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How to Take Stock Photos (78 Best Tips)

Last updated: November 12, 2023 - 19 min read
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If you’re looking for a creative way to make some extra money, consider selling stock photos. It’s a great way to turn your hobby into a side hustle, and there are several marketplaces where you can sell your images. In this article, we’ll teach you how to take stock photos that will sell well.

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How To Take Stock Photos: What Is Stock Photography?

Stock images are taken by photographers and uploaded to one or many stock photography agencies. Images on these websites need to follow a strict set of guidelines.

Companies such as Shutterstock and Getty Images sell images on the photographer’s behalf. Unsplash and Pexels let you use the stock images.

The benefit of stock photography is that the photographer can create a business out of these images. The best images can be sold for peanuts, to begin with. But as you build a portfolio, you will make more from each sale.

Some photographers have been able to live off their royalties. This allows them to photograph more and more. Stock images that look at the economy, social behaviour and landscapes are always sought after.

For companies, choosing stock images means they don’t need to pay a photographer to capture an image. They can search and download what they need within minutes.

Our article will take you through everything you need to know about stock photography. From how to make money out of it, to what the best equipment is, to the pitfalls of this massive photography field.

A railway bridge

Camera Gear For Stock Photography

Essential Equipment for Stock Photography

Many beginner photographers are worried that their equipment is not good enough. This can turn into anxiety that stops you from photographing or trying new areas.

A camera is a camera, and as long as it has the basic functions, you can use it. Top-end cameras make it easier for you to photograph, and give you a higher quality. It is true.

But unless you are photographing huge advertising campaigns for thousands of dollars, you don’t need it.

Read our article on all the equipment you will need, and a few things you might benefit from having.

A camera, smartphone and laptop on a table

Photography Accessories

Stock photography could be of anything and is of everything. That’s why you need to look at the basic things your camera needs.

Whether you are shooting landscapes, products, people or situations, accessories for your camera will help.

Tripods and memory cards are the first thing you need to get. One of the most useful items to have when photographing outside is an Nd filter.

A neutral density filter takes away full stops of light from your scene, allowing long exposures.

They are great for allowing scenes more fluidity. They give you the potential to strip the landscape of movement from distracting subjects, like people or cars.

Read here for other recommendations.

A DSLR on a tripod in front of a stunning landscape

Stock Photography Questions

Stock Photography vs. Real Photos: Can’t We Use Both?

Stock photography is a very helpful tool when you need to save time and money for images. However, overusing these images can be damaging.

First of all, some of these stock images are outside of your control. They are taken with a general or generic look to them.

Viewers, be them investors, colleagues or employees or even readers will notice. This is why we recommend to split them if you decide to use them.

Use them alongside real images that show off your company or team. This reinforces the realism of your workplace and subsequent thoughts that come from those who view them.

A man at an office desk

What Are Stock Photographs?

Stock photography is an online source of images available for people and companies to download.

They are hosted either on one website or slathered over many. The photographer uploads the images to the stock photography agency.

These agencies, such as Getty Images or Shutterstock, protect the image with a watermark. Every download and its subsequent use comes at a cost.

A portion of the sales is kept by the agency as a commission. The cost of these images can be anywhere from 50 cents to a few hundred dollars.

Read here for more information on what stock photography is and how it can benefit your photographic captures.

A neon sign saying 'This is the sign you've been looking for' on a brick wall

Stock Photography Sites

The Major Agencies Compared

Stock photography exists because agencies need them for advertising and marketing campaigns.

Instead of paying a lot of money to create them, they pay a fee to use a photographer’s images.

The main agencies that deal with these stock images are Getty Images, Shutterstock, iStock, and Adobe Stock.

These agencies sell the photographs on your behalf. All the information you need is in this article, helping you decide which is best to use.

It will let you know how much your photographs could be worth.

A grid of Polaroid photos

Review of the Best Free Stock Photo Sites

Apart from the stock websites where the images are sold, there are free ones as well.

I know what you are thinking. If you want to make money or help establish your business, why give your images away for free?

Well, this helps you get feedback. It puts you out there so people can see what you are doing. Plus, a platform such as Unsplash or Pixabay is just like Facebook, only more professional.

Both these sites let you show off your photographs. But Facebook might use them for advertising circumstances, making money where you don’t.

Read here for all the information you need.

