How To Create Stock Photography That Sells

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.


Shooting stock photos is a great way to earn some extra income from your photography. Not sure where to get started? Our beginners guide will clue you in to 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

High-quality stock images don’t feel staged. Start by observing people in authentic settings, from friends at a party or strangers working in a coffee shop. Get a feel for the natural interactions people have with each other and objects, whether it’s their phone or a drink, and plan for your moment. Depending on the setting, you may choose to take candid photos or set up a similar scene with models. However, keep in mind you will need to have a model release form to license the sale of your photos unless the folks’ faces are obscured somehow or cut off. When working with models, allow room for improvisation for the most candid-looking photos and interactions with the environment. If you are with friends and family, or in a socially acceptable setting to take photographs, like a parade or outdoor area, then candid photos can work for you (just make sure to have everyone sign those model releases!).


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 some test searches of your own to determine what is lacking on stock photography sites, and plan shoots around creating content to fill this void. Here are some more ideas for stock photography niches you could think about specializing in.


Emerging technology such as commercial drones, virtual reality and cryptocurrency will have much less stock photography options than subjects like love or spring that have existed since the dawn of humanity. While emerging technology is often a product, there is also the bigger picture of what the implication of that technology is. It is just as important to learn how to tell a story in a stock image as it is to take a great product shot. Just think about the distracted boyfriend photograph: it definitely tells a story! And you can, too: what kind of narrative can you stage (with models and/or objects and setting) that will convey a concept, like, say, the effect of social media? As other trends become more mainstream, like the self-care industry for men or veganism, the need for stock art in those areas also increases. This also applies to changes in law, like the legalization of cannabis. When you join a stock photography site like Shutterstock, they often will keep you in the loop about emerging trends, which will give you an idea of what kinds of photos are needed on the market.

Real Events

Going to an event, whether it is a business conference or a Halloween parade, is great opportunity to capture some authentic energy. It is important to have a shot list for event photography and convey the mood through both candid and staged shots. People in unusual attire, whether it is a street performer’s costume or a particularly bright or stylish outfit, will immediately make your photographs stand out. Whenever possible, try to take a photo from a behind-the-scenes perspective for a more intimate shot. For indoor event photography, make sure you know where your light source is. If you are travelling and at an event, learn about camera etiquette around the world. As always, make sure to be polite and remember you will need any photos of people that have their faces shown to sign a model release form.

Time of Year

Seasonal events, especially less mainstream ones in your area—like, for example, a local long-running autumn festival with unique regional events—are usually in great demand when it comes to selling stock photos. Although certain times of year will already have a lot of stock photography, such as Thanksgiving or summer, you can still find a niche in that area. Look for moments or emotion, like surprise on a Christmas morning, and focus on capturing the feeling in your stock art. Getting closer to faces is great for that. As seasons change, make sure you understand how the outdoor conditions will change the lighting for an optimal shot.

Stock Photography Dos and Don’ts

Now that you have learned about the best-selling stock photos, let’s get into shooting those stock photos—and how to take stock photos that will sell!


Have a Concept

Make sure you know why you are shooting and what you are trying to capture. Knowing the mood you want is important. While many stock photos are well-lit and feature (extremely) happy people, you may find a niche that needs a darker environment to portray a less sunny, more complex idea. It is much easier to plan ahead and create stock photography for a specific need, rather than finding it later.

Make That Thumbnail Look Good

When a designer is scrolling through a stock photography site, they will see your stock image as a thumbnail. Your stock photo should be clear and easy to understand, as they will only look at your stock picture for a split second. In addition, try to take photos that allow room for text or further design treatment. That way, a designer can adapt it for their needs whether it be a brochure, an online ad, or a website cover photo.

Carry Your Camera (or Camera Phone) with You Always

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. Here are some tips for how to do a good photo walk and some excellent street photography tricks.


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 Photos

You can find a niche, but don’t keep recreating the same stock images 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 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’s a few tips on where to peddle your best stock images, and how to use stock photos to drive potential clients to your online portfolio website—and become clients.

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), you will need to create tags and descriptions so people can find your photographs. You will want to be specific about what your photo is of, 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 Make and Sell Your Own Lightroom Presets