How a photographer can make money in stock photography

There is an official way for creative people to make money online. If you love photography, this article is for you, because you can sell it all on the internet and make good money. Let’s take a closer look at how a photographer can make money from microstock and earn a passive income.

Photographs can generate passive income

Have you heard about what microstocks are?
Microstocks are sites where authors upload their photos, illustrations, videos and audio tracks, and customers find and buy them there. Microstocks, as they are also called photobanks, or photostocks, are specialized sites – directories, where almost every advertising agency in the world has an account, and where they buy images, video and audio for advertising, presentations and other purposes. Photo Banks provide an excellent opportunity to purchase inexpensive but high-quality content. This is especially true for various low-budget projects.

How and how much you can earn on microstocks

Earning on microstocks is what lures thousands of authors. For each sold work you receive 25-40 cents, not so much if you could work on it all day, but the specialty of microstocks is that you can sell each work an unlimited number of times. That is, the more work you upload, the more they will buy, and when you have at least a minimum portfolio and sales, even if you go on holiday for a month, your work will still be sold on the stock. The average fee paid to authors from the sale of one image is 20-60% of its value. The cost of the image depends on the size and type of image (photo or vector) and can range from $1 to $20. Since microstock images are generally sold under Royalty Free license, one image can be sold an unlimited number of times.
On average a mid-level portfolio of 500 images can generate in the range of $100 per month. A portfolio of 5,000 works can generate $1,000 – $5,000 per month. Figures are very approximate, but allow you to understand what kind of earnings we are talking about. There are examples of authors with portfolios of 100-150 works that bring in more than $1000 per month.
100-500 works – $50-$100
500-800 works – $200-1000
800 and more jobs – $1000-$5000.

Who buys photos from photo stocks and why

Let’s take a close look at who, and more importantly, what they are buying photographs for.


There are a lot of different ones and their tasks are different. But the general rule is: they do not need a ready-made image, but a blank. It could be an isolated object such as an apple on a white background, and the objects are completely different: money, food, furniture, people, and even houses. Any kind of isolated object. I bought it, and without having to cut it out, I put it in the layout at once. Very handy by the way.
Then there are backgrounds, from abstract swirls to the textures of wood, stone, masonry, concrete, paper, etc.
The designer needs to work quickly. Ideally, he needs to get a ready-made layout, where he simply inserts his logo and slogan. Then you need a mocap (a special blank with white blanks), or photographs of people in typical advertising poses with empty space for placement of additional objects. In general, any photo with empty space – a copy spacing – is good for the designer.

Web designers

A web designer should not just develop the structure and interface of the site – it should be filled with effective illustrations. You need screensavers with positive working people, you need materials and products, because the customer’s photos are so scary that he himself would never accept a website with his own pictures. In short, we need photos to illustrate all sorts of working processes.

Content managers

We come to the second category of customers who need illustrations, let’s call them content managers. This is a huge mass of producing editors, moderators – all those who need to illustrate text material. All newspapers, both online and offline, if not stealing, are bound to buy images from photobanks. In online publications it is customary to illustrate any material at all. If the event news is accompanied by photos that are “from the spot”, all the other – analytical, cognitive, economic – require more abstract, general illustrations. Even the big newspapers, with their own staff of journalists, will not send them all the way to the other end of the world to get a picture of the Red Square. And for an article on inflation they will not send a photographer out into the street to look for beggars and homeless people. Everything you need is already in photostocks.
And here’s another peculiarity: everyone has to work fast. A content manager – a specialist who updates news on the sites, most often does not know Photoshop, he needs a ready-made image that you do not have to crop, cut, add something. It should be preferably very simple, so that a small preview makes everything clear and unambiguous.


There are bloggers, who usually specialize in specific topics – health, travel, life motivation – which is especially trendy on social media. All these positive images, tinted to look like Instagram, are bought by the ton on photostocks.

Manufacturers of photo wallpaper and posters

These are the clients who want blue mountains, waterfalls in the jungle, cobbled streets, mysterious landscapes. They are industrialists who want patterns for fabrics and textures for laminate. It’s film makers who need all sorts of faces for props and design, like bad mujahideen or an alleged childhood protagonist. Or all sorts of intricate and unexpected images for video clips. All those are usually fickle buyers, they take the images under extended licences, for commercial use – expensive. The number of such sales is small, but they are always happy with the amount of money – it is nice to get a hundred quid for a picture.

As you can see, the above examples do not include photos typical for home scrapbooks. 99.9 % of all pictures for sale are taken to be sold. I repeat: for sale. Because inspectors can accept your family photos if they meet the quality requirements. But they won’t be for sale.

Three key features of photos that are in demand on photobanks

There are three main components to good stock photography, all of which have a major impact on the popularity of images among buyers.
1) The choice of subject matter. Whether it’s a suitable model or object, an object set in some context that expresses some idea, or something abstract that only acquires significance when used in the right context.
2) Execution. How well you’ve captured the photograph and how you’ve used your skills in doing so to
express some mood or idea. The lighting to create the right atmosphere, the use of light or dark, the choice of image focus to emphasise a point.
3) Keywords and descriptions. With these, you can further emphasize the meaning of your photo and enable buyers to find it when searching the site.