A cloudy mountain scene

How To Get Accepted

It is a bit tricky when it comes to photographing for stock agencies. You are free to photograph anything. If you have model releases and permission slips.

To begin selling on Shutterstock, you need to have a 70% success rate, the first time you upload images.

If you don’t make this seven out of ten ratio, you can try 30 days later.

Their screening process is designed to cull the wheat from the chaff and give you an idea of the quality they need.

They will host any subject, but they are picky when it comes to quality.

a screenshot from Shutterstock stock photography website

Shooting Stock Photography

10 Tips For Starting to Sell Stock Photos

Getting into the stock photography websites can be a frustrating process. Your images are sent for approval by photographic reviewers that can deny them.

It is easy to give up after a few tries. Getting into these sites isn’t just about the extra income you can receive from your photographic work.

For some, due to its difficulty, being a stock photographer is the height of professionalism.

Read our tips here on how to get into the world of stock photography.

A girl taking a photo with a DSLR

12 Tips for Shooting Simple Stock Photos That Sell

Stock photography doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many images you can capture with a simple setup, involving a white backdrop and a light (or two).

One simple way to photograph successful stock photos is by utilizing high-key lighting.

High-key relates to a bright image, where low-key would be something softer and less harsh.

This high-key setup is perfect for product photography, as it shows the item floating in a white space.

The focus is only on the product. Read here on how to create this setup.

Minimalist stock photo of a white pc keyboard

6 Tips on Better Stock Photography

Now that you have started taking images, you could benefit from a few tips on how to improve your stock photography.

You need to remember that your competition is huge, and getting bigger each day.

One area that proves to be successful is to lose the clutter. Make your images as simple as possible.

Only include what you need. An item and a relative background (or no background at all).

For the other five tips, you will need to read the article here. Improving your stock photography means improving your sales.

A close up stock photo of a newlywed couple dancing

Organizing a Big Stock Photo Shoot on a Small Budget

Many people think that to create a successful stock photography shoot, you need to have a big budget. This is not the case.

You will need to trade time with money, as more research, organization, and favours will be in order.

Nonetheless, with the right attitude, you can accomplish almost anything.

Some models will work for photographs, food, and exposure. Scratch their back and they will scratch yours.

Read the tips here on how to keep the costs low and the outcome high.

A close up of coworkers fist pumping across a desk

11 Tips for Boosting Your Stock Photography Business

If you’re in a rut, and not sure what to photograph, you need a little jumpstart.

You might be doing OK in terms of your photographic content. But your stock page might need some work.

Photograph scenarios and scenes that are needed. It is one thing to photograph what you like and is available to you. But it may not be in demand.

Research into what the trends are, or what niche areas might be overlooked. This lowers your competition and makes your images stand out more. Read all of our tips here.

Close up stock photo of a girl in a leather jacket

9 Dos and Don’ts

There are ways to create great stock photography content. There are also ways to create bad stock images, which are a waste of time and resources.

It might also dent your confidence when it comes to sales. One of the things that you must do is use post-processing software.

This ensures your images are the best version of themselves that they could be.

There are many options to choose from, but we recommend Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

They will give you all the options you need for your stock photography images. They also don’t break the bank.

Reading the article here will give you all the other 8 dos and don’ts for your photographic content.

Two computer screens on a desk

10 Tips to Train Your Stock Photography Eye

You will be more and more aware of your technical abilities. This comes from photographing a lot of photographic scenarios. Practice is the best way to create great content.

Don’t forget about ‘developing your eye’. This doesn’t mean trading your birth-given eyeball for something robotic. But looking at the world in a creative manner.

Having an eye for a photograph means that you can see great photo opportunities where others can’t.

The whole world can be segmented into stock libraries, you just need to see it. Find out how in our article here.

Mountainous landscape scene on a sunny day
Photo by Riccardo Trimeloni on Unsplash

10 Types of Product Photography

Shooting products for stock websites is one of the easiest things to do. It might take a little time acquiring the equipment and skills. But once you have it, nobody can stop you.

If you have space to set up a small yet permanent studio area, you can keep using this again and again. A little light tweaking might be needed, but the base is there.

Read our article here on the equipment you need, and the how of photographing the items. We can also help you create and set-up your own light box.

