Behind the Scenes – Selling Stock Food Photography Q&A

selling stock food photography

Hello my web friends!

Many, many, many of you are asking me about selling stock food photography and I thought it would be easiest to write you a post about it. So if you’re interested in the stock food photo business, pour yourself a nice espresso drink, pull up a chair and get yourself comfortable because I’m about to bombard you with information.

I have been a stock food photographer since 2009 and I am licensing my food photos to buyers either directly (i.e. a buyer purchases a license directly from me) or through stock photo agencies (i.e. a buyer purchases a license for one of my photos from an agency that I have a contract with).

There are many things to know and consider when licensing your food photos as stock and I’ve put together the main points below. I hope they are helpful, clear and answer the questions you have, but if not, please let me know in the comments. I’ll be happy to continue the conversation about this topic. :)


What are stock food photos? Stock food photos are photos that are available for buyers to license and use. In other words, instead of hiring a photographer and asking him to create a specific food photo, the buyer finds an already existing photo and purchases a license that allows him to use that photo.

How does a stock food photo sale work? When a buyer purchases a stock food photo she doesn’t buy the actual photo, instead she buys a license to the photo and that license allows her to use that photo. The copyright to the photo stays with the photographer.

What types of licenses can a buyer purchase? There are two main types of stock photo licenses, one is called rights-managed (RM) and the other royalty-free (RF). (Royalty-free is a misnomer because it doesn’t mean free (as in no cost)).

What is a rights-managed license? When a buyer purchases a rights-managed license he pays a one-time fee for a specific use of the image. The important word here is “specific.” The buyer has to specify where, when and for how long he is going to use the image. Should he decide to use the same image again for another use later, he will have to buy another license.

The buyer determines the specific terms of the rights-managed license. For example, he may want to use the image exclusively for 12 months in North America. That means that the photographer cannot sell another license to the same photo to a different buyer who wants to use the photo in North America during those 12 months. (He can sell other licenses after the 12 months are over. He can also sell a license for usage in, say, Australia during the 12 month).

The main reason why buyers sometimes want to buy rights-managed licenses is because they want to make sure that the image they buy a license for doesn’t show up all over the place because other buyers (including competitors) have bought a license to the image as well.

What is a royalty-free license? When a buyer purchases a royalty-free license she pays a one-time fee and can use the image for as many projects as she wants and doesn’t have to tell the photographer what she is using the image for. At the same time the photographer can sell licenses to that same image over and over again to as many other buyers as he wants and when he wants. The buyers don’t know where and how the image has been used by other buyers.

Rights-managed versus royalty-free from a blogger’s standpoint: In my view, the only licensing type that makes sense to sell for a blogger is royalty-free. A photo that has been published on a blog has most likely been shared on social media sites and other aggregator sites, such as Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, etc., with or without the photographer’s knowledge. That makes it impractical to sell a rights-managed license (unless the buyer doesn’t request any restrictions on the usage of the photo). That is one of the reasons why I offer all my photos for royalty-free licensing only.      

What is a stock photo agency? A stock photo agency is a company that licenses photos to buyers. The agency has contracts with many photographers, who submit their photos to the agency. The agency handles all transactions, does all the marketing and advertising and in returns keeps a percentage of each sale.

There are a number of stock photo agencies out there, targeting everything from low-budget to high-end markets. If you want to check them out, here are a few examples of some well-known stock photo agencies (I have contracts with some of them):

How do I get a contract with a stock photo agency? To get a contract with a stock photo agency simply look up the application process for the agency you want to work with and apply. The application generally involves sending a link to a portfolio and submitting a few high-resolution sample images. 


Food Photography – Behind the Scenes | Lighting Through a Doorframe

Hello hello everyone! I’m going to do something different today and share a look behind the scenes with you. I’m hoping this post will be helpful for those of you who would like to simulate the look of a large softbox or a window with an artificial light source.

Below is the shot I’m going to talk about. What I did for this macaron photo is shine a light (I used a strobe) through a narrow, indoor doorframe. I use this technique now and then and find that it works well.

Salted Caramel Macarons

All right, let’s take a look at what went on behind the scenes. This is what the set looked like:

All the behind-the-scenes photos are fairly dark because I keep the room dark so that I can only see the light of the strobe and can prepare my set accordingly. My camera is on a tripod and connected to my iMac with a long USB cable, I have Lightroom open and am shooting tethered.

I have a piece of white felt on the table, which helps make the fabric on top look soft and pillowy, a trick I learned from this fantastic book a few years ago: Food Styling for Photographers. On the felt is a napkin (the exact same one that is also hanging in the back as the background), on that napkin is another napkin, a piece of paper, the cookies and the milk bottle and glass. To the left of the macarons are two square styrofoam blocks that act as reflectors and fill in some of the shadows.

Here’s a slightly closer look:

Behind the set is a napkin that is hanging from a clothes rack that I bought at Target a while ago. I asked Dan to cut down the vertical metal rods for me (they were about 6 feet tall originally) so that I could use this contraption as a movable background holder. I like to do that because I like the look of hanging fabric as a background but you could also pin fabric directly to the wall behind your set.

Now to the light. Here is another angle of the set:

To diffuse the light I have a white curtain hanging on a tension rod in my indoor doorframe. (The frame leads into a fairly dark hallway). Behind the doorframe sits my strobe with its modeling light (see notes) turned on so that you can see it. No light modifiers of any sort are attached to the strobe. Too much light was spilling onto the background of the set (in other words onto the hanging napkin) so I clamped a piece of black cardboard onto the rack to block the light in that area of the set. The doorframe keeps the light contained and directional and the overall scene looks (at least to me) like light coming through a window. (In case anyone is interested in my camera settings, they were: ISO 100, f/3.2, 1/125 on my Nikon D600 with a 105mm macro lens).

I used to use this setup every day for a few months some time ago but it became a bit of a pain since the door I was lighting through was also the door through which I had to exit and enter the room. I eventually got tired of it and bought my large softbox (Hensel Ultra IV Softbox – 35×58″ (90x150cm)), which gives me very similar results. But, if you have a light and no large softbox, it’s an option!

Anyway, that’s really all there was to it! What do you think? Do you like the light? Does anyone else use this technique? Let me know, I can’t wait to hear read your thoughts! :)

Notes: What is a modeling light? I figure some of you may not be familiar with the concept of a modeling light so I’ll quickly explain what that is. So, a strobe unit actually houses two different light sources: 1) the flash that will fire very briefly and very brightly at the same time the shutter is released and 2) a “regular,” continuous light, which is called the modeling light. The flash is what illuminates the actual photo but the modeling light is what illuminates the scenes during setup, before the photo is taken. The modeling light’s purpose is to let the photographer see how the light from the flash will fall onto the set, where the highlights, shadows and reflections will be. Because of that the modeling light is a HUGE help in setting up the set, without it the photographer would literally and metaphorically be working in the dark.