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Tips to Get Your Stock Photos to Sell

One of my favorite ways to earn money from home is through stock photography. You can see from my income reports that every month I make money from multiple stock photo sites. I make money whether I spend time working on photos or not. Once my pictures are accepted to a site, they’re available for people to buy over and over and I make income passively! It’s awesome! Passive income doesn’t mean there’s no work involved, it means the work is done once and then you can earn income continually off that one time work. So what work needs to be done to get your photos to sell? Here are some tips to get your photos noticed and that passive income stream flowing.

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Start Shooting

-Obviously you’re never going to make any income if you don’t get started. Jump in and let’s go. If you already have a camera then there’s no upfront costs or reason to wait.

-You can use photos you’ve already taken. If you’re like me, then you have thousands of pictures just sitting in folders on your computer. While not all photos are stock quality, you probably have plenty that would already work. Search your folders and you might be surprised to find lots of photos just waiting to make you money.

-Shoot niche photos. If you aren’t sure what pictures you should be taking, don’t overthink this. People need photos of everything. Pick a topic and search on the stock photo sites to see what’s there. You could do photos with socks, forks, bikes, mountains, hands, doors, soccer balls, etc. You don’t need to live in an exotic location for photo opportunities. Stock photography isn’t limited to the streets of New York or shops in Paris. About 90% of my photos are taken in my home. Keep in mind that some subjects are a tougher sell than others. One topic I would be hesitant to start with is flowers. Unless you have some amazing, creative, stand out ideas for flower photography it’s hard to stand out in that crowd. Currently at Shutterstock there are 6,234,016 photos if I type in “flowers”. However, if I type in “hockey puck” there’s only 8,474. I do have a few flower pictures, but they don’t sell nearly as often as my other photos. 


Set Goals

– Every month I make a list of goals for each of my various jobs including stock photography. I list out each of the stock agencies I sell through and how many new photos I want to get accepted this month. For example, my goal might be to get 50 photos accepted at Shutterstock, 10 at Dreamstime, 10 at CanStock, etc.

– Don’t get overwhelmed with submitting all your photos to every agency right away. If you find a company that is selling well, focus on them for awhile and then work on building up your portfolio at other agencies. I just recently joined Can Stock Photo and Deposit Photos, while I’ve been with Shutterstock and iStock for a few years. Set a goal to join one or two new agencies per month.

– Set aside time to take stock photos. While you might have plenty of photos on your hard drive that you can submit, you will have more success selling photos that are designed to be stock photos. Make a goal to spend an hour just taking stock photos.


What Do Buyers Want?

– Selling stock photography is completely different than a family photo shoot. Most stock photo buyers aren’t looking for a family standing in a field smiling at the camera. So what are they looking for? The majority of stock agencies have a section where you can view the top-sellers. Check out Fotolia’s best-selling photos here. You can search top-selling this week, month, or all time. On Shutterstock, you can search a topic and have it filtered by most popular. Let’s say you planning on taking pictures of some pots and pans. Type “pots and pans” into the search bar and filter by “popular”. The top selling images might help you understand what style of photo sells the best and possibly give you ideas to improve your photos.

-Think of yourself as a buyer. Who would want to buy this photo and why? What topics are trending in the news that bloggers might need photos for?

-Many buyers want copy space or blank space to easily add text. For example, here are a couple pictures of antique books that I have for sale. Notice how one photo has empty white space above the books that can be used for adding text while the other photo with the LEGO minifigure is more about telling a story and the minifigure is the main focus.

I’ve sold both these photos, but they serve different purposes. You can use a similar setup and have one photo with copy space and one without. Here’s an example of how that copy space might be used for a buyer to easily insert text.




