An Introduction to Making Money From Stock Photography.


Stock photography is a huge industry turning over millions of Dollars, Pounds, Euros or whatever other currency you can think of. It's awash with images and more recently video, supplied by hundreds of thousands of photographers from around the World. Every day new images and video clips are added to stock libraries in the hope that they will be licenced to clients and payments made to the owner of the copyright which in most cases is the photographer. As well as new images, new photographers from around the globe join the ranks of hopeful suppliers of stock images to the myriad numbers of stock libraries. So you might be asking why are there so many photographers constantly supplying images in this way? There are a number of reasons but one of them is because it's an easy way to start making money from your pictures. You can do it in your own time, shoot what ever you like and submit pictures as frequently or infrequently as you wish. The only pressure you are under is that which you apply yourself in order to get those pictures taken and uploaded to the stock libraries. The beauty of stock is that the agent takes care of providing all of the tools to sell your work, that is they provide a website that clients can browse and easily licence your work, they do all the marketing of the imagery so you don't have to. You can concentrate on creating the images, they concentrate on the sales. In this article we are going to explore how stock photography works and explain what it takes to join those ranks of photographers earning income from their work.

Perhaps you are wondering why there is a picture of a rather fresh-looking strawberry sitting amongst the words of this article. Well, it's a typical stock shot, a fine example of the summer fruit photographed close up against a white background. A subject like this, isolated in the middle of the picture with no distracting background, makes the job of adding it to a page layout very easy for clients who buy this kind of work such as designers. It's the kind of image that stock buyers download constantly. Later in this article we will discuss the pros and cons of creating work just like this. Almost all of the images you see on this website are available to download from a stock library. We have photographed every image on CreativesGo ourselves so we have first-hand experience of creating stock images that sell and make money.

How Does Stock Photography Work?

The concept of stock photography is really quite simple. A photographer takes a photo of something, uploads it to a stock library on the Internet where it will be made available to be found by clients who search the stock library for images that match their requirements. Once the client finds a picture they want to use, they buy a licence from the stock library who then split the licence fee between themselves and the photographer. Hopefully the image will be licenced over and over and make lots of money for the library and the photographer. Of course the process is a little more complicated but that's it in a nutshell. Lets start by talking about stock libraries. There are many different types so selecting the right ones for you and your work is critical. After that we will discuss all of the other aspects of submitting images such as selecting what to photograph, editing, submitting, managing your images, plus a whole load of other equally important stuff!

example of royalty-free image. Stock Libraries

There are now many stock libraries hosting millions of images and footage clips for licencing to their clients. (Stock libraries sell footage too and whilst the production of that footage is very different to photography, selling a clip as stock is similar to an image. For the purposes of simplicity, we'll refer to images throughout this article). Although they all licence images, the way they operate and the types of images they offer differ so selecting the right agent to sell your work can be the difference between making money and maybe making nothing. So what are those differences? Some libraries accept all subjects and some specialise in a particular subject, sailing, travel, science or food are typical speciality agents. So if you shoot cars, you wouldn't submit your images to a food library. You would need to seek out a specialist transport agency. Others specialise in images taken only on the iphone and this is one of the easiest routes in to becoming a stock photographer. Stockimo® is one such site and here's a link to the Stockimo website if you wish to investigate immediately. Another mobile outlet is from Agefotostock and is called Snapmobile®. Here's a link. Other agents are more general in the types of pictures they accept and these are also a good place to start if you're just dipping your toe in to the stock pool. Well known agents are Alamy®, Getty Images® and Shutterstock®. Of course there are many more, too many to list so perhaps you should put some research time in to this to give you a good idea about what's out there. Do a search for stock library and see how many libraries there are! Remember they are always looking out for quality photography because clients are always wanting new and interesting work so it's in their interests to find new photographers who can supply them.

New stock libraries seem to appear on a very regular basis, each one claiming to offer a novel approach to licencing their images. However there does seem to be a handful of popular methods for clients to buy those licences. Firstly there is the subscription, where the client pays an amount, say monthly, that allows them to download an agreed number of images. In addition they can pay extra fees to download other images with different licences. Those extra fees may allow the client to use the image commerically, in an advert for instance. The typical subscription model would have restrictions on how the image can be used by the client.

