How To Start A Stock Photography Business

If you are passionate about photography and would like to turn your interest into a business, then this is the article for you. It will outline several key legal considerations that you need to think about before you start a stock photography business, including the legalities behind taking, protecting and licensing your photos. The article will also detail the administrative side of running a business, such as business registration.

For more business ideas, be sure to check out our comprehensive online list. 

Stock Photography

Stock photography are generic images that buyers use for visual content. The purchased images can be used in everything from blogs, websites to promotional materials. It is a much cheaper alternative than hiring a photographer. Stock photography are often sold through an online platform where there are libraries full of such images for buyers to choose from. Uploaded images also have to follow strict guidelines. For instance, photographs taken on private property require the consent of the property owner before taking it. Otherwise, you will be trespassing. If the photograph is of a person, then you should use a Model Release Form to prevent them from claiming any possible shares of the revenue generated from that image.

Types of Stock Photography

Before you start a stock photography business, you should first research about the different types of stock photography businesses. The most common types of stock photography are macrostock and microstock.


Macrostock photography websites (‘traditional stock photography’) refers to businesses that sell exclusive rights of high-quality images to people. Since these images are sold exclusively or in very few quantities to people that is why macrostock images are often more expensive than an image sold on a microstock photography website.


Microstock photography businesses on the other hand, are where photographers can license their images to be sold as royalty-free images. This means buyers are able to use the images that they have bought without having to pay a royalty or licensing fee. Thus, microstock images are sold for lower prices at a greater volume, meaning several buyers can purchase the rights to use microstock images.

Microstock photographers also often upload their images onto multiple microstock websites to maximise their profits. For this reason, microstock photography businesses are highly competitive. If you are planning to start a microstock photography business then you should try and take as many images as possible to maximise your chances of being seen buy potential buyers.

Starting A Business

The skills required to start a stock photography business is completely different to that required to take great photographs. It is important that you understand the responsibilities involved with managing a business successfully before you decide to do so.

The first step to starting a stock photography business is deciding on how you want to operate your business. This is an important decision for you to make because it will affect the future operation of your business, such as liability and tax issues. The possible business structures to choose from are:

  • Company;
  • Sole Trader; or
  • Partnership

After deciding on your business structure, you should then get an Australian Business Number (ABN) so that you can receive the full benefits associated with running a business, such as tax benefits. If you have decided to start a company, then you will also need to register your company and get an Australian Company Number (ACN). You should also take the time to understand your accounting requirements, such as:

  • Taxation;
  • Marketing plans;
  • Budgeting; and
  • Record-keeping obligations

Once you have set up the administrative requirements to running a business, you then need to decide on where you want to operate it. This will depend on the type of photography you plan to do. For instance, will you:

Licence Types For Stock Photographs

You, as a stock photography business, will be selling licences for the use of images on your website. Each type of licence provides different rights and is priced differently, so you will need to familiarise yourself with them. The most common licences are:

  • Public Domain (PD): Public domain licences mean that the image can be used freely at no charge. These images are free for use because they no longer have any active exclusive intellectual property rights on them, either due to expiration, forfeit or inapplicability.
  • Royalty-free (RF): This licence provides the buyer with rights to use the image numerous times upon paying a one time fee and with few restrictions in place. Stock businesses that operate on a subscription-based or microstock business model often use this type of licence.
  • Right-managed (RM): This licence gives the buyer one-time rights to an image that may have restrictions on it. For instance, a restriction may be placed on a photograph for it to only be used on T-shirts and not calendars. Thus, if you want to use it for calendars, then you will need to purchase additional usage rights.
  • Exclusive: Exclusive licences give the buyer rights to the use the image in whatever way as they please. Including reproduction, altering and editing it and on-selling the photographs.

Whatever licence that you end up deciding on, you will need to ensure that the terms of the licence are clearly displayed on your website. For example, your customers can agree to the terms of use by ticking a box before they checkout online.

Terms and Conditions Required

Terms and conditions form a legally binding agreement between you and your customers. A good set of terms and conditions will set out the following:

  • Details of the goods and services you are providing
  • The fees you are going to charge them and the consequences of not paying
  • Copyright information about your photographs
  • Any information related to ownership and intellectual property rights
  • An indemnity clause for any possible harm, loss or damage suffered by your customer as a direct or indirect result of using your services
  • Confidentiality clause

Protecting Images On Your Website

It is difficult to prevent others from copying or using your images without permission, but it is not impossible. Some suggestions that can help you are:

  • Adding watermarks to your images with a copyright notice
  • Disabling the right click function for saving images on your website
  • Compressing photos that you upload
  • Adding your contact details and copyright information to the image metadata

Remember to again include a statement on your website specifying any restrictions on image sharing and re-use.

Growing Your Customer Base

After deciding on how you will structure and manage your stock photography business, you will need to think about ways of attracting customers to your business. For example:

  • Social networking;
  • Advertising;
  • Word of mouth; or
  • Online marketing

If you do not have much experience with marketing or operating social media accounts, then you could think about hiring some external help with that. Just remember that when you are hiring new employees, you will need to have the proper documents in order to do so.

Insuring Your Business

As a photographer and the owner of your stock photography business, you should consider the different business insurances that you will need. For example, you may want to consider buying photography equipment and studio insurance in the event any damage is caused to it. Public liability insurance may be another option if you need to take photographs in dangerous locations. You may want to discuss more about insurance options with an insurance lawyer.

Takeaway message

It is important that you ensure your stock photography business complies with all the legal requirements needed to start a new business in Australia. Otherwise you may find yourself caught in all sorts of tricky situations later on and your rights infringed upon by another. If you would like further advice with how to start a stock photography business, then it is worth contacting a business lawyer.

Don’t know where to start? Contact us on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest lawyer marketplace.

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