Get Your Photos Found

 – Use all your keywords! I can’t emphasize the importance of keywords enough! Utilize as many keywords as you can. Each stock photo site is different in the number of keywords you can associate with each image, but do your best to use them all. A buyer is not going to find your photo out of the thousands to choose from if your only keywords are “books” and “pile”.  Let’s take my book photo without the LEGO as an example. If I search “stack of books” on Shutterstock, I get 113,075 results. How is anyone going to find my image in that many results? Well, maybe the buyer wants an image with copy space, and the buyer wants antique books, isolated on a white background. Now I search “book isolated on white antique stack copy space” and get only 565 results. My photos are right there on the front page. I guarantee there were more than just 565 out of the 113,075 that fit my search description, they just didn’t enter in the right keywords. That’s why I highly recommend using all your allotted keywords. You never know how specific a buyer is going to search. Shutterstock allows 50 keywords, Dreamstime allows 80, istock allows 50, each site is different.

 – Be creative on your keywords. Here are some ideas to consider when you enter the keywords for your photos: what colors are in your photo, are their people (use the tag “nobody” or “no people” if there isn’t anyone), is your photo horizontal or vertical, search for synonyms to adjectives you’re already using, does your image apply to a certain industry (education, restaurants, construction), what emotion does the photo convey (funny, serious, informative, beauty), are there symbolic items in your photo (books = knowledge, lightbulb = idea, heart = love), and use photography terms (blur, bokeh, streak, reflection, low-light).

– Submit photos to multiple stock agencies. Here are the agencies I am associated with and recommend.

Can Stock Photo
Big Stock
Deposit Photos

 – Be patient and keep submitting. When I first started I wasn’t sure if it was worth my time to get paid $.25 for a photo. I just came upon my 2-year stock photography anniversary and now many of my simple photos (taken in my basement) have made over $50, $70, and a couple over $100 each. I can take, edit, and upload around 6 photos in an hour. That’s 10 minutes per photo. If that 10 minutes (or even that hour) can eventually make me $100, then it’s worth my time. Even if it takes 2 or 3 years to make $100 off a photo, it will add up eventually. Plus that photo will continue to earn money every month, even if it’s $.33 at a time. Upload as many photos as you can and the more you do, the more people will find you. I have buyers that follow my photography accounts and know when I’ve uploaded new photos. If you only have 25 photos on a site then it’s going to be harder for someone who likes your style to find your portfolio. Keep submitting, the more photos you submit, the more you make!

I’d love to hear about your stock photo questions, successes, and ideas. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter to stay up-to-date on any changes, photography updates, work from home ideas, and money saving tips. For more photography articles, click here. And for those of you who aren’t photographers, these stock agencies also accept audio, video, and vector illustrations.

This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. Thank you SO much for this info! I had read one of your income reports previously and saw you were in the biz of selling stock photography, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I’m so happy to have come across this post as well. Thank you!

  2. I’m so happy I came across your blog! I was literally just thinking about selling stock photos (or at least trying to) earlier this week and didn’t really know where to get started!

    I have thousands of photos that I’ve taken “sitting in folders on my computer”, or even worse – on old hard drives in the closet!!! Would love to turn this into a passive income.

    Feeling a bit more confident about how to get started! Thanks 🙂

  3. Thank you for the list of sites, I’ve been thinking of doing this for some time. I just recently went thru my computer and organized 40,000 photos I’ve taken over the last 10 years. I’m working on an e-course on lifestyle photography for the blogger and while looking at images, thought that selling them too might be a nice revenue stream!

  4. I’ve considered selling stock photos. Right now I have photos and art on Zazzle, which is kind of similar except photos go on mugs, t-shirts, and other stuff. You can choose the percentage you get (within reason). I have seen a stock photo company called They give 70% commission, but I don’t know how well people do.

  5. I’ve been really curious on how to sell stock photos! Submitting just a few at a time sounds very manageable and like a great way to test it out and see if it’s something I enjoy. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  6. I’ve been really curious on how to sell stock photos! Submitting just a few at a time sounds very manageable and like a great way to test it out and see if it’s something I enjoy. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  7. This is a really helpful post! I love it. I bookmarked it for more review, so I can follow your steps. Thanks for all the wonderful tips!

  8. Learn how to get buyers to find you, where to submit your photos to, how much I make selling stock photography, and get some passive income flowing!

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