Another licence model is to simply licence a single image as and when the client wants it with no monthly subscription fee. Some sites ask clients to purchase credits with which to buy those licences. Remember, these are just a small sample of licence models, someone has probably come up with something else as I write this.

How Much Money Will I Make?

Some photographers earn their living from creating stock images. Some work never sells and some work sells for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, pounds or euros. (We will use dollars as our reference as many stock sites pay in this currency.) There are no guarantees that your work will interest clients such that they want to use it but if you provide what they want they will licence it and you will make money. It's that simple really. Lets start by looking at the bottom of the licence model. RF.

Royalty Free (RF) RF licences are popular because the client pays only once for an RF licence and can use it as much as they like, subject to the terms of their licencing contract. A popular name for RF-only libraries is micro-stock where the images are licenced very cheaply to their clients. Each and every library is different so what you make depends on their terms but your royalty can be as low as .33cents (US$). Yes, that's right, .33c. Some libraries will sell your RF work for more, so you might make $10, $20, $30 or more per sale. Some agents will pay you 15% of the sale as your royalty, whilst others offer 50% which can again mean a royalty of a few cents up to a few dollars. It's important to note that you can place an image in as many libraries as you like as long as you have a non-exclusive contract with each library. This means you can earn more per image. To make money at RF you have to create a lot of images and ideally offer them as non-exclusive (see below for an explanation of exclusive and non-exclusive) to enable you to put them on as many outlets as possible.

Some pay a higher percentage for RF sales if you are exclusive to them. You will have to decide if the royalties you can make being exclusive are more favourable than being non-exclusive and offering your work on multiple sites.

Rights Managed (RM) RM images generally sell for more than RF as their use is controlled and the client pays for how they want to use the work. So whilst you can still earn only a few cents from RM it's more likely to start at a few dollars and go up to the hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars. These high earning sales are more likely to be for the exclusive use of an image by a client.

You can take a look at the stock sites that show price calculators for clients to work out how much they could pay for their licence depending on how they wish to use the image and you can calculate how much you will make.

If you place your RM work as image-exclusive to the library you may well earn more for the work as it's only available from that outlet and is, well, exclusive. The client can't look around for the same image and see which offers it for the lowest price. With exclusivity comes a higher cost and a higher royalty for the photographer. This is how you could be looking at earning those royalties in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Creative Commons (CC) You don't earn anything from offering your work via a CC licence.

I've Found a Library I Like, Now What?

So you have identified a stock library that you would like to host your work. That's a good start. Before you can begin to submit your work you have to sign a contract with the agent. Each contract will be different between the different stock companies and each one must be carefully read, preferably by someone familiar with legal documents to ensure that you are satisfied you can agree to those terms and sign it. Generally the contract will set out terms such as confirming you are the copyright holder of the work, that you have the right to submit it for sale, defining liability, confirming that the agent has the right to distribute your work plus many more legal details. It is important that you understand the content of the contract before you agree to sign it. Having a lawyer or solicitor look it over for you may be a good idea.

Sometimes the contract sets out the licencing terms of the images you will submit to the agent. This could mean you agree that they will licence your work as royalty-free, rights-managed, exclusively or non-exclusively. These are important details to understand as they can restrict what you do with those images. Take a look at this article to understand the difference between the different licence types. Note that some libraries let you select the licence type at the time you submit your images so the contract won't be licence specific.

Another critical component of your contract is the exclusive or non-exclusive clause. If you sign up to an exclusive contract you can only submit your image to that agent. You can't submit it to any other agent. A non-exclusive contract means you can submit the same image to as many agents as you have a non-exclusive contract. This way you have the potential to create the maximum sales opportunities for your work. However it's possible the royalties you make on a non-exclusive image can be lower than if you sell a licence for an image from an exclusive agent. This is because the client is paying for having the use of that work that can't be licenced from anywhere else. Sometimes clients like to use an exclusive image they're confident won't be used by anyone else. Book covers are like this. Publishers do not want to see the same image used by another publisher on another book, especially if they are going to be sharing shelf space in your local bookshop. The agent will take care of ensuring the licenced image isn't duplicated in another sale. Another time-consuming job taken care of by your stock agent.

