Photo theme

My 7 Tips to start or improve your Shutterstock (stock) sales.

When I understood that I want to be a photographer I started to search how can a photographer earn money as a beginner, among the many options one was selling your photos at stocks. I wanted to try it and looked for the most famous stock sites and stopped at the Shutterstock (later I also started to sale photos at Depostiphotos , but it’s going much slower). The fact that you can sell your photo more than once and yet keep your rights on it, and the fact that you can sell on more than one stock the same photos sounded very interesting to me.

I started uploading photos waiting for the sales, I must admit I was very skeptical about that and wasn’t sure that my photos are good enough to be sold.  The first sale was a month later and I understood two things: 1. It is possible to sell your photos at stock sites. 2. I need to change something about the photos I upload in order to make more sales.

So if you decided that you want to start selling your photos or that you want to improve the sales here I’ll present you 7 tips that I use from my own experience that helped me get better at sales and start a “passive” income from Shuterstock. I am not going to talk about cameras, lenses and technical side of the matter, more about the ideas and actions you can do to improve the sales. I will use my top sale photos to show what more or less people are buying.tree_root

1.Search trends – One of the most useful things to do is to ask yourself “what people are searching for, what are they interested at?” You can enter Shutterstock for example and see what are the most searchable key words and categories and start your way from there. Also you can see what are the major trends at the world, for example healthy food or fitness that is very trendy right now and start making photos of those themes. So every time you have a lack of ideas you can see the searching trends and make a good photoshoot that will bring you more sales.

When I saw that “business” is a very searchable key word, I’ve made a whole photoshoot of the theme.businessman

People were searching for books – so I gave the books.books

2. Timing – It might sound trivial but timing actually can boost your chances to get sales. From my point of view there are two types of timing. First one is expected timing such as holidays. For example you know that there is New Year coming by, or St. Valentines day and you can prepare for that with thematic photoshoot, mostly people start searching for those themes something about month -month and a half earlier the date.

Photo of engagement ring I took before the St. Valentines day.engagment_ring

The second type of timing are big events that not always happen. I got that idea when accidentally took a photoshoot of my friend with birth control pills right before the whole  birth control fuss that was in the USA. In the results one of my most selling (not most making though) photos are from that photoshoot. So if you know that there is a big thing coming by and you can take photos related to that you definitely should jump the train. birth_control

3. Themes – In our world there is so many groups of interest, you can find an article, a book or a poster of almost everything that you could think of, therefore people will search for photos related to those themes. You can think of a theme that interest many people, themes that you see a lot around yourself and take photos of that. For example, I am working part time at transportation lawyer office, once they asked me to do some photos for their site related to that. I thought about it and saw that many of the “crimes” are related to drinking alcohol while driving, I made a shoot of that and used those photos also for Shutterstock. The results were right away, within few days I already made sales of those photos.drive_alcohol

Another example was my friend who is also my model and a yoga\fitness instructor, I used her and her equipment to made fitness related photoshoots, because fitness and healthy life style is something  that is going very hard right now that was worth the effort. sport

`4. Unusual– This one is kind of abstract but something that worth paying attention to. When you take photos for sale try to do something a little bit different, maybe unusual angles or composition. Try to experiment in order to make your photos to stand out, that someone who will see the photos will chose yours over millions of others. It is hard at the beginning, the first photos that jump at the search are those who were already sold at least few times, in order to overcome that and make people chose your photos over others you need to make them interesting, something that will catch the buyers eye.

Photo of surfer taken with wide angle lens, catching the beach and the sea.surfer

Also you need to remember that photos for stock are slightly different of those that made for “art” it is important to take a photo that a buyer would want and not one that deliver some artistic message, I don’t say that you shouldn’t upload those photos too, you do, but your main mass of photos should be a buyer oriented.rosary

5. Nature\Animals – I think this is the easiest things to take photos of, beautiful flowers, fields, landscapes, forests and so on. The problem is – everyone think that, so there is a lot of images of that kind on stock sites(many of them sometimes don’t even accept them). There is nothing wrong with uploading those photos but you need to be ready to the fact that this won’t be your main income. Those photos sell rarely and it is better to spend your time to make more interesting photos. So if you going to a trip or travel in a beautiful place take as much photos as you can  of flowers and fields and so on but don’t spend all of your time taking only those photos, it is a nice bonus but not the main income.white_lavender

