How To Create Stock Photography That Sells?

Is selling stock photos worth it?

Should I start a stock photography business?

After reading this post you’ll have the answers to these questions regarding stock photography.

The big question is how much money can you make selling photos online?

There are many stock photography websites out there to sell your stock photos and earn a passive income these days. 


stock photography
Close up of Teenage girls doing homework.

Content in this post on how to create stock Photography that sells:

How to start a stock photography business?

Seems like anyone can sell photos these days on sites like Shutterstock, Getty Image, Dreamstime, or Adobe stock even with your smartphone and earn a decent stock photography income.

Seems straight forward right?


It takes A LOT of dedication, skills, and research to succeed with every photo shoot.

Visual trends are ever-changing and so has the stock photography panorama over the last decade. 

One of the biggest stock provider companies like Shutterstock has grown from 18 million royalty-free stock images in 2012 to almost a 330million royalty-free stock photos, vector graphics, and illustrations in 2022.

This means that your effort in creating high-selling stock imagery will be a much bigger challenge than a decade ago. 

There’s a lot of over-saturated subjects and categories that don’t sell anymore not to mention the fierce competition among contributors. 

But not all hope is gone and there’s still a sprinkle of optimism and ways to benefit from selling your stock images and earning a passive income.

Other contributors may have had a way different experience than me, but I’ll share my Stock Photography Tips: Major Dos and Don’ts


Assuming that you have some descent photographic gear, some skills, and a positive approach to become a better Photographer with stock Photography…then you’re ready for this adventure.

My very first online visit to Shutterstock was absolutely overwhelming!!

stock photography many pictures and categories to choose from. I couldn’t actually made up my mind at  first on where to start. I though I could shoot anything.

I immediately dived into my hard drive looking for possible pics to upload and was very surprised and disappointed when I realized that almost 70% of my entire portfolio didn’t meet up to the microstock selling standards!! 

Trademarks, grain, missing model, and property releases among other reasons. Actually, the main reason for discarding all these images was because of the wrong commercial approach.

What is stock photography?

The main idea about selling stock images is to create content that other people can use in their commercial projects.

A good stock photo is a high-quality professional image with a generic and commercial approach available for a wide variety of potential buyers.

I’ve seen many talented photographers in the microstock industry with GREAT portfolios but with very little sales. These agencies recommend a rather commercial than an artistic point of view.

Creating very singular artistic images with little demand could decrease the possibility of selling your work on these sites. But don’t get confused between “artistic” and “creative”. Creativity is essential when creating new content and differentiating your images from the rest. 

My first recommendation is to shoot what you love and what you are good at.

I wouldn’t start with underwater photography if I don’t have the right gear or a lack of diving experience.

stock photography
Close up face shot of little Afro American boy testing vision. Kid with closing on eye with hand. Vision chart with block letters and focus point in background.

The above photo of the boy testing eye vision is a studio portrait against a white background.

I used a single  Elinchrom D-Lite strobe and the “Nifty Fifty” Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM.

Researching your niche is key. Knowing what to shoot or what’s trending is one of the most important and very first steps to follow.

Looking up a specific category on these stock agencies you’ll get a good idea of their online imagery and the exact amount of images they offer on that subject.

More than 27 million image references are the amount Shutter stock has to offer on a generic “Beauty woman” search. 

If you have a lifetime of experience in taking female beauty portraits and you’re able to improve and stand out from the crowd with your content… then you’re more than welcome to start uploading beauty shots and try your luck selling them. 

Top view of woman having cosmetic facial high intensity focal ultrasound treatment.

This doesn’t mean discarding women’s beauty shoots at all. This image could also be categorized under a “women’s beauty” category but more specialized in cosmetic non-destructive treatments.

A “skin tightening” search gives a merely 8000 image result and this could be a possible new shoot to consider.

Searching on Google, looking at newspapers, books, banners, magazines or any other kind of advertising could help out filling the gaps on what to shoot.

START on a Low Budget

The best way to start earning money from stock photography is to start on a low budget.

