When you’re starting as a photographer, it can be tough to figure out what sells. That photo you just snapped looks awesome — so why aren’t buyers snatching it up?
Turns out, artistic beauty isn’t always the key to making a big sale. This is especially true when it comes to stock photos. To sell your photo, you’ve got to have a product that catches people’s eyes.
After all, stock photos are the key to catching clicks. That means buyers have a specific set of criteria they’re using to judge your photos. Luckily, we’ve put together an all-inclusive guide to selling your stock photos. We’re going to teach you what photos sell best and why.
Step One: See what people want right now
Whether you’re using Dreamstime or another website, you’ve got to know your customers. Try to see the kind of images buyers are looking for.
You can do this by looking at the trending searches. Go to whatever website you’re using and look at this publicly available list right on the stock photos section.
This list is periodically updated, reflecting the newest trending searches. Often, you’ll see the searches line up with popular subjects and events in the news.
Remember: A lot of the people buying stock photos work for news websites. Timeliness is key. People always want pictures that are fresh and new!
If you click on any of those search terms, you will be able to change the sorting to “bestselling.” From there, you will find out what images sell best from the most popular stock photography subjects in the world right now. You can also switch the sorting to bestselling and start from there.
Step Two: Try to create photos that simplify complex ideas
Conceptual photos are best sellers. Think about it: These types of images transcend language barriers. They speak to shared experiences and appeal to emotion.
Let’s break down what a “conceptual photo” is, exactly. As you can guess, these are used to illustrate a concept, regardless of the final destination of that concept. This means they can be used in press articles, blogs, social media posts, marketing, etc.
It’s relatively easy to shoot a good stock photo of an object or building, but it’s a lot harder to fit them in a concept. As the great Ansel Adams once said, “There’s nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy concept.”
Here’s an example: Say you’re assigned to shoot a photo for an article on chess. You snap this photo.
Sure, it’s a nice and clean picture, of course, but there are tons of similar nice and clean shots of chess boards everywhere you look. It doesn’t really stand out from the crowd.
Since it’s not special, it’s not going to rake in big bucks. That’s where the conceptual framing comes in. This requires a bit of creativity.
Now, you think of a concept, an idea, and you come up with a way to illustrate it. Take this, for example.
That’s another nice and clean image, but it has the advantage of opening the viewer’s doors of imagination. Now they can think of several different messages to illustrate with this conceptual photo.
Sure, producing good concepts means you should have the inspiration to do so or know where to look for it. One idea would be to read more. Another would be to watch great movies or advertising clips; there are many ways and places to get new inspiring concepts.
And especially because producing good concepts is far from easy, many stock photographers choose to illustrate concepts by using models in their photoshoots. This brings us to the next way to rake in money by selling stock photos.
Step Three: Shoot photos with people
One of the reasons photos with people sell a lot is that they usually illustrate some concepts. Sometimes happiness, sometimes sadness, surprise, confidence, you name it.
Before continuing, make sure you remember that to have photos with people accepted as commercial royalty-free images, you must attach a model release for each visible person to each submission, signed by the model, photographer, and a witness.
Simple portraits may not be in great demand, while stock photos with people engaged in some kind of action could get popular.
For example, this is a nice young lady, but she’s only posing for the camera, not doing anything else, so the photo doesn’t have any sales appeal:
While the image with the same woman jogging, probably on the same day, exact location, same outfit, has over 150 sales (and counting).
It’s not enough to photograph people to sell stock photos; they should also perform some activity and illustrate a concept to get sales as stock images.
Step Four: Shoot with a potential customer in mind
Think about what you love shooting. Sure, photos of people and conceptual ideas sell well. But you can also hone in on a niche you’re passionate about.
Just think about the incredible diversity of websites out there. You’ve got video game websites, football blogs, animal training articles and so much more. If you can think of a subject, there’s a passionate community built around it.
And where there’s an online community, there’s a need for visual content. That’s where you can step in. Taking this road will require some ingenuity: You’ll have to research your potential customers and reach out to people.
You may like to shoot street photography, travel photos, nature, architecture, or abstract images. Whatever it is that gives you the most pleasure when shooting will make you forget that you’re working.
Long story short: It helps to shoot with a potential customer in mind. But what if you can’t think of one? Either way, you shouldn’t stop shooting or uploading just because you feel insecure.
This leads into the next step, which is incredibly important. Unfortunately, it’s an easy lesson to forget.
Step Five: Stay passionate about your art. Don’t lose your sense of fun!
Sure, you want to make money. But you’ve probably chosen this path because of a love of photography, right?
Truth be told, doing anything just for the money won’t necessarily bring you the desired income. Doing something from passion will often meet or exceed your financial expectations.
After all, you’ll find some high-quality photos that sell very well, regardless of their subject. These photos may have beautiful colors, nice framing; they may be shot at the right time, they may be on an uncovered niche or none of the above. Photography is a form of art, and art is not an exact science.
Some of these photos may pop in the Editors’ Choice section. Others will do just fine on their own. Also, some truly unique photos may never be discovered for some reason.
Like the musical artists who have no idea if their next song will be a hit or not, they still work for it and release it. We, as photographers, should continue doing what we love and hope for the best.
Step Six: Stay persistent
Persistence is one key ingredient for success. Promoting yourself is another.
In the social media era, it has become essential to make your stock images known in whatever way you see fit. Whether you have a nice following on social media, a blog, or an excellent website, it’s probably in your best interest to promote your Dreamstime images on your own as well, rather than just relying on the marketing channels of the stock photo agency.
The photo agency will always do its best to promote your photos, but to get into its marketing mix, you would have to push your images higher in searches as well; you need to make your creations as visible as possible. One way to do that is by using only the most relevant titles, descriptions, and keywords.
Another way is to share the links to your images on your website, blog or social media accounts. And while doing this, keep in mind that sharing your work with the potential audience is not the same thing as spamming everyone around, as this would have the complete opposite effect on your images.
All the tools and resources are there for you if you want to use them. You just need to do your research.
Need some inspiration for your own photography goals? Check out Dreamstime for thousands of amazing pro images and start getting inspired now!