How to Sell Stock Photos

A pro landscape photographer's perspective

By David Fleet


I want to share some insights on how to sell stock photos sucesfully, based on my experience as a landscape photographer.

Specializing in landscapes would not typically be seen as conducive to making stock photo sales. But actually, if you understand the industry and adjust your shooting accordingly, there is no reason why you cannot make selling stock photography worthwhile.


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Stock Photo Sales!

Get insider knowledge, tips and advice from a successful stock photographer in How to Sell Stock Photos, by Nick Stubbs.

how to sell photos
Nick Stubbs' Guide to Stock Photography.


In my previous article (an overview of making money in photography), I talked you through various effective ways of making money with your photography. These ranged from selling prints at art fairs to shooting weddings.

But I left out stock photography, because it is such a popular method for all photographers - amateurs and pro's alike - to add an income stream using photography, that I thought it deserved a separate article!


Question number 1: 'Macro or micro'?


'Macro or micro' - what the hell does that mean!? Well, it's a key distinction to understand when learning how to sell stock photos.

There are so many different stock image libraries out there that I couldn't possibly guide you through them all here. But ultimately, they all fall into one of two categories: Macro or micro.

Macro agencies, like Alamy, charge more for your images and generally pay you more per sale, but may sell less volume. Meanwhile, micro stock agencies, such as iStockphoto and Shutterstock, will sell your images for very small amounts, but potentially in huge volume.

So that's the long and the short of it. The key is to work out which market your images will suit best, and so which agency is likely to make you the most money.

If you take lots of images that are quite easily replicated, common scenes, then it might often be worth shooting for a micro agency, and trying the low price - high volume route. These agencies sell your pictures 'royalty free', where the buyer pays once and can use the images as many times as he likes.

If you tend to shoot fewer, more unique images, that aren't likely to be closely replicated by others, then Alamy, or other macro stock agencies, may well suit your needs better. These agencies sell pictures on a 'rights managed' basis, meaning the buyer pays an amount based on how much the image will be used.



My experience as a landscape photographer


Whether you decide to go for a macro or micro stock photography agency, the key to being successful is knowing what images the picture editors who work at these places are looking for (and, indeed, what they don't want - or which areas are saturated).

As a professional landscape photographer I spend a lot of time shooting images of beautiful natural scenes. So I must be in a great position for selling all those images through stock photo agencies, right? Well, unfortunately, stock photo agencies are pretty saturated with landscape pictures.

So something I've learnt is that if you intend to sell sell landscape photos as stock, you have to really make them stand out. But how...?

Be original. Don't go for the conventional, 'samey' kind of shot. Always avoid generic style landscape photos: they're simply not in demand!

Image Copyright: David Fleet


Meeting the demand


Ok, so it's one thing saying 'be original and work out what's in demand', but what does that actually mean in practice? Here are some suggestions:

So it is possible to sell landscape photos of beautiful scenery, or popular tourist destinations, by being aware of what the greatest demand is for. But the competition is increasingly stiff.

Consider this: right now Alamy has over 26 million images in its collection! That's why you have to use your imagination to stand out from the crowd!

There's something else the most successful stock photographers do, which is absolutely crucial to making large numbers of sales...


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Keep it topical!

One of the most valuable suggestions for how to sell stock photos successully is this: keep an eye on the news. Why? Because many of your potential customers will be looking for images to illustrate topical subjects and current news stories.

By staying abreast of high profile issues in the media - and even trying to anticipate what's coming next - you put yourself in a great position to sell stock photos. Think about things that occur each year, like snowfall and the transport problems this causes: closed businesses, closed transport hubs, cars left on the sides of roads etc.

One of my most popular stock images is this one of a tiny rural school:

Image Copyright: David Fleet

It isn't a pretty landscape, but it does clearly depict a rural school.

I shot it at a time when I knew there was talk of rural schools being closed down in the UK. It seemed very relevant to all the media coverage, and so perfectly suited to stock photo agencies.

That proved the case, as it was very quickly picked up by a national broadsheet newspaper and has earned its keep many times over.



So, although the competition is massive, if you take some time to think about how to sell stock photos properly, you can make a success of it. Even if, like me, you specialize in landscape photography - which doesn't tend to be perfectly suited to the stock industry - a few tweaks and adjustments to your typical shots will make them more appealing to editors.

The key things to do are:


Accelerate Your
Stock Photo Sales!

Get insider knowledge, tips and advice from a successful stock photographer in How to Sell Stock Photos, by Nick Stubbs.

how to sell photos
Nick Stubbs' Guide to Stock Photography.


So if you have a collection of great images gathering dust on your hard drive, why not sort through them and upload the good ones to a stock photography site?

You never know, they may just earn you enough money to buy that new lens you've been coveting, or to begin providing an extra income stream.

But don't give up the day job just yet! Stock photography won't be making you rich, by itself, anytime soon!


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Tell us about your ideas on how to sell stock photos. Have you been successsful in this area, or struggled to get to grips with it?

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