The Downside of Stock Photography

As with everything, there’s a downside to selling your photos through an agency, too. One such downside is they might be used in a way you don’t like. For instance, if you have strong religious beliefs, or political position, your photos are not limited to your point of view once a designer gets a hold of it and uses your shot to illustrate a different point of view. This happens ALL the time. Of course, they’re not supposed to be used in certain ways, such as depicting the model in a sensitive way (each agency has a terms of use agreement), but it could happen.

So here’s how to protect yourself and your models:

1)  Don't photograph your subject in any way, shape or form that they are not comfortable with or can be misconstrued; if you have two young ladies playing in the surf (somewhat provocatively) don't be surprised when they end up as a cover shot for a dating site. Chances are, your models are okay with it (they did pose that way, after all). To err on the side of caution is always better.

2)  Be as aware as possible to the potential uses of a photo: If you don’t want your photos being used for Halloween, for instance, chances are you won’t be shooting that genre of photos, which significantly lessens the possibility that your shots will be used in that fashion, but does not exclude it entirely. This same line of thinking goes for many themes and subjects. But there are instances where a seemingly benign photo might be used in something like a maximum absorbency guard ad... it’s possible and something to be aware of. It’s the business of stock photography, after all, to shoot photos that designers take and use as they see fit. Some themes do require a disclaimer to appear that basically states it’s a model and not a product user or endorsement, which is nice but it still can be a sticky situation if your model is upset.

3)  Weighing the odds: The mass majority of sales you make will be used in a straightforward, uncomplicated way, leaving you to be excited with the sale and giddy if you find it in use.  Out of my 60,000 plus downloaded files, I’ve seen a relatively small number in use over time and have only had 3-5 instances where my shots were used in a questionable way; that’s less than one a year.

4)  Find your shots in use with Once you have a number of sales, you can go over to and see if you can find your shot in use. It’s a quick and easy way to do a search for your shots online. It will only show you web-based uses, of course, but it’s a fun and interesting to see how and where your photos have been applied. Keeping in mind it’s only a small fraction of images used, it’s still useful to check from time to time.

5)  Playing damage control if an issue comes up: It’s your job as the photographer and the copyright-holder of the image to do all you can to protect your models. This is partly why model releases are so important. It’s a contract between you and the model stating what they will do for you and what you will do for them. This includes resolving issues that come up. How you choose to resolve it will depend greatly on the particulars of any given situation. Typically a conversation will resolve most situations. Sometimes a cease and desist to a buyer who is using the image out of the terms of use contract is necessary. The worst case scenario might involve sending an apology letter to the model and deactivating any shots a model is uncomfortable with. It’s not mandatory that you delete photos: after all, you do have a signed model release. But there are times when it feels like the right thing to do. It’s important to work with your models, protect them, and keep them happy.

While you can run into these types of challenging situations, if you do your best to shoot content that you are proud to show, and themes that you’re comfortable with and the model is comfortable with, your trouble spots should be few and far between… with the upside out-weighing the downside with ease.

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