What we have just described here is image-exclusive. Some agents also wish to make the photographer exclusive to that agent. This means that all of your stock images are to be licenced through them and you can't licence them elsewhere. These types of contract aren't as popular now as they used to be but it is worth understanding what this means should you come across one whilst you look for suitable agents to sell your work. You have to decide if an exclusive contract suits you or if you think a non-photographer-exclusive contract is a better way to sell your work.

After agreeing to the terms of the contract the agent may ask for proof of who you by requiring you to send them a copy of a passport or driving licence or some other approved documentation.

rights managed example Image Quality

Some agents insist on seeing examples of your images to check on the quality you produce before they will allow you to submit to the library. All images accepted in to most libraries are subjected to stringent quality reviews before they are allowed to become part of the collection. Therefore it is in your interest to understand what the quality tests are and ensure that your work meets those standards. Again the tests for each library are different but generally they are looking for most of the following:

1. sharp but not sharpened (Alamy don't accept sharpened images) or overly sharpened for others.
2. minimum image size - multiply the length x height in pixels. This must exceed the minimum mb requirement.
3. no sharpening artifacts - when over-sharpened small circles appear when viewed at 100% Never submit work with these artifacts.
4. no noise - found in shadow areas mainly where there should be black there is a mix of ugly colours.
5. taken on a camera on their approved camera list - Some libraries want work from certain cameras as some aren't good enough.

To read more about understanding image quality take a look at this article here. Notice that these requirements are all about the technical quality of your work. Some will look at the commercial quality too. That means they will decide if there are clients out there that would licence what you want to submit. If they don't think the commercial quality is acceptable they will reject the work, even if technically it is fine. Before you start this process of submitting to stock, you should take a look at what kinds of images the stock libraries sell to see if your work fits with their outlook. Generally the images they use on their website homepages give you a very good idea as to what they like to sell and the types of work that is selling now.

Once You Are In.

Once you and your chosen stock agent are happy with the legal side of the agreement and your image quality is accepted, you are free to move on to the next stage, submitting your images. This is where the real work begins. Remember that mantra, shoot,upload,repeat? The key to successful stock shooting is to create a large collection of work and to do that you have to regularly shoot new work and upload it. The more work you have available for licencing, the more licences you will sell and the more money you will make.

From here your approach to stock will probably dictate how much money you make and it's fair to say that the more time you put in, the more money you are likely to get out. Your commitment isn't just about taking the pictures, it's also about the research you do to decide what to shoot, taking the pictures, processing them, uploading, keywording and archiving them so you can find them again later. (If you are wondering what keywording is, we discuss this further down our article.)


Take a look at most any stock website, search for strawberry and see how many results that returns. In the thousands by any chance? So what does that tell you about the numbers of strawberry stock images? There are loads! If you decide you want to shoot strawberries then you will have to create very high quality imagery to stand out from the swathes of already very good strawberry pictures. Perhaps the most common images are those set against a white background or 'isolated on white'. Pick almost anything, animal, vegetable or mineral and someone will have shot it against white and there will be many of those on sale. What we are saying is that because of the high numbers of images already on the market it's becoming harder to photograph anything that hasn't been done before and isn't available in high quantities.

gulls ate dusk stock image example However, fortunately for the stock shooter, image trends change so what style or 'look' was popular 12 months ago can be outdated today. Following trends and seeing how these are developing is useful for keeping your collection of stock images up to date, fresh and popular with clients. Filling the style gaps in a library collection is likely to see your work gain sales. Of course the isolated on white picture will always be popular as it's easy to fit these types of shots in to web pages, books and the like but trend-watching is a useful skill to develop. Here we have shown an example of the type of image that has the look of a modern image, with lots of post-processing used to enhance the picture for a little unusual style. Of course this look could be in favour for just a few months, but we hope for longer than that. There is always a risk to creating any stock image as you never know if anyone will ever licence it for use.

