Do you know that picture of the girl laughing at her salad that you see everywhere?

That’s a stock photo.

So’s the one with the meth kid that says, “not even once.”

A great deal of today’s physical and online advertising utilizes one of the many stock photography banks that are out there. It is ten times cheaper to buy stock photography than to hire a professional for each job.

This is why as a freelance photographer you should be selling stock photos online.

Once you upload your files, there is no more work involved. Clients license your photos, and you get your cut of this multi-billion dollar industry. Right to your PayPal account.

Read on for great tips on exactly how you can make some extra money selling stock photos online.

1. Do the Research

People think of pictures when they hear the word “stock,” however the term can refer to any visual content. “Stock Image” describes art that is already in existence and is ready to use.

While large corporations can afford to hold a photoshoot every time they need a brochure, this is not the case for smaller businesses. They need images for their content, too.

There is a demand for all types of visual art including HD video, illustrations, vectors, and of course, photos.

Find out what is trending and what types of photos are selling. The best places to look are only a click away. The nightly news, upcoming events calendars and social media are all good places to go for inspiration.

Another way to find out what buyers are into is to look around your community. How are things changing in your neighborhood? What are the demographics like? What are people wearing? What are the colors of the season?

How can you as a person selling stock photos reflect that?

Buyers want images that show ordinary people looking relaxed while doing real things. Photographers who make money selling stock photos maintain a balance between aspiration and reality. Beautiful, posed models are just not realistic.

We are living in an increasingly global economy and shared culture. People want images that show this diversity in a way that feels honest, not manufactured. High-quality images that show the world through an authentic lens will always sell.

2. Take Good Photos

This may seem obvious, but with the proliferation of DSLR and phone cameras, everyone is now trying to be a photographer, and many people are trying their hand at selling stock photos. Terrible pictures are being taken and submitted to stock photo sites daily.

In order for you to be effective at selling stock photos, you must set yourself apart from other photographers.

You can do this by knowing the fundamentals of compelling photography. First and foremost, pay attention to lighting. It’s imperative that your images are well lit. Know how to operate your camera’s white balance and update it for every change in lighting.

Correct focus issues by choosing the right shutter speed. You do not want to risk not having a photo accepted

due to unintentional or inappropriate blurriness. Make sure that everything is crisp and all colors look true.

Many photos are initially rejected upon submission to stock photo sites because they are poorly composed.

Get familiar with the rules of good photography:

  • Use the rule of thirds. View your image as having a tic-tac-toe board over it. The places where the lines connect are where subjects will look most pleasing.
  • Fill the frame and crop the photo correctly.
  • Position the horizon line slightly lower or higher than the center. Never have a horizon at the midpoint of an image.
  • When taking pictures of buildings or other strongly linear subjects, use leading lines to lead the viewer’s attention through the photograph.
  • Do not cut off any limbs.
  • Keep it simple.

Inspect your images thoroughly for any noise. Always shoot in the highest resolution possible and do not over-sharpen images.

Avoid longer exposures and use the lowest ISO setting possible.

3. Think Like the Client

Who buys stock photos?

While corporations have large marketing budgets that allow for specific shoots to be done each time they need an image, smaller businesses simply do not have the budget. They turn to stock photo agencies to enable them to create compelling graphics that are professional without spending thousands of dollars.

As someone selling stock photos, you have an opportunity to help these clients create beautiful content.

Which images have commercial value?

Images that have both literal and conceptual meaning are more commercially viable because they inspire an emotional reaction and can be used for a variety of media.

Do not recreate a photo that people have seen a thousand times, be original. Avoid distracting or busy patterns, unless the pattern is the subject, and then make sure to line it up in a way that is aesthetically pleasing.

Do not crop the photo too tight, leave the client some room to maneuver. Ask yourself, where might the text be placed over your image?

Always shoot a subject head-on. Do not tilt the camera or try for artsy angles. You are selling stock photos. The client wants easy on the eye, non-confrontational images.

Be sure to get multiple variations of the same shoot. Many times a client will like the scene in a photo but want a different emotion or angle.

Shoot distinctly different angles or do a series of emotions. Have your model do a photo looking sad and another laughing. Once again, the key is to give the client options.

Like any in any other business, if the client knows you to provide a quality product with many options, they will return to you many times and buy from you over and over.

4. Focus on a Specific Niche

Above all, avoid visual cliches. On the flip side, do not go too obscure. Shoot unique subjects that are not available to other photographers or that they haven’t thought of yet.

Chances are there are things in your neighborhood that advertisers will find appealing and you can use to create marketable stock photos. Use your visual resources wisely.

For example, if you are in Hawaii and can get photos of hula dancers, by all means, do it. If the monk seal in Waikiki gives birth, get out there and get some shots. If you live in a ski town and have beautiful visuals of the snow covered mountains in winter, take some nice landscape pictures, and you are well on your way to selling stock photos.

Events are recurring, and thus a good candidate for niche stock photography. Christmas is a great place to start, but all other commercial holidays are marketable themes. Holidays are occasions that come yearly and provide multiple opportunities over time for people to search and buy your images.

People are in high demand when it comes to stock photos, especially images of women and minorities. Do not be afraid to use models in your shoots.

Take pictures of people wearing business attire. A professional looking person in a suit can be staged sitting at a desk wearing an earpiece. You can also take action shots of people walking together, shaking hands, or signing papers. These types of photos are best taken with light backgrounds that are uncluttered.

Think about what the everyday person relates to in terms of models. Real people do activities like hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, dancing, or walking hand in hand. Just make sure that they are wearing plain, unbranded clothing and that they have signed model releases.

5. Creative Marketing

Start with the main stock photography sites. Once you have established a presence (100-200 images), look for other ways to sell your stock photography.

Most people selling stock photos online start at Shutterstock, but other sites are also well known like Adobe Stock and Getty Images.

Alamy is the largest stock photo site on the web with over 60 million images on their servers. Their royalty rates are higher (50%), but so are their quality controls. Photos can be rejected for 29 different reasons. It is a non-exclusive site, meaning that you can be selling stock photos on their site as well as multiple others at the same time.

Fine Art America is a great place to sell physical prints of your photos. They offer various sizes of both framed and canvas prints. Both metal and acrylic versions of your images are made available, as well as posters, greeting cards, phone cases. The options are many, and the payouts are larger than what you would make selling stock photos on other sites.

You can also use Snapwire to set up your online portfolio and sell your images for anywhere from $2-$250. You keep 50%-70% of your earnings depending on your photographer rank which rises as you sell images.

You can also employ a service where you upload your images to a central server, and they then manage them and make them available to various stock image agencies.

For other ideas on making money with freelance photography, click here and here.

All Things Considered

As a freelance photographer, selling stock photos is a low maintenance way to expand your business and make more money off of your images. Your mileage will vary depending on saturation and the market. See this photographer as an example of how she faired after 3 years:

YouTube video

The most important thing is to take quality photos that will appeal to clients. Even if the photos don’t sell, the fact that you have an available portfolio of photos on a stock photo site maybe all the authority you need to land that special client. Keep in mind that stock photo platforms review photos before accepting them into their marketplace.