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If you are open to an experience, it will find you. ” - Unknown

Stock Photography vs. Commissioned Shoot


Photo James R Salomon for Sabrina Inc; Photo commissioned by Coastal Home Magazine.

Recently I sold a story to a national special interest publication (SIP). Since the story is in the publishing queue, I can't give too many details; except to say it includes a home that was remodeled by a team of Boston architects.

The usual process and details of producing a magazine story was well under way. Phone calls, emails, jpegs and contact information were passed between editor, homeowner, architect, photographer and his rep.

During theses normal exchanges; somehow lines were crossed; people were confused.
The architect and homeowner were waiting on details pertaining to when our photographer and his crew were to show up and shoot.

There would be no shoot. No photographer would be entering their home, flanked by an assistant and maybe a stylist where they would proceed to move every piece of furniture in their home several inches, and then back again, before leaving.

The magazine was to use stock photography.

"What?” echoed both the homeowner and architect.

Given the reasonable confusion; I figured now was a good time to explain the differences.

Stock photography refers to existing photography that the photographer has in their archives. Many times photographers are commissioned by the interior designer or architect to photograph their project. Upon completion and delivery of the photography; the files then are stored in the photographer's archives and managed by agencies like mine.

Stock photography is always owned by the photographer; (with the exception of rare cases where the designer or architect purchased a license transfer-which is very costly-and unnecessary).
Like architectural drawings, original works of photography cannot be given, sold or otherwise transferred to anyone else. You wouldn't give the plans your architect created for your home renovation to your neighbor to use. Likewise, you cannot give the photography you worked hard to commission to your friend to post on his company’s blog. This is called copyright infringement and the penalties are real, and can be very costly.

Magazines love stock; photographers love stock. Magazines like it because they see what they are investing in; and there is no risk of not liking the commissioned photography.
Photographers love stock because they just made a sale. Interior Designers and Architects love stock too; they enjoy the benefit of free press-often in the form of a six page spread. Price that out in advertising, with that kind of editorial real estate and you’re up to $10,000 in value for even the tiniest of circulations.

A commissioned shoot is when a client sends the photographer, assistant, art director, and sometimes an editor to your home to create gorgeous photographs from scratch, on location. Shoots are wonderful too, because you have more control. In the business of photographing homes, you can expect at least one day of shooting for a photographer to capture enough publish-able views of a 2500 square foot home. This does not include post-production time; which, depending upon the photographer’s schedule, can take up to one week.

The copyright and licensing varies greatly on original commissioned works. Certain magazines contract a ‘work for hire’ grant of rights. This means that the work is created for and by the publishing house, and the photographer cannot reproduce the work outside of the publishing house’s magazines or book or other company collateral.

Other publications simply want first exclusive rights to publish. This is when a magazine commissions a photographer to shoot on location; and the finished work is then subject to a media embargo, wherein it cannot be published elsewhere for anywhere from three months, to one full year, after it has appeared on newsstands.

Licensing is broad and varied, and the above gives just a few examples. But next time a photographer or his rep contacts you about featuring their work, just know that they may not even have to enter your home!


Photo Copyright Greg West; available for licensing by Sabrina Inc.

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1 Comment

  1. Lynn | August 3rd, 2011

    Hi Sabrina, great post and explanation. Thanks. Lynn

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