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How to Take Stock Photos: A Complete Guide

Last updated: April 16, 2024 - 9 min read
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How to Take Stock Photos That Sell

Making money from stock photos can be a bit of a nightmare. There are so many options out there for picture editors. And it might seem that no-one wants to pay for images any more. But the good news is, that there is always a market for top-quality, topically-relevant images. And we’re here to help you to navigate your way to taking (and selling!) your photos.


Taking the Right Pictures

Stock photography is a great way to make money from your images. To maximize your income, it’s important to take photos that sell. Research current trends and what clients are looking for by searching online, checking magazines, trade newspapers, and attending trade shows.

Planning your shoot with a shot list will help you capture all the angles and scenarios you need. Dedicate time specifically for stock photography to ensure you get the best possible shots. Shoot with the end product in mind, considering how clients might use the image.

Only show your best work and cover a range of topics within your chosen field. Follow current trends to increase your chances of making sales. Adding keywords and descriptions to your images is vital so potential buyers can find them. Photos that sell well can provide a steady income stream for photographers who put in the time and effort.

Stock photo of a truck
The stock photo world covers all sorts of sectors © T P E Marshall


Selling stock photos can be a great way to make extra money from your photography. To get started, research what types of images are in demand and plan your shoots around popular concepts like business, lifestyle, and outdoor activities. Capture high-quality photos with perfect exposure, pleasing compositions, and natural-looking subjects.

After the shoot, edit your files and choose only the best images to market. Keep your photo library organized with programs like Lightroom or Capture One. You can also use Photoshop to create unique images that would be impossible to photograph in real life.

To sell your stock photos, you can join a stock photo agency or market them yourself. Agencies handle hosting, marketing, and sales, but take a percentage of each sale. If you sell on your own, create a website or use a platform like Photoshelter to showcase your work. Set your pricing based on licensing models like Rights Managed or Royalty Free. With focus and planning, you can turn your stock photography into a profitable business. If you’d like to learn more about selling stock photos, there are many helpful resources available.

selling stock photos

Business Tips

To improve your stock photography business, consider licensing your images through premium stock agencies like Shutterstock and Adobe. While you may sell fewer photos, you’ll earn more per sale compared to microstock agencies. Premium agencies have higher standards, but your images don’t have to be exclusive.

Diversifying your stock offerings is key to making money. Work with multiple agencies to increase exposure and cross-submit to non-exclusive ones. Study the stock photography market to understand what types of images are in demand, and submit every viable photo from your shoots.

Use relevant keywords to help buyers find your images in large databases. Consistency is crucial, so make time to regularly shoot and submit new photos. Let your unique photography style shine to stand out from the crowd. You can also sell through your own website to keep all the profits, but remember to get model releases and treat your stock photography as a serious business.

stock photography business

Best Stock Photo Sites

To help you get an idea of the types of images that sell, check out the most popular stock photo sites. They are a great resource for finding high-quality images quickly. They have a range of photos for website, document, or creative project needs.

Shutterstock is one of the largest stock photo sites with over a billion images. iStock by Getty Images also offers a wide selection of professional photos, illustrations, and videos. For those on a budget, free stock photo sites like Unsplash and Pexels provide beautiful images at no cost.

We’ve reviewed the most popular stock photo sites to help you check them out.

stock photo sites

Becoming Profitable

Selling stock photos can be a profitable way to make money as a photographer. To get started, create a portfolio of your best images that are likely to sell well. Focus on capturing photos that are in demand, such as popular travel destinations, rather than just what you enjoy shooting.

Choose the right stock agency to represent your work. Research their commission rates, submission process, and the types of photos they sell. Make sure your images are a good fit for their collection.

When submitting your photos, include only your best work. Check every image at 100% for technical issues like dust, chromatic aberration, and sharpness. Add relevant keywords and metadata to help potential buyers find your images.

Building a successful stock photography business takes time. Continuously work on selling stock photos and stay up to date with trends in your genre to maximize your sales.

sell stock photos


Shutterstock is a popular stock photography website where photographers can sell their photos. To become a Shutterstock contributor, you need to create a free account and upload your photos. The photos must be JPEGs that are at least 4 megapixels in size.

