How To Make Money From Stock Photography (Hints & Tips)

Stock images are used all over the Internet, and that is something to keep in mind if you’re a photographer. So here, we will guide you on how to make money from stock photography.

Hobby Cents Staff Writer
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They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. That may be more true than it has ever been in the past. Today people have less and less time to digest text, and the Internet, including social media, has made them more likely to pay close attention to images.

It is one of the reasons that stock photography companies are enjoying record numbers of sales. However, at the same time, there has been a resurgence of interest in coffee table books on a variety of subjects. Print media is also going through a renaissance. 

This has led many budding photographers if they could translate their passion for producing great photographs into a career made selling those images to stock image libraries. The answer is complex.

It is possible indeed that many people make their living in this way. But there are some important considerations to take into account before committing to a full-time career as a stock image-focused photographer.

What Do You Need To Get Started Making Money From Stock Photography?

Selling your photos is just one way to make money with photography online. But, it is a popular method because it is passive and doesn’t require you to actively sell your prints.

Consider Your Equipment

It’s not difficult to get set up to take great stock photos; in fact, some of the latest and more advanced smartphones can take some exceptional shots.

That said, sticking to a smartphone like an iphone for photography can limit which stock libraries will accept your submissions – many still insist on the use of professional equipment. Investing in a great digital camera and some specialized lenses is something you will have to consider.

Consider The Competition

However, you are also going to decide what sort of images you will be focused on (pun intended). Stock photography is a highly competitive industry.

You will be not only competing against thousands of other photographers, but you will also be competing with the thousands of images that the stock image library already has in stock.

Chase the Latest Trends

You need to be an avid follower of trends. This means subscribing to as many social media sites as possible – and following leading influencers. There’s a very good reason for that.

Trend analysis on social media can be informative. Take note of what people are talking about and be aware of the drivers that may influence what type of images are hot at any particular point in time.

A great example is holidays. The market for Halloween images or Christmas images or even travel images starts to heat up about two months (although this can vary) before the particular holiday or season. Make sure that you have the stock to place with a stock agency.

As for influencers, they are the canaries in the coalmine. Many of these influencers make their living off following trends – so it’s a good bet that they have their fingers on the pulse of what’s hot and trending.

Most large and reputable image sites (a great example is Canva, and Stock Photo Secrets is a great source of inspiration) will have articles and sample images of what is trending at the moment.

And many of these articles go into great depth when it comes to hints and tips about composition, colors, and niche topics. Make sure that you subscribe to their newsletters if available. If not, keep checking back regularly.

Keep an eye on trend sites in your particular niche. Magazines, lifestyle articles on news sites, etc. Knowing what people are interested in is just as important as the shots themselves. 

make money stock photography trend
Always keep an eye for what’s trending in your particular niche.

Let’s Talk About Niches

Following those trends is all very well, but the more common subjects and niches are going to be covered by thousands of mature and professional photographers who are going to be focused (again, pun intended on saturating the stock image companies with the perennial favorites.

Just how many images of a generic beach or a forest in autumn do you think that those stock image libraries actually need? And even if they do accept your photos – the competition in those saturated landscape photography markets is fierce – it’s simply a numbers game.

Try to avoid being a generalist – find your niche and hone your skills. An example is insects. You may become a real expert on taking images of Dragonflies, for instance. Not only do these appeal to specialist publications and websites, but they are also popular as far as design sites are concerned. Wildlife photography can be a great way to make money on the side.

In one fell swoop, you have become both specialist and generalist. This is, of course, only an example. Sit down and think carefully about where your passion lies – and some niche markets that will allow you to both enjoy your photography and feed your bank account.

When choosing your niche, the following have proven themselves over time to attract the attention of stock photo buyers:

  • Commerce and Industry
  • Nature/Landscapes
  • Lifestyle
  • Holidays and Celebrations
  • Travel

What Is The Easiest Way To Make Money Selling Stock Images?

The following is going to sound negative – but it’s the truth. Most people trying to make a living selling stock images throw in the towel after about six months.

The major reason – they’re not seeing their income grow at the pace that they would like. It’s worth repeating: this is a highly competitive business.

The keys to success are focus and perseverance.