As part of your research look at the myriad of stock images and see how good those images already are. See why they look good, compare a picture that you feel is good against one that is bad and identify the reasons for why one looks better. Your work should reflect the best qualities of successful imagery and learn from the mistakes of others by not repeating their errors. However, never copy the work of other photographers. Plagiarism (or copying the work of others) is rife in the stock industry as it's just so easy. Be inspired by the work of others but create your own look, style and perspective. Copying is just not the way to go and ultimately could result in legal action against you for copyright infringement. Legal cases are expensive and time-consuming, time better spent creating new work!

Magazines, newspapers and websites use images, so these are invaluable sources of inspiration and ideas for what to shoot. Here you can see what real clients have used to illustrate their pages giving you a real-world view of what is being licenced right now.

The worst thing you can do as a stock shooter is to take random pictures and hope that someone will pay good money to licence them. It's very tempting to just shoot what you like and submit the pics. Of course you may well get sales this way but you are more likely to make sales if there is a market for your pictures and you have decided this long before you pick up the camera. Make research part of your routine to help you decide what to photograph.

Taking The Pictures

This is the bit you probably enjoy most of all, I know I do and really it's the easy bit. Once you decide on what to photograph you should consider how you can create a number of different shots from the concept. For instance, using our strawberry analogy once more, can you create a view of the whole strawberry, isolated on white, a shot of the berry on a chopping board, in a bowl, sliced in half and isolated on white, detail of from a close up of the surface of the strawberry. So from that one strawberry we can get 5 different shots that could be of interest to a designer. So you have taken those five shots of one strawberry, then take two strawberries and run through similar scene changes. All of a sudden instead of two images, you have ten images to upload to your collection of stock pictures.

Consider your lighting too, shoot some images in a generally flat light that gives you a standard stawberry picture and maybe some in a light with a little mood. How about shooting on a black background too? Experiment with these types of pictures. Remember lots of new trends come from photographers trying new ideas and techniques. Most are never used but sometimes an idea becomes very popular and the next 'in thing'.

If you shoot food, little details matter, especially if they are close up pictures. For example, only use fresh produce as a pristine example is more likely to be licenced than something that looks unappitising and tired. Of course there will be some clients who want pictures of decaying fruit, but you need a great example of a decaying fruit! Some will be more photogenic than others.

Check for unwanted bits of dust, particles, dirt or marks on your item. Sometimes these can only be seen when you view your final pictures at 100% but keeping these to a minium before you start will minimise the editing later. These checks apply to food and product photography too so being careful about what you photograph, what's in the photograph and what you don't want in the picture all become part of the skill of being an stock photographer. These same checks equally apply to photographing a car or a pair of shoes. These little details make a big difference to the final image.


What equipment you use is very important and generally better quality equipment will give you better quality images. As mentioned above some agents only accept images from certain cameras so you have to start with one of these at least. You don't have to use the most expensive equipment either. Certainly those with high resolution capture producing images in the many, many millions of megabytes are great but these are quite specialised and on the whole not neccessary for most stock shooters. When I say 'many millions' I'm referring to the 50m plus sizes of images, the kinds of file size you only get with very, very expensive equipment costsing £5,000 or more. Of course as even a few months go by, camera manufacturers have a habit of making new models that raise the file-size bar considerably so it's only a matter of time before huge file sizes are available to the photographer at much lower prices than they are today. As long as it creates images at the minimum size required by your agent, with no noise then it should be suitable. The same approach to lenses should be taken. Better quality lenses with wider apertures are well made and produce crisp, clear images. (A wider aperture is typically f2.8 or above) Try to avoid cheap budget lenses.

Of course you can ignore all of this talk about equipment if you are submitting your work to a stock library that only takes iphone images. Here you can use all of the facilities the phone offers without too much thought about lenses and other traditional settings you would use to capture light on a camera. As someone who does create this kind of work, the images I make with my phone tend to be far more spontaneous than those I take with my traditional cameras. It's the camera I have with me all the time and many of my pictures wouldn't have been taken because I didn't have my other cameras with me at the time. Simply pointing and shooting with a phone is quick and easy and lends itself to experimentation and variety. This approach certainly makes a refreshing change to camera-shooting.

