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Photo libraries - a history

A photo library is - as you've probably guessed - essentially a library that houses photographs. Today there are thousands of them online. However, there is a long history behind these photo libraries that dates back much further than the Internet itself.

In the mid 1880ís the half-tone printing press was invented leading photographers to take more photographs. The first to use these photographs were the various newspapers and magazines.

Eventually there were numerous freelance photographers around. So, in 1920 the first major stock photography agencies got their start. There is actually one that is still around: H. Armstrong Roberts founded the RobertStock agency.

For quite a while though photo libraries mainly contained a lot of photographs that were taken as part of commercial magazine assignments. This changed though in the 1980ís when it became a specialty of its own. Photographers were now creating new pictures simply to submit to stock photography houses. Agencies were now becoming more sophisticated as well. They were attempting to anticipate what their advertisers would need so that they could tell their photographers what to photograph. As such, photographs were now being taken with an eye for how they may look whenever they would be combined with other elements. For instance, a photographer might take a vertical picture with space at both the top and on the left side so that magazines would be able to use it as their cover.

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There was a period during which a lot of these companies merged throughout the 1990ís. As such, Getty Images and Corbis became the two largest companies. During this time many of these companies also began to move their photo libraries online. In the early 2000ís, Jupitermedia Corporation purchased a lot of those companies that didnít make this move. This made the company the third largest player in the market.

The Internet helped a lot of small companies get a foothold in this industry. These companies recruited amateur and hobbyist photographers to fill their databases, which would then only be available via the Internet. For this reason, these companies were able to offer really good photographs at really low prices.

Google entered into the market in the summer of 2001. They introduced their image Search Engine. At that time it contained 250 million photographs that were gathered from around the Internet. This marked the beginning of a new era in which small photo libraries were now able to compete with the big ones.

Shutter Point was the next to make a major online move. In 2003 they pioneered an open access model. This allowed anyone to be able to upload and market their photographs for a small fee. TotoLibra continued this trend in 2004. They allowed you to download 12 free photographs to begin with. Then in 2005 Sccopt started a citizen journalism news library whereby the public was able to upload and sell images of breaking news stories that they had taken with their camera phones. They were bought by Getty images in 2007 and then closed their doors in 2009.

Copyright by Shaun Donovan, Co Wicklow, 2008