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What Are the Best Tips for Selling Stock Photos?

Nick Mann
Nick Mann

Stock photography is based around the concept of professional photographers selling stock photos online to customers for website and commercial usage. In order to succeed in this area, it's critical to understand the fundamentals behind selling stock photos and what customers are looking for. Following four tips should make it possible for most photographers to create quality photos and maximize revenue. These include photographing objects that customers want, editing photos until they have a professional appearance, implementing tags and selling numerous photos.

One of the most important aspects of successfully selling stock photos is photographing objects that customers actually want. In order to understand what is in demand, it helps for a photographer to browse existing stock photo websites. Doing so should give him a rough idea of what types of photos are selling, and should give him a competitive edge within the industry. Photos don't necessarily have to always be completely unique, but should consist of generally applicable subject matter.

A stock photo of a waterfall in Tasmania.
A stock photo of a waterfall in Tasmania.

Another important part of making money is editing photos until they take on a professional appearance. Even if a photographer captures a beautiful photo, it still needs to be touched up before it's sold. This typically entails uploading the picture to a photo-editing program so that it can be tweaked as necessary. During this time, line details should be sharpened, contrast should be adjusted and images should be made as bold as possible.

Many photographers take pictures exclusively for stock purposes.
Many photographers take pictures exclusively for stock purposes.

One aspect of selling stock photos that some photographers forget about is proper tagging. Since stock photos are stored in an online database, using tags is essential for getting one's photos in front of the eyes of potential customers. Every website should have some sort of option for adding tags when uploading photos. It's crucial for photographers to add as many pertinent tags as possible to each picture so that customers can easily search for and find those pictures.

Editing photos until they have a professional appearance can be helpful in selling stock photos.
Editing photos until they have a professional appearance can be helpful in selling stock photos.

An additional part of maximizing one's earnings is to sell numerous photos on a wide variety of subjects. Like many things in life, selling stock photos is a numbers game. As a result, it pays to upload as many quality photos as possible that feature many subjects. On top of this, it's also a good idea to sign up with several different stock photo websites. If a photo doesn't sell on one website, it may sell on another. Having photos on multiple sites increases the chances of a customer buying one, which means more royalties can be earned.

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Discussion Comments


I actually have a degree in art, with a photography concentration. I've found that a lot of "real" photographers really look down on stock photo websites. Why sell your photo for a few dollars when you can get paid hundreds of dollars to do a magazine shoot?

In my opinion, I think these people are off the mark. The way stock photo websites are set up, you can sell the same imagine as many times as you want. You basically build up residual income with your portfolio. Shoot once, get paid over and over.

So my tip for selling stock photos? If you want to do it, do it! Don't listen to those people that say it won't make you a "real photographer."


@ceilingcat - Great tip. I know you also have to get a property release if you photograph some buildings. A lot of people don't think there are any legal ramifications involved in making money online (like on stock photography websites), but it's still a "real thing" even though it's online. You still have to follow the law and file your taxes.

Speaking of taxes, I'm pretty sure that when you sell stock photos, you are an independent contractor. This means that the websites you sell your photos on will not take taxes out for you. Instead, you will need to pay your taxes quarterly. Also save receipts for expenses like equipment and travel so you can deduct these at the end of the year.


@chivebasil - It is a good idea to take pictures of original subjects. But keep in mind that if you photograph people and want to sell their image, you must get a model release. Most sites are very strict about this.

So that Chinese funeral you were talking about? Not only do you have to find it, you have to convince every mourner you photographed to sign a model release before you can sell their picture. This may not be an easy task.

However, it is an important one. If you sell someone's image without getting a model release, you can be sued. You'll probably lose way more money than you made on the picture if that happens.


@truman12 - Great tip! Another one that I have heard is to know your strengths as a photographer. Some people are better at shooting people, others landscapes. Some people are great at shooting buildings and others are great with food. No one is great at everything. If you focus on whatever you are best at you will tun out more consistently quality work.


One tip I heard for stock photographers is to try to corner the market on pictures of the place where you live. This especially applies if you live in a big city.

So, if you live in Chicago, make Chicago the subject of your photographs. Get shots of all the most famous landmarks. Take pictures of the public art. Get pictures of people in the parks and on the beaches. Take photos of famous street signs. Anything and everything. This provides you with an almost limitless subject and it gives you a niche in the market.


I have been in the stock photo business for a while and the best advice I can give to anyone trying to break in is to think outside the box. Most stock photographers take photos of the exact same things, smiling kids, graduations, cars, tall buildings, people toasting. These are all fine and good but the market gets clogged up with a lot of the exact same photos.

You can sell a lot of photos if you have photos for sale that other people are not taking. Try to think of events that people don't photograph. There are tons of graduation shots but what about Cinco De Mayo shots or pictures of Chinese funerals? Try to think about the kinds of people that don't show up in stock photos a lot. Try to think about items and objects that don't get photographed. It's not easy to think about whats missing like this but it can really help your business. At some point in time there is a need for every kinds of stock photo imaginable.

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    • A stock photo of a waterfall in Tasmania.
      By: magann
      A stock photo of a waterfall in Tasmania.
    • Many photographers take pictures exclusively for stock purposes.
      By: olly
      Many photographers take pictures exclusively for stock purposes.
    • Editing photos until they have a professional appearance can be helpful in selling stock photos.
      By: Syda Productions
      Editing photos until they have a professional appearance can be helpful in selling stock photos.