Once you make the move on to more expensive equipment such as a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) then you open up the range of how you can take your photographs. Your own creativity can be applied as you use the different settings to exploit and create in-camera effects such as 'bokeh' or as it's also called, 'shallow depth of field'. Perhaps you want to get creative with slow shutter speeds and create some blur. These types of techniques require you to understand the theory of how a camera captures light and whilst easily understood, a little time is required to read about it and practice. There are a number of useful articles about the basics of photography here.

There is no end to the equipment you can buy once you start down that road of DSLR shooting and we discuss this further in our article about photography equipment.


If your image features a person, persons, property or trademarks then a release may be required before you can upload it for sale. An image will be more attractive to a client if the people in it have signed a model release and agreed that their image can be used. The same applies to property. The owner may have to agree that their property can be used in an image before you can sell that work. Trademarks can require this kind of release too. Some marks are very unlikely to give you permission to include them in your images so they are best avoided. Forms for signing by your models and property release forms are usually available for download from your stock agents. There are even apps that create a form for you on your phone or tablet. It would be wise to agree upfront with your agent what kinds of forms are acceptable to them before you take any pictures.

Remember that an image you wish to market as royalty-free featuring people or recognisable property should have an accompanying model and property release form. Rights-managed images are more likely to be licenced if these same forms are available but at times the client may not wish to have them. Ultimately what the client is going to do with those images decides if a release is required. To protect you as a photographer it is in your interests to get a release for anyone who features in your work. Of course you can't always do this, in a street scene for example, where there are many recognisable people in that scene you have to carefully decide how you licence that image before making it available for sale at your agent. For this scenario royalty-free (RF) should be avoided and rights-managed (RM) considered. With RF the client can use the image as often as they like, when they like. RM image-use is generally tightly controlled and the sale managed by the agent so a lack of model releases and how the work will be used becomes a feature of the sale.

Raw or Jpeg?

Before you press that shutter button, you must have made a decision about how that picture is to be captured by the camera and a decision made about using either raw or jpeg (or jpg) picture files. Somewhere within your camera's settings will be the option to the image type to raw or jpeg quality.

Images recorded as raw give you the best opportunity to post-process the image for the best quality as all of the detail seen by the lens is captured and nothing is removed before you work on it. Even the white-balance can be changed afterwards. Jpeg images are captured and immediately compressed to make them smaller. Working on these images in post-processing means you have already lost some of the detail in the image before you start. White balance isn't adjustable after the event like you can do with a raw file. Because detail in a jpeg image is lost everytime you save it, jpegs are known as 'lossy'. You shouldn't save your work as a jpeg until you are ready to send it to your agent as they will want to receive your work as a jpeg.

think like a designer example Think Like a Designer!

Designers use pictures to illustrate articles, adverts, on greeting cards and all manner of things. It's likely that many of your pictures will be licenced by designers. If you can think like how a designer might want to fit an image in to suit their layouts you can create those images and make them designer-friendly. This has to give your pictures a good chance of being picked out for licencing. When this website was created the white background was chosen because we can drop in a picture with a white background and that picture blends with the site design brilliantly.

How about leaving space for copy on the picture? This means leaving room around the main subject that the designer can use to apply text. So it might be worth shooting two versions of the same scene, one where the subject is tightly cropped and one where there is space left around it.

If you were that designer would you want to use a picture of a strawberry when it's not a very attractive specimin or if it's covered in bits? You are more likely to use the picture where all of those things are taken care of. Think like that designer.