Close up of a silver wristwatch

The Business Side of Things

How to Price Your Stock Photography

Pricing your photographs to sell in any meaning of the term is difficult.

This number is a made-up number that has no other correlation to anything but your confidence.

This is the same for all fields of photography, from wedding to abstract to fine art. Stock photography is no different.

Saying that, knowing about your competition might help you somewhat. Your photographs could be part of a growing trend that other photographers miss.

This would allow your prices to be more expensive than a repeat of a saturated idea. All the other tips can be found in the article.

Stock photo of a stack of dollar bills

Making Money From Your Stock Photos

Making money and gaining exposure is your goal with stock photography.

You might also find it fun. But making money allows you to eat and makes it easier to continue.

So how do you make money from it? Fortunately, stock images are sought after more and more. You will find that shooting a concept that is in demand will give you a higher chance to be paid. This gives you a higher chance of being paid more than the average as you might be part of a small niche.

All of our tips on how to turn your stock photography into a profitable venture are here.

A conceptual stock photo of a person pouring red pills into their mouth

Where to Sell Your Photos Online

Selling your stock photography has the potential to net you revenue for your photographic business.

If you manage to get past the rigorous selection process many stock websites have, your images can sell for many years.

Where to sell them is the biggest question, as there are many websites open to your stock photography.

Alamy is one of the biggest stock photography websites, and in my opinion, one of the best. You get to keep 60% of the sales you make and it is non-exclusive.

This means that you are free to share the same images on this site and others.

A screenshot from Alamy stock photography agency website

How to Sell Photos and Make Money on Instagram

There might be nothing easier than making money from the images you take with your cellphone.

Your smartphone has one of the best digital cameras you can use.

The benefit is that you already have it in your pocket. There are a lot of apps available at your fingertips for image editing and sharing.

Your cellphone is a tool waiting to be used. A basic idea of composition and lighting would be helpful.

Yet there is nothing stopping you from using your cellphone as a way to tap into this money-making market.

 A smiling girl using a smartphone

Selling Nature Images

Nature images are just one area of stock photography that has the potential to sell. But how can you create images that people will download, netting you a healthy profit?

Well, the biggest tip here is that you need to have a passion for what you do. If you don’t, you will find it difficult to stay motivated.

Nature photography often demands early morning rises and long days.

Your passion is your drive to push for the best possible photographs. Without enthusiasm, the images will suffer.

Read the tips on nature fro stock photography here.

Tall trees in front of a waterfall

7 Tips For Selling Your Stock Photos Like Hotcakes

Now that you have a basic idea of stock websites and how they work, we turn our attention to how to make them sell well.

For others to notice your photographs, they need to be the best images around.

Quality will always be the thing that potential buyers will search for first. These images represent the photographer’s business.

One of the best tips on creating the highest possible quality image is to use a low ISO setting.

The ISO number relates to the amount of grain or ‘digital noise‘ present in your images.

The smallest amount you can get from your setting is best. Read the other tips on how to create images that will sell well here.

 tropical beach scene

What Do The Experts Do? 

In any area of photography, you wish to get into, looking to the experts for help and advice is a great way to start.

Selling your images is no different, as the experts have already found a way to sell their images well.

The main goal here is to practice. Practising your skills ensures that when the moment comes, you can take that perfect stock image.

Although you don’t get paid to practice these shots, it will get you to a place where you can start selling.

All of the tips you need from the stock photograph experts are here.

Shoes hung on a basketball hoop

Stock Photography Tips – How to Make Images That Sell

It is handy to know what images sell better than others. This means that you are not downhearted after spending hours organizing and shooting that business scene.

This is one type of photograph that saturates stock photography websites and is not going to sell well.

One of the themes that sell well is that of seasonal content. Christmas is found to be the most searched word. Ever.

Easter, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Halloween are all holidays you can use for stunning captures.

Christmas themed stock photography of miniature people and Christmas trees

Things To Consider

8 Types of Stock Photos to Avoid at All Costs

My photography teacher hated images of birds, as everyone had brought him their images of them. We are talking about a 40-year long career.

There are many styles of stock photography that have been done to death. My guess would be that most people in companies don’t know about good images.

They want to replicate an idea or concept they have seen somewhere else. Photographers fill the demand and the cycle starts again.

Yes, we are talking about those super ecstatic corporate people in some kind of sports huddle. Metaphor wins, the image loses.

