How To Become a Stock Photographer

Want to earn more cash from your photography? This guide will show you how to break into the stock photography game—and how to take stock photos that sell.

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Shooting stock photos is a great way to earn some extra income from your photography. Not sure where how to become a stock photographer? Our beginner’s guide will clue you into the bestselling stock photos and help show you how to take stock photos that sell. Best of all, taking amazing stock photos often leads to more views of your online photography portfolio—and more clients for your other work. Let’s get started!

So, What are the Bestselling Stock Photos?

When it comes to selling stock photos, what are the bestselling stock photos? Let’s take a look at which stock pictures are worth big money.

People in Authentic Settings

It’s hard to stage high-quality stock photos!

Begin by observing people in natural settings, such as at a party or in a coffee shop. Plan your moment by observing how people interact with each other and objects, such as their phone or a drink.

You can take candid photos or stage a similar scene with models. Unless the people’s faces are obscured or cut off, you will need a model release form to sell your photos.

Allow for spontaneity when working with models for the most natural-looking photos and interactions. Picture yourself with friends and family, or in a socially acceptable location, such as a parade or outdoor area. Assuming everyone signs model releases, candid photos can work.


The most searched keywords for stock photos are also the hardest to compete with. Think about what subject matter companies will have trouble finding unique stock images for, whether it is a medical condition or an under-explored travel location.

Try your own searches to see what’s missing on stock photography sites and plan shoots around it.


Emerging technology such as commercial drones, virtual reality, and cryptocurrency will have much fewer stock photography options than subjects like love or spring that have existed since the dawn of humanity. Emerging technology is often a product, but there is also a broader picture of its implications.

A great product shot is as important as knowing how to tell a story in a stock image. Consider the photo of the distracted boyfriend: it tells a story! Why not stage a narrative (with models, objects, and setting) to convey a concept, such as the impact of social media?

As other trends, such as men’s self-care or veganism, become more mainstream, the need for stock art increases. This also applies to legalization of cannabis. Members of stock photography sites like Shutterstock are often kept up to date on emerging trends, which can help you anticipate market demand.

Real Events

Attending a business conference or a Halloween parade is a great way to capture authentic energy. Event photography requires a shot list and a mix of candid and staged shots. Your photos will stand out immediately if you use people in unusual costumes or bright, stylish outfits.

Try to get a behind-the-scenes shot whenever possible for a more intimate shot. Indoor event photography: know your light source. Learn about camera etiquette when traveling or attending an event. Always be polite and remember that you will need any photos with people’s faces to sign a model release form.

Time of Year

When it comes to selling stock photos, seasonal events, especially less mainstream ones in your area, are in high demand. Even if certain seasons, such as Thanksgiving or summer, have a lot of stock photography, you can still find a niche.

Look for emotional moments in your stock art, such as a child’s surprise on Christmas morning. Getting closer to people helps. As the seasons change, consider how the outdoor lighting will affect your shot.

The Most Popular Stock Photo to Download Right Now

Researching the most popular stock photos online is also a great way to get an idea of what sells. Shutterstock lists their most popular stock photography according to the number of downloads. Likewise, Unsplash, the free stock photography platform, provides stock photography examples from their most popular photographers.

These stock photo examples include landscapes, portraits, product photography, and much more. Whatever your style or artistic expertise, keeping an eye on the competition is essential if you want your work to make the lists for popular stock photos on the internet.

If you are looking for more inspiring examples of stock photos, Format’s Portfolio builder contains hundreds of templates from stock photography gurus that will help get your creative juices flowing.

The Most Searched Images Online

While using marketplace downloads to measure trends in stock photography, a simple search on google will also result in some of the best-selling stock photos on the internet. If you are looking for examples to set the stage for your next stock photography venture, search engines are a great place to start.

Stock Photography Tips: Major Dos and Don’ts

Now that you have learned about the best-selling stock photos let’s get into shooting those stock photos—and tips for selling stock photos that will sell! Here are our top stock photography tips to help set you on the right path to creative success. Before taking stock photos, be sure to familiarise yourself with these major Dos and Dont’s.


Have a Concept

Make sure you know why you are shooting and what you are trying to capture. Knowing your mood is crucial. You may find a niche that requires a darker environment to portray a less sunny, more complex idea. It is much easier to create stock photography in advance than to find it later.