How do I find my niche and get into a trend?

When thinking about stock photography, photographers often wonder which themes are popular on photostocks. In articles about photostocks you can even find lists of topics that are popular in stock photography. But do not give them too much credence, as these lists lose their relevance before they are published.
The ranking of photostocks key queries varies depending on the season. In winter the top positions are taken by navidad, christmas, santa, snowflake, christmas tree, and in summer by summer, woman, beach, bikini. However, there are words like medical, business, family, wedding, real estate, background, which are in the top positions all the time, regardless of the season.
There are family and calendar occasions for which, too, you can fill the appropriate photos in the stock:
● Birthday: presents, cake, candles, ribbons, people, animators, feast.
● Wedding (wedding anniversary): rings, champagne in glasses, bouquets of flowers.
● Birth of baby: baby, toys, stork, cradle, milk bottles, parents with baby.
● New Year: presents, Christmas trees, balloons, ribbons, snowflakes, snowmen, Santa, snow, winter landscapes and backgrounds, people.
● Valentine’s Day: heart, candy, flowers, ribbons, angels, kisses, couples.
● St Patrick’s Day: clover, golden bowler, beer and beer mugs, people with beer.
● Easter: Easter bunny, eggs, candles, temples, people in temples.
● Victory Day: ribbons, fireworks, military equipment, veterans, eternal flame.
● Mother’s Day: heart, flowers, women with flowers or gifts.
● Father’s Day: Man with child, cigars, pipe, gift with festive ribbon.
● Children’s Day: jolly children, portraits of children, children with parents.
● Knowledge Day: Children, pens, briefcases, blackboards, rulers, pencils, desks, books, exercise books, multiplication worksheets.
● Halloween: witches, pumpkins, bats, brooms.

Trend analysis services for photostocks

To avoid wasting time on a speculative search for a unique niche, you can use, which analyses audience queries, identifies trends and compiles ratings of photography topics and genres on photostocks.
The results of the query popularity study are based on data from photostocks,,,,, as well as
Such services help assess the potential benefits of publishing a photo on a particular topic or query. It is considered that you should take up a topic if it gets more than 20-25 points in the rating (for professional photographers) and more than 100-200 points (for mid-level photographers). However, it is not that easy to find a 200-point subject: the maximum score out of 5 tries is 6.7 for the query “bracketing”.
We need to keep track of the dynamics of queries by geolocation and seasonality. This is better handled by It allows you to take a long period of time and trace the rise and fall of the audience’s interest in a particular theme. You need to pay attention to rising figures and take pictures of the predicted demand.
It makes sense to analyse requests for professions that you would not normally see a photographer in. For example, photos of construction of high-rise buildings, or harvesting crops, or signing contracts. The main thing is to do it in your own way, not to stamp cards that have already sold millions of copies worldwide and are a pain in the eyes.

How do you select photos for photostocks?

It can be rather difficult for a photographer to evaluate the commercial value of a photo. But there are criteria to be used as a guide when selecting photos for photobanks:

  • commercial value of the photo;
  • possibility of further usage;
  • uniqueness of the subject matter.

Let’s say, for example, different graphic images are relevant for business. You can think of a photo with coins, stacks of money, stairs, escalator or a mountaintop to illustrate the idea of growth and perspective. But here too you can miss out if you make a good-looking photo rather than a blank one with a convenient crop and blank space to put text on the photo.
Look at the photo through the eyes of the buyer. Assess the commercial value of the photo, think of several sites where it could be used.
Check the photo for technical defects. Don’t get carried away with over-processing, avoid noise and over-exposure, focus on the main subject in the frame.
Keep your work in line with current trends. If the subject matter of the photograph is irrelevant at the moment, it might not be worth the load right now. When a trend hits, you’ll have a fresh crop, not an old one that’s relegated to the bottom of the rankings.
Technical requirements of photostocks:
● No digital noise, no graininess in the frame;
● Focus on the eyes of the model or the main subject;
● Correct exposure without underexposure or overexposure;
● Minimum image size 4 megapixels (2.5 for pros);
● JPG file format, stored in the best quality;
● No logos, no trademarks, no number plates;
● Availability of signed model release for photos with people;
● Exact attribution of the image: keywords, title, description and categories;
● Commercial usability of the photo for further use.
To get a good grasp of how to shoot successful commercial photos, it’s worth taking special courses. In a short time, you’ll learn how to work in different modes, lighting conditions and photographic styles. A good option is to take an online photography courses here
What kind of photos sell best on photostocks?
● Photos that look so good in miniature that you want to click on them;
● Photos that communicate an abstract idea, emotion or lifestyle;
● Photos that could be used as backdrops for a commercial or design project;
● Isolated objects set against a white background that can be cut and pasted into a project;
● Photographs with copy space that can be used for text or infographics;
● Photos for websites that illustrate the workflow of various business areas;
● Photos with simple composition and clear images, one compositional centre, lush colours;
● Photos taken specifically for the purpose of being bought.
Despite the difficulty of registering and the long wait for your first profit, photostocks are a reliable source of passive income. By constantly improving your photographic skills and keeping up with commercial photography trends, you’ll get a substantial boost to your core business.

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