Stock Photos That Sell

Stock photos are used for countless different purposes these days, so it’s easy to imagine ‘anything can sell’, but realistically photos that sell are usually going to meet some fairly standard criteria. Obviously there will be exceptions, but more often than not, the best selling stock photos will usually share some of the following traits …

1. Most feature a strong, simple subject.

Stock photos are almost always ‘of something’ and it’s usually instantly recognizable. Vague landscapes or cluttered scenes don’t often sell, and anything where the viewer has to work hard to identify the main subject is inlikely to interest many buyers. When it coems ot compositions for ‘stock’, less is usually more!

2. A strong foreground subject.

The main subject is usually going to be positioned right up in the foreground and there’ll be minimal clutter or distractions in the rest of the image.

3. Backgrounds are simple and complimentary.

They add to the message without distracting from the main point of interest. There’ll be no strong design elements interferring with the main message. Washed out skies are no an option.

4. People will be included.

When people are often used they are logically involved in the situation and there is a believable reason for them being there. Over-posed models have little use, and if a model is obviously posing for the camera, then the story will be told by carefully selected props or strong facial expressions and/or body language.

5. Faces & eyes are visible and clear.

If the face is visible, more often than not, the eyes will be a key focal point. Where people are included, they are used to convey emotions and ideas, so vague expressions or obscured faces have little value to most stock buyers.

6. Symbols are used to add meaning.

Quite often there’ll be carefully selected objects visible in the frame that subtley add to the message the photo conveys. These will be carefully selected and positioned to make their inclusion believable and logical.

7. Simple props create variety of  meanings.

The more prolific photographers will incorporate a variety of simple props to capture dozens of different storylines from a single situation. Each carefully developing a different message for a different potential buyer type.

8. Empty landscapes still have strong visual elements.

There’s little demand for the big empty landscapes, seascapes, sunrises and sunsets. When they are required, buyers have a lot ot choose from, so if you’re going to shoot them, make sure there are ‘strong’ visual elements to keep it interesting. (Turn the camera around and shoot some verticals when appropriate).  And always remember a strong foreground subject is a safer bet!

9. Life, movement, action … all add to the marketability of a shot.

A buyer will almost always choose the action shot over the bland portrait … of anything.

* The child engrossed with a toy will always outsell the child holding to toy looking at the camera.
* The galloping horse will outsell the horse standing still in the middle of a paddock.
* The sailboat underway, canvas full, tilting from the wind will outsell the shot of the moored boat.
* The lion stalking it’s prey will outsell the lion sleeping in the shade.
* A couple ejoying a glass of wine will outsell the still ife of the wine bottle and two glasses

… and so on.

10. People are the key!

No matter that field of work interests you most, if you want to sell stock photos, you need to be including people in your images to develop ‘mini-storylines’ that buyers can use to help convey their own messages.

Get people into the scene every chance you can get, and when you can’t, make sure you look for ways to get some life or activity into the shot. Yes there is definitely a market for quality still life photography, but generally the demand is considerably higher (and the competition considerably less) when you start telling stories.

The Golden Rule of Shooting Photos That Sell

The one thing that will increase the marketability of your images more than any other, is simple to stop and think about who is likely to use the subject matter …

Who uses photos of this subject?

What do they do with the images?

What do I need to do to create an image they can use?

Make that thought process a habit … before you even look through the viewfinder … and you’ll be shooting the kind of stock photos that sell themselves. Guaranteed!


Have I missed anything? Please post your ideas below and we’ll see if we can build the ultimate guide to shooting ‘photos that sell’!