Selling stock photography is one way for a photographer to earn extra income from their craft. We even have a very comprehensive article on which are the best sites to sell your photos online and earn money from doing so.

But what is stock photography and how can you make money from it?

This guide will explain what stock photography is, give some tips on how to take stock photographs that sell, and describe how you can make money selling your stock photos.

food stock photography
Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

What is stock photography?

Stock photography can be defined as photographs that are created without a specific end-user or project in mind.

You can also read our article on websites that offer free stock photos, so you can get inspiration from there.

They are licensed, usually for a fee, to companies or individuals for use in advertising, marketing materials, promotions, graphic design, and more.

Stock photography is much faster and less expensive for a company to purchase than if they were to hire a photographer for a custom photoshoot.

It’s also a way for photographers to earn extra income by selling their work.


What are the different styles of stock photography?

  • Commercial: Used in advertising, marketing, promotional materials, product packaging, or to promote a business, you’ll most often see stock photography in magazine ads or even on the billboard ads on this very website.
  • Editorial: Not for commercial use. Editorial stock photos can only be used by journalists, newspapers, or other media outlets for educational or editorial purposes. Examples include celebrity photos or images of current events.

This guide will focus on commercial stock photography because, as a photographer, you’ll have a higher potential to make sales and this style of stock photography has certain requirements you’ll need to know about, like model and property releases.

stock photography
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

What is a model release?

A model release (or property release) is a contract that protects the photographer, the buyer, and the stock photography agency.

By having anyone shown in your photographs sign a model release (or property release, if their personal property is shown) it gives their consent for their likeness to be used commercially.

Without a signed release, you will have a difficult time selling your images as stock photography. Make it a habit to always have a model release signed whenever you photograph people, and you’ll never have to worry about it.


The best camera gear for stock photography

Historically, you could only be a commercial photographer if you used an expensive DSLR and a wide range of lenses.

And while that’s still mostly true — most stock photography is taken with top-of-the-line gear — as technology continues to improve, many of the stock sites are now accepting photographs taken with mobile devices, too.


Where to sell stock photography

Some of the most widely known stock photography agencies are Getty Images, Shutterstock, iStock, and Adobe Stock. These sites sell your images for you and take a percentage of the sales.

Each site is different in how they accept images to sell and what percentage they take per sale. So do your research and determine which is the best fit for you.

When you’re just getting started, there are also free sites to gain exposure and feedback, like Unsplash and Pexels, just be aware that other companies might use your images off of these sites for advertising and make money from your free images.

So if you find that your photos are popular on the free sites, it’s a good idea to move them to the sites that will pay you for their use!

gym stock photography
Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Tips for shooting stock photography that sells

  • Keep up with trends. Follow the stock photography market. Look at the types of photos that are selling and photograph subjects that are in-line with today’s trends. For example, lifestyle trends like food, healthy living, and fitness are always popular choices.
  • Look for needs. Think about what kind of photographs companies might have a difficult time finding a stock image for and fill that need for them. Do your own searches to see if you can find an area that’s lacking and try to fill the void.
  • Go for authenticity. The best stock photos don’t look posed or staged, but rather they are candid shots that feel authentic. Remember, though, if you take photos of people always get them to sign a model release.
  • Shoot actual events. A trade show, a street parade, a food truck rally, or a craft fair. These are all great reasons to snap photos to sell for stock photography. Just avoid capturing specific brands or logos. This way, anyone shopping for an image can feel like it would work for them.
  • Seasonal sells. There’s always a need for seasonally-specific stock images. It can be a holiday photo or a pandemic-related image. Think about shooting photographs that speak to current events or upcoming holidays.
  • Leave room for copy. In terms of composition, always leave room for the buyer to add their logo or a line or two of text. Remember, these photos are going to be used for marketing or advertising. So they may choose another image over yours simply because it has room for their message.
  • Think about the thumbnail. When a buyer is scrolling the stock photo sites looking for an image to purchase, they’ll see your image thumbnail first. This is your first chance to get their attention so make sure it makes sense.
christmas stock photo
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Final thoughts

In today’s fast-paced world, the need for high-quality stock photography continues to grow year after year. With dedication, creativity, and talent, you can build an impressive stock photography portfolio and create a business out of selling these images.