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Does It Make Sense To Try To Sell Real Estate Photos As Stock Photography?

Published: 18/12/2015
By: larry

Questions And AnswersRoy recently asked:

Do you think there would be any legal or copyright issues if we, as hired real estate photographers submitted any of our photos to stock photography sites for potential royalties? Do you think a property release would be required to sell photos of homes we have shot for our clients? Is this a worthwhile endeavor? Is there a site that would be better suited for this type of photography? Not sure how much stock sites sell these types of photos for.

First of all, I'm not a lawyer so I don't give legal advice. If you are going to resell your real estate photos I would do the following:

  1. Make sure you have a signed licensing agreement with the agent you are shooting for so you are sure they understand that you own the copyright and intend to resell the photos. This can prevent surprises on their part.
  2. Register your copyright with the government copyright office.
  3. As to whether or not you need a property release follow the advice on the American Society of Media Photographers site regarding Property releases.
  4. Be aware that there are some homeowners are very sensitive about their private space (their home). This issue is reason enough to have them sign a property release so they know your intentions of selling photos of their home.

As to whether or not selling real estate photo through a stock photo site is worthwhile, I've never tried so I can only guess. I believe photographers that make money selling stock photos sell a wide range of photo types, not just a single type of photo. You don't get much per photo for selling stock photos so you have to do a high volume business. I'm skeptical that selling just real estate photos to a stock agency would be worthwhile.

Anyone out there that has sold stock photography that can give Roy more insights?

5 comments on “Does It Make Sense To Try To Sell Real Estate Photos As Stock Photography?”

  1. I am not sure it would be worth all the effort for what $$$ stock images return in todays market. Just a small comment on getting a property release, who do you get it from the current owners who may sell in a week or a year or the new owners who may buy next week or next year. Not so straight forward.

  2. There is definately money to be made here. I have made between $4000-$5000 this past year selling stock images. But this is not primarily homes but more focus on community amenities. Any time I have the right weather conditions I make a point to shoot extra images of the community pool, tennis courts etc. for future projects. I have stock images of all of the major luxury communities in my area and I don't give these away. They are either a part of the package I provide or delivered in a standalone fashion. I get lots of requests for agents wanting shots of the beach or specific communities for their website. (Just yesterday got one). I do a lot of aerial (airplane) photography and when the weather is right I shoot tons while I'm in the air. These make great additions to a Tour Package to showcase a geographic highlight of the area, i.e. beach, river, golf. One of my goals for 2016 is to organize my SmugMug stock images to an automatic purchase engine. Although I never thought that stock images would be as fruitful as it has become I am grateful that I have always saved my images and categorized them. It has paid off in a big way.

  3. Stock imaging is how I began my photography career. Even then, gathering thousands of images per month, (Transparencies then), and submitting 300 of the best to agencies and publishers was the key to making a decent income. In 1986, $300 -$1,500 per image use was expected. Today, $25 for those same images is typical. It is why I became a Realtor. My opinion is that the effort to obtaining releases and avoiding litigation is not able to be rewarded by the low priced market for stock. Now, for me, Real Estate photography is the best return on my photo equipment investments, and it keeps me able to do what I love doing between making a living selling properties. Memories of those thousand dollar per image sales and the pleasure of spending time in the field all over the world is gratifying. I'm not sorry for having done it.

  4. Consult an attorney that has a copyright practice and works with photographers. I have seen presentations from attorneys that have stated that a property release is not required and that there are only a couple of cases involving residential properties and those were decided in favor of the photographer.

    Some photographers here make a healthy secondary income by licensing the images they make which is why they will advocate, like me, that you don't assign your Copyright and register all of your images. You do need to use your judgement when it comes to images that you make for a designer that may be destined for national or worldwide exposure. They will be very unhappy if those same images get sold to another company. Commercial buildings can be a different kettle of fish. Named buildings such as the Empire State in New York and Transamerica building in San Francisco are Trademarked and any images one would sell could only be used editorially, not in advertising or packaging. The Hearst Castle in California has special requirements. I'm pretty sure that no commercial use can be made of photos of the Taj Mahal.

    I am putting aside a gallery of the best images I have from RE work to put on a stock web site that I am creating. Since the site will specialize in residential photos, I should be able to draw visitors looking for those types of images. Consigning or submitting my photos to an existing stock site isn't something that interests me. They would require me to agree to their conditions and they don't pay very well, if at all. I hope to be able to net enough money each year for a trip abroad to a country I'd like to visit on my own or with a photo tour. Iceland or Abu Dhabi would be fun or maybe a castle crawl through the UK.

    Thumbs up to Walt Simpson for mentioning community photos. That's a great way to add income to a RE photo business. I generally pack a lunch when I can and search for a park around the homes I'm photographing and take a few photos. I license those images to brokers to put on their web pages that highlight local neighborhoods. Those licenses get renewed each year for a very nominal rate that they have no problem paying.

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