Hiring professional models, props or locations is definitely not a 100% guarantee for creating high selling stock images.
There are a lot of camera-friendly and photogenic people out there willing to pose in exchange for a bunch of professional or good-quality photos of themselves.

Just make sure they sign your model release in advance. Some restaurants are also prepared to barter for pro pictures for their websites.

Many of my exchange shoots turned into high-selling content. Part of the pre-shoot planning is choosing the right model to achieve the right feeling and look.

Designers like Armani, Gucci, or Prada choose their models very carefully to match their brand.

Extreme close up of beautiful young girl having dental check up.

Perfect healthy teeth were essential for creating this macro close-up. A single light strobe was used with a Canon 100mm f2.8 USM L Macro Canon Lens. In most situations using natural light with some reflectors are more than enough to light your subject.

Overproducing and shooting from every possible angle increases selling possibilities and buyers often search for multiple angles and different focal lengths on the same subject. 

Quality over quantity works best for me, but some contributors may differ. Details matter and fine-tuning especially when planning a photoshoot could assure a more successful result.  



Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Choosing the right keywords for each image is a crucial step if you want to create stock photos that sell.

If you’re able to guess the content of a picture with your eyes closed only by reading the descriptive keywords then most probably these keywords used are the most appropriate. 

Remember that Google can’t see photos and depends on keywords, image titles, and a good description to classify and rank images.

A good stock photo with a bad description and keywords would be completely invisible to potential buyers. All the effort of planning, shooting, and obtaining commercial stock photos would be a waste of time and money if there’s a lack of keyword description. 

These 5 words mentioned above are the first guidelines to be used when starting the keyword process. 

Tip: Take your time!! .. and don’t forget about colors, mood, use conceptual keywords, describe camera angles and of course check your spelling!

I normally avoid batch processing of keywords. Any small variation of importance has to be mentioned. To fine-tune, your keywords are as important as the actual shoot. The image and its keywords become one and they can’t sell without one another. 

Close up portrait of attractive elegant african woman driving convertible under sunny sky.

These are the description and keywords used in the above image:

Image description: Close-up portrait of attractive elegant African woman driving convertible under sunny sky.

Keywords: africa; african; african american; afro; afro american; afro hairstyle; beautiful; black; ethnicity; expression; female; girl; happiness; human face; portrait; young; youth; teen; teenager; student; lifestyle; adult; auto; buying; car; drive; driver; driving; examination; fun; conceptual; concept; license; new; owner; rental; summer; travel; trip; vehicle; cabriolet; convertible; sky; sunny; luxury; comfort, elegant,

Post Production

Other important issues like post-production and retouching could also heavily influence the end result of a photoshoot and the impact on your sales. I use Adobe Camera Raw to edit my Raw files and Adobe Photoshop CC for retouching and image optimization.

But I’ll explain my retouching workflow in a future tutorial.


How much do photographers actually earn by selling stock photos?

How much do agencies pay per sale? 

Most agencies have separate earning levels for images and videos, ranging from 15% to 40%. 

The more you sell the higher your earnings percentage will get.

The commissions earned from a subscription plan could be as low as 0,10 cents of a dollar per download. ( This is the lowest payout from Shutterstock ).

On-demand images on Shutterstock have higher payouts up to $ 92,85 per photo and up to $80 per video clip.

The contributor earnings breakdown at Adobe is 33% for photos and 35% for video clips.

Photographers can expect royalties from $0,33 to $26,50 per image download and $2.8 to $70 for single clip downloads.

The truth about earning a descent income from stock photography today has many pros and cons.

The negative side when starting as a stock photographer, videographer, or graphic designer is the fierce competition of existing contributors and a high volume of quality content.

The low payout per image /video clip require huge portfolio’s with high selling imagery.

The positive side of the story when uploading for the first time to these stock agencies, is the possibility in selling your photos on a worldwide market earning a passive income.

I believe in quality over quantity.

If you want to sell photos and make money on-line you’ll have to find a way to stand out from the crowd.


Photographic gear I’m using.


For more Photographic insights read my posts on “How to shoot a $1000 best seller photo” and “5 tips to shoot stunning food photos”.

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