How to Get Started in Stock Photography

Posted by Rachael Towne on

© Jim Erikson

I wonder where the online industry would be if stock images and commercial photography had not been born? Although, this type of photography has been around well before the internet began, with print media and advertising campaigns. Now, with the internet, stock photography appears to have blasted like a rocket, to all homes. Instead of photographers seeking large advertising clients to use their images, now households can buy and use stock images from every day blogs to online advertisements, book covers and more. If you need an image, stock photography is generally the first point of call.

What is interesting about Jim Erikson’s work, is his absolute passion for photography. To him, it is not just an image that is universally cool and will sell a certain amount of copies. To Erikson, it is capturing what is going on in people’s hearts. He wants to film what others are doing that are risk-worthy to follow their own hearts, whether it is people witnessing different landscapes that inspire or help bringing to life a child’s imagination.

© Jim Erikson

Erikson has been working in commercial photography for over twenty years, including producing imagery for clients such as American Express, Kodak, Cisco, United Airlines and many more. He is renowned for his ability to capture spontaneous and unexpected moments while still maintaining a high technical finish.

The upside and downside of selling stock images

  • If you go with a stock image business that gives you a royalty for photo’s accepted onto their site, the upside is, their website (hopefully) draws enough traffic to get mass sales, if your images are what people are seeking. Plus, you do not have to deal with any customers, payments, product issuing etc. yourself as it is all taken care of by the parent company.
  • Now if you decided to create your own website and have your own stock images for sale, the upside is there is no competition with other photographers, because only your work is listed. The downside is, if you are new to the online world, you will need to put time into drawing traffic and buyers to your site. Plus, you will be in charge of ensuring images are provided when a purchase is made etc. 

How do you begin?

© Jim Erikson
Do your research. What do buyers of stock images look for? Are they seeking commercial photographs they can use for ads, business photographs to use in newsletters and reports or editorial imagery to use in magazines? Look into what were the top selling images for the month to give you an idea of what the majority of people are looking for.


Keywords for your images are very important

What is a client looking for and what does your image display that you can use the right keywords to get your image seen? In stock photography websites, there are thousands upon thousands of photos, the first thing a buyer does is go to the search button and type in a keyword that they are specifically looking for to buy. This is why, typing in key words such as landscape are good but may not get you seen on the front page of the search. If your landscape photograph has a sunset, add in the keywords 'sunset', also 'dusk', 'evening', use the colors in the photograph as keywords also, such as 'red', 'orange', 'purple' and even the word 'backdrop.' As some buyers like to purchase multiple images to add on top of each other to create the final look that they want. 

Use keyword searches to see what is lacking

If you typed in red flowers for example and only five images came up in the search, then shoot a picture that would work great with this keyword. Competing against a smaller amount of stock images for the same keyword, gives you a higher chance of getting more sales. 

Something to remember 

It is important to note, that stock images can sell for a small figure, so focusing on a mass sales result is ideal. To do this, you need to think about and research what the majority of buyers of stock photography are seeking at any given time. However, I do need to stress, unique photos can be just as enticing for a stock buyer as they roam through the hundreds of other similar-styled photographs.       

Unsure where to start?

 © Jim Erikson

Look at themes throughout the year, Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Thanksgiving etc. During the upcoming holidays, these photos will always be in hot demand.

Now stock images may be an excellent addition to your photography business, where you can make some additional cash each month. Although, ideally, as you build your portfolio a good idea is to focus your goal bigger and target advertising firms to use your photographs in their marketing. Why? They have a bigger budget and the credibility you can add to your portfolio for having their business feature your photograph is impressive.   

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