Things You Need To Know About Stock Photography

7 Things You Need To Know About Stock Photography

There is a LOT to know about stock photography. Whether you are a buyer or aspiring producer of stock photography, there are some key things to be aware of. In this article we will consider the 7 things you should know about stock photography from a sellers point of of view. If you think we missed something crucial, add it to the comments after the article.

Presented in no particular order, keeping these 7 things about stock photography in mind will get you on the road to selling your own stock photos.

1. Not every photo is a (good) stock photo

Just because you can take a photo that is in focus and correctly exposed, it does not automatically make it a good stock photo. A viable stock photo is one a designer can use – preferably in a variety of ways. Think of a designer choosing a good stock photo in similar terms to choosing a product from a supermarket shelf. Which product would you buy for the same price – the one with less in the packet or the one with more?

Clearly, we all want value and variety. So a good stock photo is one that provides that. It should be clear and crisp, but most importantly there should be a valid use for it. Think about these questions – How could this photo be used? Why would a designer choose this image? What makes it unique and interesting? Will it stand out from the crowd? Would I buy it with my own money?

It is worth thinking about these questions, because you need to spend some time editing each image you want to sell. Thus you need to make sure your time is well spent – in other words, that the image has a good chance of selling.

Collection of old photo corners, frames and edges isolated on white in high resolution

These vintage photo corners are hugely useful for designers, as they are on-trend and isolated on white

Bright green lilly pad's cover the surface of a pond

Shot on an overcast, rainy day, this photo was never going to have good contrast and saturation straight out of the camera

2. Camera files are not finished photos

Digital cameras can produce some amazing results. However, one thing you should know about stock photography, is that in general a designer wants an image that pops off the page or screen. Remember, you are competing with millions of other images, so your photo can’t be flat and dull and still expect to get picked.

Think of the supermarket shelf analogy again. You are browsing the aisles – what catches your eye? Isn’t it the colourful, vibrant packing that big companies spend so much money on? They want you to pick up their product first, just like you want a designer to select your stock photo above any others.

Thus you need to spend some time on each image to give the the best chance of selling. Think about exposure, contrast, saturation, cropping, dust spots and white balance to name a few. A word of warning – be careful not to go over the top though, and overdo any adjustments you make. That could get your photo rejected.

3. Use a tripod and keep it sharp

Every photo you submit to the major stock agencies will be inspected individually at 100% zoom. That means that each pixel will be checked by a human, a peer, who will decide if your photo meets the standard.

Therefore you need to be submitting completely sharp, well exposed images to get them approved. The best way to achieve this is to use a tripod as much as possible. So before you rush off and blaze away at 15 frames a second, stop and think. Can this photo be shot with a tripod? Could I slow down and make sure I fine tune the focus and exposure?

Another alternative is to shoot with studio flash lighting, which will help freeze your subject matter. But of course, this isn’t available for many situations, so a sturdy tripod will help you immensely. Recommended brands are Manfrotto and Vanguard.

Shooting just before dusk with an aperture around f16 and above requires a tripod at all times

Mackay Falls waterfall in lush setting on the Milford Track, New Zealand

My initial portfolio was built of almost entirely landscape and nature photos

4. Start with what you are good at

Lets face it – different photographers have different strengths. The best nature photographer might be a terrible portrait photographer. So work out where your real strengths lie, and then focus on developing them first.

While you want diversity in your stock portfolio, the reality is that there are others who will be better than you at certain things. But you will be better than others in certain areas as well. So once you have worked out your strengths, build your initial portfolio based on these strong subjects. That way you have a better chance of your image standing out from the crowd.

5. You have model-worthy friends & family

The average stock photographer doesn’t have endless resources to hire professional models. Thus they often shy away from doing photos with people in them. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Remember all those people you know – friends, family, workmates, gym buddies? They will make great models for stock photography!

Why? Because stock photography is becoming more and more about genuineness. Advertisers want to depict real people in real scenarios, as the consumer has become more wary and jaded by super-models that they can’t relate to.

So ask around – you might be surprised how readily your friends and family agree! Just be sure to get a model release signed. This is essential – your photo will be rejected without one.

An amazing hiking experience, a hiker pauses for a rest at a clearing while ascending into the mountains of New Zealand

Imagine this photo without the person – nowhere near as strong. My friend was more than happy to be included.

Australian beach on a hot summers day, Stradbroke Island, Queensland, Australia

How would you describe and keyword this photo so that it gets found?

6. Learn to write good descriptions & keywords

If you’re thinking ‘I’m a photographer, I don’t care about writing’, then you won’t get far in stock photography. If there is one thing you need to know about stock photography than can put you far ahead of the pack, it is how to write good descriptions and keywords.

Think about this: If you were searching for a particular image, what words or phrase would you use? Remember, the stock libraries are basically search engines like Google – and we all know that SEO is a major factor in getting your page ranked in Google. Likewise, good descriptions and keywords are the SEO of getting your image found and purchased in a stock library.

So think about these questions when writing your text – What is the main subject of this image? Where is it? What feelings does it evoke? Who is in it? What kind of photo is it (portrait, landscape etc)? Then write these as succinctly as you can in both your description and keywords. Don’t become a thesaurus. Only use words people will search for.

7. Join the agencies that are worthwhile

It seems like every month there is a new stock agency opening up and promising great things. They are going to change the industry for the better. High commission rates. More sales than anyone else.


Experience of many long-timers in the stock photography industry has shown that it is extremely difficult for a new agency to make a significant mark without a very clear and well defined strategy – and lots of financial backing. So while some new agencies are certainly worth supporting, carefully read their terms and conditions, look at their website and if possible, talk to them directly.

There are many well established agencies that are the main income providers of most stock photographers. These are listed below. They are all free to join and you can get setup in minutes.

Goal posts for football, rugby union or league on field at sunset

Remember, your goal is to sell images, not just to have them on display on as many sites as possible


7 Things You Need To Know About Stock Photography – Is There More?

Yes! The reality is this list of expert tips and advice of things you need to know about stock photography could be hundreds of pages long. Stock photography is an involved and ever-changing beast that requires a lot of attention to details.

We aim to build this list over time, but if you have some suggestions you want to share please do so below. You can find some helpful items for stock photographers on our Microstock Tools & Resources page.

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