Yesterday was a milestone day for me. I hit 10,000 sales of stock images. Yes, some of us are still selling and making money through stock photography. Of course, I will never get rich from my proceeds, but the sales do help to pay for my equipment.

Stock Photography takes patience and perseverance. It is not an easy road. But it is fun seeing my images on book covers and in travel books and websites. Recently, I even made the CBS online news with two of my images being used in one story.

Helpful Tips

So, what is the big secret, to experience so many sales? Nothing magical. Just hard work. If you are interested in stock photography, I have put together a few tips that have worked for me.

  1. Differentiate in your mind between fine art photographs and stock imagery. Stock photographs illustrate one or more concepts—they relate to the subject an author is describing in a magazine article, blog, book chapter, advertisement, or other writing. One of my photos was even used in a United Nations paper on Panama. My photograph of a poinsettia plant in a window in Mexico has nearly three times more sales than an image of a turquoise glacier in Chile. Both are nice images, but the window has been used to illustrate many more topics than the glacier, including articles on carpets and carpet cleaning, Mexico, vacation rentals, Spanish language courses and schools, horticulture and flowers, pottery, Christmas,  windows, and for the color scheme.     
  2. Distinguish your brand. Develop a style, attitude or niche. Perfect your picture-taking and image processing skills. Diversify, even if you photograph within a niche. Diversification opens the doors to more buyers.
  3. Closely analyze your images. Be your own worst critic. Stock images need to be pixel perfect. Barely any noise. No artifacts. Appropriate lighting.
  4. Keep the clutter out of your online stock portfolio. Delete images that do not sell. It is better to upload fewer high-quality images than more images of a lesser quality. Avoid similars.
  5. Learn to be organized, consistent and efficient, if you are not already. This is important since you will be working with large numbers of files to upload for sale. Develop a good filing system on your computer so that you can easily find your images. 
  6. Understand how the metadata is interpreted and used by the search engine for the site you are selling your images on. If the metadata is not created to your strategic advantage for each image, your images may not show up at the top of a buyer’s search. For example, if a title beyond 6 words will work against you in a search, keep the titles of your images to 6 words or less. If descriptions carry more weight than keywords then create detailed descriptions that fully cover your subject, beyond the keywords.
  7. Step outside your comfort zone. Try something different. New challenges spark creativity. Not only will you become a better photographer, you will diversify your abilities and improve your portfolio.
  8. Read the blogs and forums available to you through stock agency websites. Check out the archives. Learn from others. Look to see what types of images sell best. Help others.
  9. Be patient. It takes a long time to see significant results

Which Agency?

There are many stock photography agencies to choose from. It is important to research the different agencies and decide which is best for you and the types of images you take. Also compare current terms of payment. Adobe Stock is popular because it links into the Creative Cloud apps. I sell my images through I initially joined Dreamstime because its community of contributors had a good reputation and were welcoming and helpful to photographers just starting in the stock photography business. That was certainly the case for me. I “met,” through online forums, many photographers from around the world who inspired me and gave me lots of helpful hints.

What Sells?

Images of people are supposed to sell best. That was what I read and was told when I started selling stock images. That is probably what many of you will hear. Not the everyday people you see while traveling or walking the streets, but beautiful models with perfect hair and make-up, photographed with even light typically from studio lights or off-camera flashes. With my portfolio, I have not found that to be the case. My images of nicely lit models do sell, but not as well as other images. My best-selling image is an iceberg from Antarctica, seen at the top of this post.  It has sold 173 times, as of today. I think it is important to experiment with different types of images, on the sites you are selling through, and see what works best for you. Since the market is highly competitive it probably makes sense to differentiate yourself. Try to find a niche, style or subject that makes you stand out in the crowd.