Make That Thumbnail Look Good

A designer will see your stock image as a thumbnail on a stock photography site. Your stock photo should be clear and easy to understand, as they will only glance at it. Consider taking photos that allow for text or design treatment. So a designer can use it for a brochure, an online ad, or a website cover photo.

Carry Your Camera (or Camera Phone) with You Always

While a lot of articles cover how to take stock photos, they often miss out on the most fundamental point – always carry a camera! Yes, it’s important to plan, but amazing, authentic moments can happen around you at any time, so make sure you are ready to capture them—it could be your next great best-selling stock photo! This is a great way to explore subjects, or niche topics you may not have realized were accessible for you.


Show Any Logos

Stock photography is commercial photography—so that means no logos. There are some exceptions, like if you are photographing a person using an iPhone, but even so, you want to make sure the logo isn’t the focus of the image. When a company is shopping for photography, they won’t want a competitor’s logo in it.

Keep Taking the Same Stock Photos

You can find a niche, but don’t keep recreating the same stock image photography over and over. Try something new to create unique stock photography that will really snag buyers’ attention. For example, find a cool angle or out-of-the-way location for your subject that isn’t usually done. Take different shots and think of ways to make your photo stand out without being overly controversial.

Upload Just Because

There is a difference between subjectively not liking the way a scene is shot and knowing objectively that you could do better. It’s important to keep shooting even when you don’t feel inspired, but that doesn’t mean you should upload everything. A good shot will keep selling, while a bad shot will just clutter the internet and lower the quality of your online body of work. Try a new kind of photo subject or even a new editing style, but don’t upload whatever just because everyone else is.

Here are some more dos and don’ts, plus additional tips from stock photographers) around the world. Explore different stock photography websites to find helpful advice in their blogs for specific niches.

How To Start a Stock Photography Business

If you are looking to start a stock photography business, there are five key steps that you should take first:

  1. Write a Business Plan
  2. Be clear about your costs.
  3. Get some good photography gear and learn how to take stock photos.
  4. Build an online presence shooting stock photos
  5. Create an Online Portfolio.

For more tips on how to get into stock photography, check out our comprehensive guide to starting a photography business.

How Do I Price My Stock Photography?

Now that you’ve got the rundown on creating stock photography, the next step is learning what to charge for your stock images. Check out our detailed guide on how to price stock photography.

How to Sell Stock Photos (and Use Them as an Advertising Tool)

Now we get to the good part: making that money! Here are a few tips on where and how to sell stock photography and how to use stock photos to drive potential clients to your online portfolio website—and become clients. Learning how to sell stock photos for beginners can seem challenging at first; If you are looking to become a stock photographer, let these selling stock photography tips be your guide:

Get to Know the Stock Photography Agencies

Every stock photography site has a different system. Some are better known but take a bigger cut of your pay, while others give you more freedom but don’t have as many customers. You can check out some of the most popular stock photography sites here.

Once you’ve picked your platform(s) and have uploaded your stock photos to sell, you will need to create tags and descriptions so people can find your photographs. You will want to be specific about your photo and include details like where it was shot or the emotion it portrays, depending on the subject. Here are some additional tips on acing your metadata.

Use Those Stock Photos to Drive Customers to Your Online Portfolio

A stock photo makes you money. A great stock photo makes you money twice: once during the initial sale and once more when folks are inspired by your stock photography skill to check out your other work and hire you for different photography jobs. Producing stock photography really is a smart way to make a name for yourself.

It’s important to make sure you have your online photography portfolio all set up to showcase your work to any potential clients coming to you from stock sites. Use a website builder to create a professional-looking site in minutes; pick one that has a variety of fresh templates to choose from, and offers a free trial so you can see if it works for your needs.

Once clients see all your work so beautifully presented on your online portfolio, they’ll hopefully segue from one-time stock customer to ongoing client for your editorial, commercial, or portrait work. That’s the best thing about stock photography: it’s a great way to make money and build your client base. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get your piece of the stock photography market!

Want more ways to sell your work online?
The 10 Best Ways to Sell Landscape Photography Online
How Four Artists Use Their Websites to Sell Their Work
How To Sell Stock Photos Successfully

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