How to make money with stock photography

Are you just starting your career as a photographer, or have you been doing it for a while? No matter what stage you’re at in your career, it’s always good to have an additional source of income, especially if it’s from doing something you love. Some photographers go into the stock photography business to do just that.

You may have heard that stock photographers make passive income, but how do you get started? You just need to register with a platform; submit examples of your work for a quick test; and, if accepted, start uploading images for sale.

The Depositphotos blog, an inspiring go-to source for photographers and other creatives, features useful advice and other tips you need to know if you want to start making money with stock photography. In this article, the team shares the basics.

What is stock photography?

If you’re not familiar with stock photography, let’s quickly cover what it is.

Stock photography platforms are marketplaces that sell visuals created by photographers, designers, and other creatives. These marketplaces usually feature a variety of files (photos, vector images, videos, illustrations, and even music) that clients can purchase licenses for and then use for commercial and editorial purposes.

Images on stock photography platforms can be bought an unlimited number of times by many different clients. This means that clients pay to use the copyrighted image, but you remain the owner of the image and reap the profits every time someone purchases your photo.

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Photo courtesy Depositphotos

Designers, social media and content managers, and publishing specialists are among the main clients for stock photography. They purchase images to illustrate ads, marketing campaigns, merchandise, packaging materials, music albums and book covers, or for a number of other projects.

What determines your success as a stock photographer and influences your earnings is your understanding of the topics in demand, the quality of your tags and descriptions, and a few other things we’ll cover later in this post.

How to become a contributor to a stock photography platform

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional photographer, you can become a contributor to stock photography platforms. It just takes a little time.

Usually, the first thing photographers do is fill in their details on the website to register with a stock photography platform. But a better strategy is to prepare a series of images that you’d like to sell in advance. Here’s why.

As part of the registration process, most websites ask potential contributors to upload several images for a quick test. The aim of this examination is to evaluate the work and ensure it meets the platform’s quality requirements and doesn’t violate human rights, copyrights, or patents. Once you pass the test and officially become a contributor, you can log into your profile on the website and make the images you uploaded for the test part of your stock portfolio.

However, it might not be enough to simply upload images to the library to start making money. The Depositphotos library alone has more than 194 million images. You need to know some tips and tricks to make your images appear higher in the search results.

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Photo courtesy Depositphotos

5 useful tips to start making money with stock photography

1. Specialize in a niche

Your photography profile on a stock platform looks very similar to a creative portfolio. It showcases all the images you’ve uploaded and allows you to make a good first impression when a potential client comes upon your portfolio while looking for visuals.

Longtime clients of stock photography platforms have a list of favorite photographers who specialize in particular themes and satisfy their requests for certain types of images. Long story short, if you want to have loyal clients and make money with stock photos on a regular basis, specialize in one or more themes.

You can go with safe topics like backgrounds, website hero images, nature pictures, or lifestyle photos. You can also try to tap into less explored themes like medicine, the modern routine, the future of technology, the art of aging, and more.

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Photo courtesy Depositphotos

2. Learn the peculiarities of editing stock photography

In addition to choosing a theme for your stock photography portfolio, pay attention to the peculiarities of stock photo editing. Post-processing images for stock is different from editing for editorial, wedding, or other commercial photos.

You can adjust the contrast and brightness, and do other basic editing. However, avoid getting carried away with retouching, filtering, and drastically altering your images. The content you upload to stock platforms should be edited only to the extent that will allow your potential clients (designers, content managers, or publishers) to tweak them in a way that’s convenient for them.

3. Master keywords

If you want your images to come up on the first few pages of the search results, mastering keywords is a must. In the contributor profile, the majority of stock photo platforms have two fields in the keyword section that must be filled in:

  • Keywords
  • Description

Keywords are a set of individual words or word combinations that describe what your image is about. The description is a literal explanation of what’s depicted in the visual as well as how and at what time of day it was taken. You’ll make it easier and quicker for clients to find your visuals by devoting time to both.

When clients are looking for a photo in the library, they will enter a word or a phrase in the search field, and the search engine will filter the images to offer the most relevant results.

The results clients see consist of images with keywords and descriptions that most closely match their query. For instance, if a client types in “big green chair” in the search field, and your keywords include this phrase, your photo will likely appear in the first pages of the results.

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Photo courtesy Depositphotos

It takes time and research to master the art of writing keywords, but you can speed up the process if you try to think like a client and study the top images for some searches.

4. Think like a client

Successful stock photographers try to put themselves in the client’s shoes at every stage of the process. When coming up with a photoshoot concept, ask yourself what images you would look for if you were a retail business owner.

Are there any holidays or events coming up soon? Authentic holiday-related visuals are always in demand. Keep track of occasions and topics that might be interesting to potential clients.

The same rule applies during the keyword stage. If you had to find specific visuals, what words would you type into the search field? After answering this question, you’ll be able to formulate better keywords and descriptions for your images, and make it easier for others to discover your work.

5. Follow trends 

Coming up with proper keywords to make your visuals appear higher in search results is only half the battle. Your images must also have commercial appeal. Among the key things you should pay attention to are trendy concepts, angles, topics, and post-processing. A visual that looks outdated because of intense saturation or a dark vignette is unlikely to be downloaded in 2021.

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Photo courtesy Depositphotos

If you want to make money with stock photography, you have to keep up with the latest trends to stand out. According to the Depositphotos Visual Trends Report 2021, clients will be looking for authentic images that reflect our modern routine. In general, images that reflect a contemporary lifestyle, convey topics that are in high demand, and fall into the all-time top photo categories will always be popular on stock photography websites.

Being in the know about what’s in demand among today’s audiences is key to success for all creatives but especially for stock photographers.


Using stock photography to make a side income is a great idea for photographers. All you have to do is to devote some time to register with a platform, upload a series of images, and build up your portfolio with our tips. With time, some professionals even turn their stock photography gig into a full-fledged business and earn a living this way.

Do you still have doubts about whether you should invest your efforts in stock photography? If you never try, you’ll never know.

Maria is a creative content manager at Depositphotos. She’s an experienced writer who covers photography, design, and marketing.

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