Photographers

Before I open that email for you, let me tell you, very briefly, how Getty, the biggest of stock companies, acquires their images.

I have recently been doing a bit of homework about stock photography and you will soon know why. I first wanted to share with you how Getty, with a database of so many images, obtains those photos. Through some online research I discovered an article with Getty Images Director of Editorial Content, Anthony Parkin. Anthony states:
"Happily, we receive a large number of approaches on a daily basis from photographers all over the world. That said, for specific commissions, or if we see outstanding content, we often contact new photographers to work with them."

Basically, anyone can contribute to Getty, hoping to make a buck or two in the process. Now, if Getty comes knocking on your door, the stakes may be quite different.

The Email

Opening the email, I quickly notice a bunch of thumbnails (three of them posted here today), of my work. I continue to read the email and find that Getty wants to work with me, licensing specific images that they had discovered online.

My blinders have fallen off but has a new set been placed upon my head?

Soon thereafter, I did a bit more research on stock photography and "the chosen ones." Seems that working with an agency such as Getty may be a good idea, considering some limitations.


I opted to join the Getty team but am still deciding, of the photos they want, which I will submit for licensing. The key word in the contract, among others, is exclusivity. This pertains to what rights Getty will have with the image and, just as important, what rights I will have with those same images. Yes, what rights will I have with my own photographs, the ones that are my intellectual property. So far, I can see that I would still be able to use those photos via social networks such as this blog, facebook, et. al. That is a relief. I'm well aware that I wouldn't be able to go selling the images to an ad agency for commercial purposes. That is just common sense. I've just began to really start scratching the surface of the contract.


I've been thinking long and hard about going forward with the Getty team. Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that it can't hurt the cause. I have thousands upon thousands of images. Getty wants to work with a select few of those. That doesn't mean they are taking over the rights to my entire portfolio.

Is it ethically and morally ok to work with stock agencies? That, I can't answer yet but I will be sure to let you know the answer when I do.

My words right now are becoming a bit tangled. I think I'm just uncertain of what to expect from this venture.

Hey, no risk, no reward. Right?

More to come...