How to sell your photographs as stock images: 22 pro tips

Tip 6: Go for the emotion

A clear, strong emotion as a dominant theme will enable an image to be used for a number of different scenarios. For example, think of a couple seated at a kitchen table; the woman is frowning; the man has his arms in the air in exasperation. The emotion here is tension, and it’s recognised immediately because you’ve kept the composition simple. 

An image like this might be used by a marriage counselling firm in its promotional literature, but it may also be used by a magazine editor looking to illustrate an article about the credit crunch or job losses. Or perhaps it’s being published in a government report on the gender pay gap. 

The point is, the general nature of the subject matter means it can be used with anything that requires a sense of tension. That’s why stock images that illustrate emotions tend to be fantastic sellers, because while social norms and political establishments change, the range of human emotions tends to stay the same. 

Tip 7: Master one thing

If you think of traditional high-street businesses, the successful retailers usually specialise in one thing, be it shoes, greeting cards, phones… you name it. Similarly, when you’re starting out, you need to find one subject and do it better than everyone else. 

As stock-photo tycoon Yuri Arcurs explains: “Becoming a master of a niche is perhaps the real key to success. So many people do the opposite. They look at what I shoot and try to duplicate that, but what they don’t realise is that they’re putting themselves in a line of competition that is so tough, they won’t get many sales.” 

You can find niches everywhere, “through special access and knowledge you could do better than pros like me. Your partner could be a psychologist, for instance. Ask what pictures they come across in their work. Mental health problems, for example, make the world feel like it’s falling down. There aren’t many pictures like that out there, so this could be a prime niche to target. The key to selling your pictures is to find something that others haven’t shot.”

Tip 8: Always look on the bright side

A bright picture is attention-grabbing. It radiates energy and a happy mood. So look for white backgrounds and well-lit rooms, or overexpose for a ‘high key’ effect, as with the image above. Remember the thumbnail test? A dark image won’t stand out as well as a brightly lit one.

Tip 9: Be aware of different norms

Remember that not all potential markets for your imagery have the same customs and norms as your home turf. Let’s say you’re shooting a series of images to illustrate rising petrol prices. A tight frame around a hand holding a pump in a car’s petrol tank will obviously have global relevance. 

But the moment you show someone driving a car, or even just the interior, you could exclude your image from all those countries where they drive on the right. It’s the little details like this that can make or break a shot’s chances of making you money.