When you have created your images and they are sitting in your camera, it's time to get them across to your computer for processing and preperation for uploading to your chosen library or libraries. We have to assume you have a computer that is capable of connecting to your camera and accepting those images ready to work on. You will also need to install some image-editing software. Your camera probably came with some software to process the images and this might be enough to edit your work to a point where it is ready to send. With this software you can process your raw images making changes to exposure, contrast, white balance, noise, saturation, chromatic aberration and even dust-spot removal and then save your work as a jpg to send, however you might want to do some extra things to that image so you need an editing package to work on those same images as an additional process before sending. Remember, if you are going to work further on your images, convert and save your work in a 'lossless' format such as tif to ensure no detail is removed in the name of space-saving compression. Note some picture editing packages allow you to work with the raw file so an intermediary tif file is unneccessary. Typical examples of this kind of software include Adobe's Photoshop® (like I need to tell you that!), Corel's Paintshop Pro®, or Gimp. From just these three examples we have a wide range of prices. Photoshop being the most expensive but also an industry-standard and extremely versatile. PaintshopPro is a budget editor but also very powerful, (This is the editor I use to work on my images) and then there's Gimp. This is free to download and is a great place to start if you are taking your first steps in to image editing. Having this additional editing capability is useful for working on white background shots as it's likely that the picture needs tidying up before it's ready to go and this kind of processing can't be done in typical software supplied with your camera. There are many other editors available to buy so doing a little research before you buy might be a good idea.

Having an editor means you need to become familiar with how the software works so some time to learn at least basic editing techniques is a must. There are likely to be lots of tutorials about how to edit pictures for your chosen editor on Youtube®. Before you decide which editor to buy, do a quick search to see which have the most tutorials available. It's likely someone has come across your query before and made a video about it!

Before processing your images, have an idea as to where they'll be sent as image quality is affected by how much it's processed and some agents will reject an image if it's not up to commercial standards. Alamy will reject a whole batch of submitted images if they find just one that fails their QA tests so ensuring processing quality is high is important. Persistant failures can lead to a halt on your submissions for a set period of time. Some agents will accept a more processed image where filters or layers are applied to add mood and texture but these have to be applied carefully as it's easy to reduce the range of tones in an image by over-processing. For instance posturization can occur, where bands of colour appear when contrast is increased and the numbers of tones of colour are reduced. This looks very ugly and is especially prominent in skies where there are vast expanses of colour in many subtle tones. It's desirable to try to retain as much detail in shadow and well as the highlights and incorrect processing can quickly remove that detail. Of course there are times when that loss adds to the overall aesthetic so there are no hard and fast rules here. As with most things, experience will tell you when something is right and when it's wrong. Practice makes perfect. For more information on quality see our article here: Image Quality


Similars is a reference to the images you take of a subject that look almost identical to other images from that shoot. The term is referenced most when images have been accepted in to a stock library, where similars may also be accepted or may not.
You must consider very carefully what you do with your similar images from that shoot if some have been accepted in to a stock library on an exclusive basis. This is because a client may licence that image on the understanding that they get exclusive rights to its use. This is fine if there are no similars available to other clients for licencing elsewhere but if they are then this could lead to legal action as the original image was used on an exclusive basis and also a similar was used by another client.
This isn't such an issue if you are only submitting to non-exclusive agents. When submitting to exclusive agents it's worth asking them for guidence about how to deal with similars.

What constitutes a similar image is a bit of a gray area and our advice is for guidence only. If you find yourself with similars you should seek your own advice about what you can and can't do with them.


After editing you will have a folder full of images ready to be uploaded to your libraries. Each library will have a different approach to doing this and offer their own tools for uploading one image at a time or for bulk-uploading. It would be impossible to describe each technique offered by each library suffice to say you will have to familiarise yourself with each method and work out what fits with you.

Once uploaded almost all agents have a quality system where an inspector reviews the technical and aesthetic quality of the work before it's accepted. Some review every image, some review only a portion of your batch. There can be penalties for failing these inspections regularly. Some will stop you submitting for a period of time with further quality failures leading to a submission ban. It therefore pays to be very critical of the quality of your work and becoming an inspector to your own images before you submit them is going to help you catch any failings before they are seen by the agent's inspectors. Remember when you first joined the library you were asked to submit images for a review before you are accepted? Well all of your subsequent work must maintain the standards you showed before you started.

Next comes one of the most important steps to making money from your work, adding the description, setting the licence type and keywording. As licencing is a big subject, we have a separate article about it here: Licencing Photography

If you have any model or property release forms to accompany the images they can generally be uploaded at this stage too. For more information on releases see our article here: Model and Property Releases


Ignore this at your peril! Understanding how keywording works is critical to selling your work. Successful keywording means your work is found by clients who are looking for pictures like yours.

A keyword is a word that describes your image and is used by the image library systems to add (or not) an image to a client's search results.

