I have been struggling with this for a while now and have done some research with no conclusive answers. I am a beginner in photography in that I take pictures more seriously now then I did before. I follow photographers on Twitter and read their blogs, etc. to learn. Given that, I currently share my photos using a Creative Commons Attribution No Derivates Non Commercial license. This effectively lets anyone use my photos for as long as they credit me, don't modify them or make money off of them. I like the idea of sharing photos and if someone can get use out of it non-commercially that makes me feel good (it's nice to know that maybe someone has my picture as their desktop wallpaper or something like that).

On the other hand, I am also considering putting my photos up on stock sites as my skills improve because the entrepreneur in me says why not make some money from it, even if it's a little amount. You never know, maybe I can make enough to get that next lens. I have no intention on going pro, but I can see it as a sorta-kinda-paying-hobby. Which leads back to the copyright. Should I copyright everything to the fullest extent? Does it make a difference if I do decide to sell my photos? Do I change all my existing copyrights to full copyrights? (I guess it's more then one question)

The main thing is I don't know where this hobby will lead and what I can do with it down the road and I don't want to make stupid decisions now that jam me up in the future. Thanks!

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I think the stuff you're choosing between are usually called licences, not copyrights. \$\endgroup\$
    – che
    Commented Sep 11, 2010 at 21:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Edited the title to reflect that this question is about licensing, not copyright \$\endgroup\$
    – ahockley
    Commented Dec 2, 2010 at 16:47

4 Answers 4


You seem to be mixing up two different concepts, copyright and licensing.

As a photographer, you own the copyright for images you create (unless you have other contracts which override this, such as a work for hire agreement). The only other action to take regarding your copyright is optionally registering as such (which is usually optional).

Your main question here is regarding the licensing of your work. It is possible to offer multiple licenses for a single work (a non-exclusive license). This is the default, so you are able to offer a creative commons license for non-commercial use, then also offer a separate license that allows commercial use. In this way, you can make a profit on commercial use without charging someone for personal use.

Some stock sites will require an exclusive license, meaning that you are agreeing to only provide a single license of your work. If you were to take this route, you would not be able to also provide a creative commons licensed version.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that the licenses you provide are by default a permanent agreement, meaning that you can not simply change the licenses you have provided in the past. This means that any images that you have previously released under a creative commons license are no longer eligible for exclusive licensing, but you would be able to offer a non-exclusive license.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the concise, honest answer. I appreciate the clarification between copyright and license. This helps a lot. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Glad I could be helpful! \$\endgroup\$
    – chills42
    Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 17:19

This is actually a more complicated question than you think, but the short answer is "you can do both, mostly".

I post images online using a Creative Commons license -- but I limit those images to lower resolution (1000 pixel widest). That means people are able to use it but the version of the image that's free is one that (to me) has relatively low commercial value (if any). To me, the potential revenue is smaller than what I get back in marketing and getting my imagery seen and passed around -- and in time I don't have to spend policing potential infringements in situations. What I don't do is post high resolution versions or raw files -- the version of the file that could potentially be licensed out for a worthwhile sum. I do make those images licensable via smugmug and available there as prints for those that might want them.

This to me is a reasonable compromise; the value of am image that someone wants to use on their web page is basically zero (or close to it); the value of that image with CC linkages back to my sites where someone who might want to license it for print use is much higher. I talk more about why I made this decision here: http://www.chuqui.com/2010/06/online-images-and-watermarking/ but after much thinking about it, it seems the best way to take advantage of where the photo market is likely to be as it exits the transformation it's in. You can fight online sharing (and lose), or you can embrace it and leverage it.

The reason I say this is more complicated than you think -- it sounds like you haven't researched the stock world much; it's currently in a full implosion and it's not a place where you can just "post some images and make money"; being successful in stock or micro-stock is a profession of its own, and requires time and energy and committment (and investment), and even then, these days the ones that have done it for years are finding it hard to sustain income.

I made a decision not to get involved in microstock because I feel it devalues my imagery and it doesn't fit well with the type of photography I do. I'm staying far away from stock right now until it all settles out and I see if there's really a market to move into. Now's a lousy time to think about getting into stock photography, honestly, and you're asking for trouble if you think you can get into stock as a way to make money "on the side". I may be misinterpreting you here (if so, sorry!), but I didn't want to leave that alone if I could warn you away from a potential minefield. You need to really research and understand what's going on in the stock industry before making decisions about it; it never really was a "post images and wait for money to come in" opportunity, and today, what opportunities there seem to be disappearing for many of the stock veterans, so be careful about what you decide to do here...

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It's a nice idea that pictures for free attract people who want to give you money, but has that actually happened to you? \$\endgroup\$
    – che
    Commented Sep 11, 2010 at 21:36
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ yes. it's also part of a long term strategy to get my images seen so people recognize the name, so that when I do start trying to market my material full time I have a larger audience to market to. \$\endgroup\$
    – chuqui
    Commented Sep 12, 2010 at 17:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the insight into the microstock world. Definitely gives me a lot to think about. Apparently, I haven't done as much research as I should have. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 13:50

I sometimes upload images to Wikipedia under a Creative Commons CC-BY license, taking it as a kind of "donation for a good cause".

Apart from that, I tend to agree with what John Harrington writes on his blog: the only people you'll attract by giving photos for free is the kind of people who are going to want free photos. After all, if you can do it for free once, you might even be willing to shoot a story for magazine for free. Because it's great publicity, right?

Regarding microstock: I believe chuqui has nailed it down: there isn't much point in trying to make money in environment where most of people just post pictures for nothing (or next to nothing).


It's very hard to make money from stock photos - there's too much supply and not enough demand (and considering stock photos are not consumable, this is only going to get worse). Also, you can't license something, then change your mind. Once it's under Creative Commons you can't take it back out.

So I'd say: If you're in it for the money, good luck. If you're not in it for the money, then just don't say anything about copyright, or include 'all rights reserved' in a small font (in which case you retain your copyright, but people won't hesitate to download it).


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