Animals actually is pretty interesting thing to photograph, if you have access to wild animals it’s better because pets also rarely sold. For example I had an opportunity to take photos of wild Golden Jackals and right now we have a rabies situation in the country , so those photos are selling pretty good(example of timing). So rare animals, wild animals is something that can actually sell. Another important thing I paid attention too is writing the correct species name, and it is valid for plants as well. That will expand the chance to find  your photos. For example, I have a photo of Perez sea lavender flowers, in tags I wrote “limonium” which is the the specie name, and one of the tags this photo was found by and sell was indeedlimonium (you can see sometimes what tags were used to find your selling photos).golden_jackal

Landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes are a good option too, especially if you have some recognizable places. The more the place is know the most likely it will sell. Known parks and natural reserves, recognizable city landmarks and so on, you can travel and make money out of it:)gedor_beach

6. Variety and quantity:

Variety – You can have many subjects or can specialize in one area (let’s say a food photographer), as for me I think it is the best to have many options and many subjects in your photos this will increase your sells, but if you see that your best sells are for example portraits and business oriented themes you might want to invest your time and creativity in those areas and not waste it on areas that work less for you. 

Another one of my best selling images, those are the bricks of western wall at Jerusalem, even though the photo is simple it has an religion-faith impact.western_wall

Quantity – There is always a dilemma between “quality and quantity” and when there is no doubt that quality is the most important, in stock photography – quantity is something that is very important as well. The more photos you have – the more chances to get exposure you will get. If you really want to make Shutterstock your main income source you have to upload big amounts of photos, otherwise it will take a long time until your photos will be found and start selling. grapefruit_juice

7. Tags – Highly important, good and right tags will improve your chances to sell more photos. Be careful when you chose tags, be sure that they represent exactly your photo, check the most searchable tags in order to see whether or not your photo can fit them. Add as much as you can that describe your photo, items, colors, everything. For example you did a photo shoot of aromatic candles and massage items, don’t write just “candle, massage, aromatic” it is not enought, you need to add things like “relaxation, health, free time” and so on.eating_cats

Another important thing is to refresh your older tags, take some time to check your older photos, maybe you will find that there are tags that you could have added and missed, add even simple things like the words “background” or “pattern” this will revive your old photos and will let them another chance to be found.


In conclusion: Those are more or less the rules I follow in order to make my sells better. You need to remember that the income from stock photography is parallel to amount of time and effort you will invest in that. You are not going to upload 10 photos and have millions after few days, it does not work that way, it’s a hard work and a long term commitment. If you want your stock income to be noticeable or even your main income you should invest in that. Check the tags, create new images, follow the trends and events and of course upload a good amount of quality photos. It will take some time until you will see the results but don’t give up:)

You can see a sign up banner at my side bar if you would want to sign to shutterstock:)

Fun fact : This is not my most selling photo, but this photo was bought by the most amount of money in one buy. I did my monthly Shutterstock income in one buy of that photo. So as you can see, everything sells:)fence


11 thoughts on “My 7 Tips to start or improve your Shutterstock (stock) sales.

  1. Very informative article. I’ve been considering doing stock photography but like you say, you need to put in the time and effort. From what I’ve read on the subject, one of the top “topics” are various shots of people – families, dining out, business etc. However, i’m thinking that securing model releases is a tricky thing – I’ve seen some release forms that look like complex legal agreeements – too scary for someone to sign. What type of release do you use? Do you offer free prints in exchange?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed photos with models that show behaviors, feelings, families and so on sells really good, and it is a problem to find a model that will accept to be “sold”. I use a standard Shutterstock form of model release that you can download on their website. The form is really easy to understand and not complicated at all. I do not offer free prints because I mostly work with my friends so I do them free photo shoots once in a while. For example one of my friends is a fitness and yoga trainer, I have an “exclusive” right to sell all of her photos that I shoot, in exchange I do photoshoots for her business (and sell those photos as well) so it is a win-win situation for both of us. If you can’t find someone who will do a TFP and you have to “hire” a model then I guess you will have to offer them money\free prints\free photoshoot for their will. The question is will you gain something from that (the photos will sell well and you will make an income from that) or will it be at your loss(you will pay them\waste your time on a shoot for them, and would not sell a single photo from that). So here you need to think, maybe you should start sell photos without models, and when you will see that things are starting get better you can start trying to recruit models.

      Liked by 1 person

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