How to shoot stock photography that sells

The demand for stock photography came about through a simple fact: creating professional photographs is expensive and time consuming. The concept behind stock photography is that images can be captured and cataloged by professionals, and then licensed to whomever requires that particular image.

Although certain skills are required to produce photography to a level sufficient to be sold as stock, the barriers to entry are reasonably low and the production and sale of stock photography can generate a substantial revenue stream to anyone with a reasonable amount of photographic skill, time and enthusiasm.

If you are a keen photographer and want to make a living from producing and selling stock photography, there are some pointers that you would be wise to follow before you dive into the industry.

In this article I aim to outline the most important of those pointers.


Before anything else, the first and foremost starting point as with any new project, is research. it is very important to know the market you are entering into, know your competition and to have a reasonable idea of the demand for what you are planning to offer.

Once you have your desired subject matter in mind, search all of these websites and find all of the similar stock that you can – check views, downloads, quantities and so on to give yourself a feel for:

  1. How much demand there is for stock in your chosen niche
  2. How much competition there is for stock in your niche

With this information you can build a picture of how much demand there is likely to be for stock within your niche – if the demand is very low, it may be wise to either re-think your niche, or branch out your research and find an area within or slightly outside of your niche where there is more demand – don’t be clouded by your favorite subject matter, be realistic when doing this research otherwise you may find yourself investing your time in a futile project.

Popular Niches

Fashions in stock imagery change with time but in general you can count on the following niches being popular and you can also explore offshoots of each niche and likely experience similar popularity:

  • Portrait photography – images of people historically always sell reasonably well – whether its a generic photograph suitable for a website splash, or a descriptive scene to go with magazine article, people always sell well.
  • tourism and Travel – Photographs of world locations that capture some essence of the place they portray always tend to sell well.
  • Conceptual photography – photographs that contain a concept or describe a situation always sell well – for example “children at play” – a good tip when taking these types of photos is to give them a caption, if you can think up an interesting and appropriate caption, they will likely sell reasonably well.

Select your market place and study the guidelines

Once you have decided upon your niche, find the site(s) that best fit this category and then study the submission guidelines of the site(s) in question – find out the submission process, exactly what sort of media is acceptable, formats, timescales and so forth – the better prepared you are in terms of submission guidelines, the less time you will waste when taking photos for submission.

Its actually a great idea at this stage to print of or save the guidelines for later reference.

Taking the Shot

Once you have decided upon subject matter, its time to get practical. At the least you need a reasonable camera – most digital cameras are sufficient to start, but you will get more from a more advanced camera if you are proficient in its use.

A tripod is not a necessity but will greatly improve the quality and sharpness of your shots, so I would highly recommend the purchase of one before you start taking serious photos.

The sharpness of the photograph is extremely important and will provide a much more appealing image than one that is even imperceptibly off focus.

Most important however is the composition of the photograph – this is the factor that cant make one image stand out from a thousand.

Composition is about making the image fit, drawing in the eye of the viewer and telling the story of the image through the layout of the piece.

A good composition will draw the viewer to every detail of the image and will refuse there exit from the photograph thus captivating there attention for as long as possible.

A simple rule for getting the perfect composition is the rule of thirds.

The theory behind the rule of thirds is the division of a “space” into 9 sections – created by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines equally spaced. The primary features of an artwork/photograph should sit on the lines and/or intersections of lines in order to captivate the viewer.

Once you have lined up the shot, perfected the composition and are ready to shoot, take several snaps of the subject – later on you can pick the best shot of each subject – another important step in ensuring the highest quality images are selected for submission.

Catalog and Submit

At the end of a shoot I would always advise you to get the images onto the computer as soon as possible, check all of the images over thoroughly and after picking only the very best shots catalog everything with a full description, short caption and set of keywords – the more religiously this is done, the easier submission will be, as you will have all of the information ready to hand and also you will have full descriptions of each image fresh from taking – rather than looking back at old photographs and missing the original idea/concept.

The last thing to do before final submission is a last quality check of all images – one of the best final checks for an images quality is to take a thumbnail of each image – even if you just mask of each image with your hand, and see how it looks – remember this is how your images will always be viewed first by potential buyers, and thus it is the most important angle for your photographs. If they don’t look good as thumbnails, they may not sell.

Take one final read of the submission guidelines for the site you plan to upload your images to, and then you are ready to submit, and wait for the sales

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