Read here on what images NOT to capture.

Four coworkers giving each other high-fives across a table

Most Downloaded Stock Photos

It is helpful to know what stock images you shouldn’t capture. Knowing what are the most downloaded images offers a direction.

Out of the first ten images that are most downloaded on Shutterstock, six are of nature.

Two of those are of the same scene, one of which is missing the people present in the other.

The top twenty sees three that show a team working concept. There are also eight images of natural variations. 20% are design icons and not even photographs.

Check out the link to get a sense of what people are searching for. This might help point you in the right direction.

A flowing waterfall

Top 20 Stock Photography Trends

Trends are also present in stock photography images. It’s good to know them so you can tailor your photography to follow suit.

‘Lifestyle’ is always a popular trend. This covers food, healthy living, and fitness, and is popular throughout the USA and UK.

Family and relationships have their place on that list, and most of those are going to be through mobile photography.

For the number one trend that will be sweeping across the western world, read our article here. You won’t be surprised.

A close up of a girl typing on a laptop

Reinventing the Cliches

As you have conducted your research, you will find that stock photography is in excess of cliches. Cliched scenarios, situations and over-the-top facial expressions.

But as more and more of these stereotypical images are taken, uploaded and used, there are those that fight back. A group of art photographers were asked to recreate the typical, overused images.

These styles include the most common images: a woman with salad, a happy family and a business meeting. Read the article here to find out their outcome.

Funky photo of pineapples in sunglasses

Licensing & Copyright

Street Photography – Know Your Rights

You might be photographing the street, and then turn your camera to point it at a building that seems interesting. As soon as you do, a security guard comes to tell you that you need to have permission.

Photographers in the past have been harassed and searched for photographing things others tell them they shouldn’t.

This is where knowing your rights helps you as a photographer.

These laws are to help you be creative and as free as possible, but you need to know them. This will stop you from taking unnecessary risks, cut down on wasting time and get stunning images you can use.

Some photographers even resort to carrying around parts of the law with them in case of being stopped. Wherever you might be, there are rights and laws. They protect photographers and people in public areas.

This article links to pages looking at the rights and laws in different countries, from Australia to the USA.

A candid shot of security men

Country-Specific Consent Requirements

Every country has different laws regarding photography. Some are very strict. In Brazil, consent is needed to photograph, share and use commercially.

Others are very relaxed, such as Singapore, where consent is not needed, except for a few exceptions.

Use this list for a basic idea of what is allowed and what is not. In some countries, the risks are just too great.

North Korea is a good example. Even if you are given the opportunity to photograph there, you might find yourself banned from sharing such images online.

A flat lay photo of a film camera on a map

Freedom of Panorama – What It Means for Photography

The freedom of panorama is the legal right to publish pictures of artworks which are in public space.

This is an exception to copyright law and differs from country to country. These artworks encompass sculptures, buildings, or monuments in public space, and under copyright.

You are still able to photograph these without a problem. Some countries are very strict when it comes to their artworks.

A few have made it illegal to share these images on social media. For example, you can take as many photographs of the Eiffel tower in the daytime with no problem.

But at night time, it is illegal.  You can’t share images of the tower’s illumination as it is classed as a separate installation.

Educational platforms such as Wikipedia will have images deleted if the law doesn’t change. This could affect your workflow and creativity.

Stock photo of the Eiffel tower

10 Things Your Photography Contract Must Include

A photography contract for stock photography is to ensure both parties retain their rights. It makes sure that neither side can do anything with the images that were not pre-discussed and agreed upon. Risk of prosecution from either side can be enforced if consent was not given.

One rule for photographing people is to get a release. This is a contract between both parties, allowing the use of the building’s image.

Most stock photography requires this if you wish to sell or use the images online.

Read here for the other nine tips on what your photography contract needs to have.

A close up of a person signing a stock photography contract

8 Best Model Release Apps for Photographers

The great thing about the advancement of cell phone technology is there is an app for everything. We all know how important model release forms are.

Most stock photography agencies won’t accept your images without them.

These digital versions ensure that you will have the forms as long as you have your phone (and battery).

They will last forever, you won’t lose them, and you can share them. Read here on how to find, download, and use them.

A hand holding a smartphone
You can learn more about making money as a photographer with our new eBook – Profit from Portraits!