That said, there are a number of practical strategies (and markets) that can drastically improve your chances of making a significant passive income from stock photography. Let’s take a look at some of these.

Focus on Keywords

Firstly, you may take the most incredible, striking photos in the world. However, it’s not going to help if people cannot find them. This is where you have to be creative in a different way – you need to focus on the keywords attached to your images.

Those keywords point buyers in the direction of your images. Pay attention to detail when developing keyword lists. Is your image of a “boat” (singular) or “boats” (plural). Keywords need to be descriptive; are these “yachts” or “powerboats”? Avoid the generic; specificity is key. 

Know Your Audience

Doing a proper audience segmentation analysis can be key to success with stock images. Each audience has its own particular needs. Marketing agencies, magazines, listed companies, event management companies – each wants something in particular from you.

Once you have identified your niche (see above), make sure that you subdivide that into potential buyers of your work. Answer three key questions before you even take the shot: “Who is going to buy it?” “What will they use it for?” and “How are they going to use it?”

Study how images are used. Some ad agencies, for example, favor a lot of white space – they are, after all, going to be adding copy to that image when it appears in the print media.

Regularity is a Key Driver of Success

You need to be uploading images constantly. Of course, those images have to be of a professional quality, but again, it’s worth repeating that this is a numbers game. Put simply, the more images you have out there, the better the chance of some selling.

New content also attracts the attention of buyers – and with the correct keywords, they appear in search results more often. Let’s also not forget about those trends.

Trends can be ephemeral – they change very quickly. Make sure that your images reflect changing tastes and interests among your buyers (and their audiences).

make money stock photography stock image sites
Here are some of the most well-known stock image sites for you to check out.

Most Popular Stock Image Sites

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular stock image sites that should be on every photographer’s list.


The gorilla in the sandpit is Shutterstock. Every photographer worth his or her salt has a portfolio on Shutterstock. For those in search of high-quality stock images, Shutterstock is almost always the first port of call. It attracts buyers from a variety of niches, from bloggers to multinational ad agencies.

Shutterstock images are available in 150 countries. In a nutshell, it provides the photographer with an enormous potential market. They also offer exceptional value for money for those in search of images.

But the low cost of the images means that photographers can expect low payments for their work. As usual – it’s a numbers game, and many photographers make their bread and butter from Shutterstock sales.


iStock, which is now owned by Getty Images, also has an enormous library. They pay slightly better rates than Shutterstock.

But it’s being part of the Getty family that really provides the photographer with an enormous image. In reality, your images will be available across the entire Getty client base – and that is enormous.


Its library is not as extensive as either Shutterstock or iStock – but they are far more generous when it comes to payment. Good photographers can expect up to 50% of the sale price of their images.

However, their submission standards are tough. For newcomers, it’s also an attractive option due to the fact that it’s British-owned. That means less red tape to cope with when it comes to signing up.


For beginners, Dreamstime can be a great place to start, primarily because they are one of the few reputable sites that welcome images taken with smartphones. 

There are other respected options such as Adobe’s Fotolia and Depositphotos.

If you are serious about targeting stock libraries, there is no doubt that you will benefit from some of the specialized stock photo management software out there.

For instance, there is StockSubmitter. This software automates keyword creation, tags, and metadata (do some research into these terms, they are not complex – but familiarizing yourself with them is essential).

StockSubmitter will then allow you to submit your images to multiple stock suppliers. It’ll save you time and effort. Xpiks is a free option with much the same functionality, and qHero is great for generating keywords.

How Much Money Can You Make From Selling Stock Photography?

It’ll all depend on just how focused you are. Identify your niche, keep up to date with trends, and keep taking and submitting shots to as many stock libraries as possible. Do not become discouraged.

It may be better to start off slow (in other words – don’t give up your day job). But as your portfolio grows, so will your passive income. Once again (at the risk of endless repetition), it’s a numbers game.

Can You Make A Career From Selling Stock Images?

Many people do. However, although taking fabulous images may be your passion, remember if you want to make a career out of your passion, you will have to start treating it as a business.

If you can get it right, you will be one of the lucky few who are able to combine something that they truly love with paying the bills. That is something almost priceless.

If you are unsure about the opportunity in stock photography, here are lots of other ways you can make money from photography.

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