So lets use our strawberry as an example of choosing keywords. The most obvious keyword to start is 'strawberry'. After that you could say 'strawberries', 'fruit' and then 'red'. Can you see what we are doing here? We are picking words that describe the picture. If the strawberry is set against a white background, we would add the keywords 'white background' and 'isolated'. Don't ignore less obvious words that also fit with this such as 'summer' or 'dessert' or 'berry'. Try to think about any word a client might use to find a picture. If you were keywording a picture of a flower, adding the latin as well as the common names may increase the number of times your images are found.

You must be certain your keywords are correct and describe what is in the picture. If in doubt, either do research to check your facts or leave out anything that may be inaccurate. Don't pick keywords that don't fit with the subject. This might be considered as 'keyword spamming' and frowned upon by the libraries. Some libraries grade you by the quality of your search results so if your pictures are being found by search terms that don't fit your images you are not helping the quality of those grades. Try to keep the keywords concise and to the point. Not all libraries grade you by search results so you can be very creative with those keywords. Don't steal keywords from other people as this can be identified and is also frowned upon. Use your own imagination and pick your own keywords.

Know Your Subject

If you take a look around a stock photography website you can see they have millions of images of just about anything you can imagine. So it's going to take a lot to make your pictures stand out from the rest of the pictures to make a sale. There is one thing that can help you elevate your images a little for certain subjects such as animals, insects and flowers it's to know exactly what it is you are photographing. You can then use this information in your keywords to aid anyone who is looking for such an image. For example, if you like to shoot flowers and find a beautiful yellow specimen that you manage to take a great picture of, it's unlikely to be found on a website if you describe it simply as 'yellow flower'. There will be hundreds if not thousands of pictures described like that because the photographer doesn't know what that flower really is. 'Yellow Flower' is a cop-out keyword!

However if you describe it's variety or species with accurate keywording such as 'chrysanthemum' you will ensure your work has a much better chance of being found above those pictures that aren't keyworded with this accurate data. Extending this to include latin names can only help. It is important to be accurate, as an incorrect identification can cause problems down the line if a client uses an image assuming the description was correct but in fact was wrong. You might be liable for this.

If you intend to submit images to a specialist library that such as a science or automotive collection, the library will expect the images to be supplied with accurate information to aid the sale. Yellow flower is absolutely no good when clients use that library because they know their photographers know the subject inside out. This can lead to higher licence costs and more money for the photographer too as these identified images have a rarity value with information unlikely to be found in a general stock library.

So for anyone who is an expert in a particular field or anyone who is prepared to research their chosen subject this can greatly increase the chances of a sale.

Next Steps

After you have added the description, keywords, licence types, etc that should be it and the picture will be available to be found by clients and licenced. Which brings us back to that little mantra - 'shoot, upload,repeat'. Keep shooting new work and keep uploading. The most successful stock shooters have thousands of images out there. That isn't the end of the story though. As you upload work and start to see sales you will probably be able to identify a trend in what is selling and what isn't. Analysis of your sales will help you decide what to shoot and what not to shoot. If you have more work out there on sale your analysis of sales will be more meaningful so keep an eye on this useful information.

After uploading ensure you archive your work in order that you can easily find it again and also ensure you don't lose anything if you suffer a hard disk failure or similar catastrophe. This means having a backup regime that should be done regularly. Some archiving may require encryption because it contains personal data. A signed release held in an electronic format could be considered to be personal data. It is up to you to ensure you are meeting any local laws that require you to manage personal information securely.

When I save an image I always add an extension to the filename that describes it, e.g. IMG_12345-strawberry.jpg I can then use the search facility on my computer to find it again. I also log it in to a database so I know which images I send to which agents. This can be critical to keep track of images if you shoot for image-exclusive libraries.


Stock photography is one of the easiest ways to start earning money from your pictures. To be successful you have to research the market and create images that can compete with the high quality of work that already exists out in the stock world. There are absolutely no guarantees that you will sell anything and patience is needed to build up a decent folio of images before you can expect to make some money however for those that make the effort and create images that buyers want then the income is very possible.

All images are © Peter Hatter and used with permission.

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