Once uploaded, add details to your photos like the image type, description, and keywords. This helps customers find your photos more easily. Shutterstock pays contributors a percentage of each photo’s sale price, ranging from 15-40% depending on how many photos you sell per year.

You can track your earnings and see which photos are selling well. To become a shutterstock contributor, focus on creating a large, diverse portfolio of high-quality, well-edited photos. Use Shutterstock’s contributor resources to stay on top of trends and give your photos the best chance of selling.

shutterstock contributor

Travel Photos

Selling your travel photos can be a great way to make money with your photography. To get started, make sure your photos are high-quality and error-free. They should be well-lit, beautifully composed, and better than what already exists.

There are many ways to sell your travel photos, such as through stock photography agencies, directly to clients, or as prints. Choose the method that aligns with your goals and the types of photos you capture.

Actively promoting your work is key to maximizing sales. Use social media, email lists, and collaborations with stock agencies to market your photos. Keep in mind that the destinations you want to visit may not always be the ones that sell well. To learn more about how to sell travel photos, check out this in-depth guide.

how to sell travel photos

What Equipment Do You Need?

Different stock picture agencies will have different requirements. But in general you will need a good quality camera to meet their specifications. The key is to buy wisely, and expand your gear as you are able. Then you can increase the range of niches you can shoot.


Camera, Lenses, and Accessories

To take great stock photos, you need the right equipment. A high-quality camera is essential. Look for a DSLR or mirrorless camera that meets the requirements of stock agencies.

The lens you choose is just as important as the camera. Wide-angle lenses are great for landscapes and interiors. Telephoto lenses work well for wildlife and sports. And macro lenses are perfect for food photography.

Lighting equipment is a must for indoor studio shoots. Options include studio strobes, continuous lights, and flashes. Accessories like tripods, filters, and reflectors are also useful. Build up your collection over time as you need them. And don’t forget about props to add interest to your shots. If you want to learn more about stock photography equipment, there are many great resources available.

A camera on a tripod taking a picture of a pizza
© T P E Marshall


Best Sellers, What to Avoid, and FAQs

If you want to dip your toe in the water, then what are the best places to start? We’ve looked at some best-selling stock photo ideas, and some you really should avoid. We have also chosen some FAQs to answer your queries too.


Top Sellers

We’ve gathered together 20 of the best-selling stock photo themes to inspire your next photography project:

They range from modern aging, which shows older people staying active and adapting to new trends, to DIY projects like baking bread or growing herbs. Mental health awareness and time spent in nature are also in demand.

Wanderlust is back as people travel more. Environmental consciousness and sustainability are important trends. Buyers want real-looking models, not photoshopped perfection. Social responsibility and mindfulness are respected behaviors.

Healthy food alternatives are here to stay. Home office setups with houseplants are a hit. Moving images like cinemagraphs and stop-motion are trending. These are just some of the trends that can point you in the right direction.

Quality photos that tell stories and connect to what’s important never go out of style. Adding your own personality can make your stock photos stand out. If you’re interested in selling stock photos, these themes are a great place to start.

selling stock photos

Ones to Avoid

There are many types of stock photos to avoid using. Over-exaggerated emotions and unnatural activities in strange settings look funny and make it hard for people to connect with the subjects. Low-quality or poorly edited images will make your business look bad.

Instead, use high-quality images that are timeless and can’t be outdated by the changing world. Avoid cliches, stereotypes, and outdated references that might even offend your customers. Focus on organic and natural-looking photos that tell your story.

If you want to learn more about the bad stock photos to avoid using, there is a lot of helpful information available.

bad stock photos


What are stock photos? You’ll find answers to this and other questions in our article. You can find stock photos of nearly any subject to illustrate websites and publications.

Stock photography agencies have vast catalogs of images online. Photographers contribute their work to the catalog voluntarily. The agencies then make the photos available for people to use on their websites, blogs, and publications.

Using stock photos is much easier and cheaper than hiring a photographer. Stock photo companies have already handled the legal aspects, so you can use the images without worrying about copyright issues. If you want to learn more about what stock photos are, there are great resources available with further information.

what are stock photos