5 Easy Steps to Start Selling Stock Photos and Footage Online Quickly

July 9, 2019


Selling photos or videos online can be a great source of extra income, and it is becoming increasingly popular among both professional and hobbyist photographers alike.

The stakes are higher than ever to actually get your photos noticed and sold in the stock photography space. It’s a glamorous idea: making passive income by doing what you love.

But can it actually be done?


The key is not just to sell your photo or video one time, but to sell them time and time again. This is the only way that you will make enough money to justify the time and effort you spend producing your images.

In order to start selling your media time and time again you need to be able to rank high enough in the search results so that your image gains enough momentum to stay at the top of the page. Only then will you see it beginning to sell over and over again, earning you limitless amounts of money.

This is the true value of stock photography and video - when it begins to work like a self-sustaining machine. That’s truly passive income.

I hear a lot of nay-sayers out there in the world of stock photography, claiming that it is insulting and could never be worth the time and effort involved for how much you are paid. It might be true for some and I agree that there is an argument to be made for finding better value elsewhere.

If I had the time to dedicate to pure freelance work, I would make a lot more money per hour, no doubt. But right now my time is more valuable to me at home with my kids.

If I can still make an additional side-income pursuing my favorite hobby, while setting my own schedule, then I’m all game. And once you begin ranking to the top of a few lists, the income does actually begin to seem more fair.

Here is an example of one of my best selling videos. It has been sold 26 times to date, for a total of $618.56. That’s one video that happens to rank well and sell frequently in my portfolio and I suspect will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It shows you the power of those repeat sales.

top selling video shutterstock

I created this step-by-step guide based on my own experience selling photos and videos online.

Let’s take a look at a few ideas that will give you the best chances of actually ranking at the top and selling your photos and videos online repeatedly while doing what you love most.


Want to dive even deeper? If you’ve read my monthly income reports then you already know that I haven’t added a single clip or photo to my portfolio since January this year, and yet I’m still making hundreds of dollars each and every month from photo and video sales. It’s the easiest money I’ve ever made. I’m walking you through exactly how to do it, even with a small portfolio of HD clips.

You’ll receive a beautiful 20 page PDF filled with valuable content packed full of insider tricks, including

  • Top 8 categories and genres of stock
  • Growing your portfolio into a money making machine (literally)
  • How to find keywords that will quickly rank high in search results so that your photos and video clips sell over and over again
The Ultimate Guide to Selling Stock Bundle

Download Now: The Ultimate Guide to Selling Stock Bundle


Which is more important when it comes to selling stock photography?

The short answer is both, with a little extra edge given to quality. Obviously having a massive collection of quality photos would be the best scenario, but realistically this takes years of time and effort. Focusing on quality first is more likely to yield results that actually make money, while working on building up the quantity with time.

There are currently more than 200 million photos for sale on Shutterstock alone. The odds of selling anything with a portfolio of 100 images or less is very unlikely. This number is arbitrary, I’m just making the point of how unlikely it will be to rank in Shutterstock’s search results with such little amount of content.

Likewise, if the person buying the photo has an option to choose between a good photo and a great photo, which do you think they will choose? You simply can’t sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity.

Both are important and focusing on quality while building quantity over time is really the best approach.


With the overwhelming amount of photos already selling online, the best way to rise above the crowd is to find a genre that is both unsaturated and in high demand.

Most of the major stock sites actually release a monthly newsletter with some of this information. A few for this month include: Scandinavian lifestyle trends with an emphasis on coziness and simplicity of decor, medical and health conditions, methods of well-being like yoga and meditation, and images depicting environmental concerns like recycling and waste reduction techniques.

I would recommend paying attention to these lists each month as they come out.

Keep a detailed list of ideas that you may actually be able to capture and work toward those first. It is a great idea to take advantage of this ‘cheat sheet’ provided to you first hand from these stock sites. Having a shot list like this on hand will also keep you from getting into a slump with your photos or videos, as you’ll have a running list of ideas to keep you challenged creatively.

Here’s a little cheat sheet I made for you - the most in demand stock footage ideas of 2019.

From Shutterstock’s monthly newsletter to stock contributors.
From Shutterstock’s monthly newsletter to stock contributors.

Before taking the time to shoot and upload any new niches, you can do a little research yourself.

Simply type the keywords into Shutterstock’s main search page and see how many results pop up.

‘Fly Fishing’ results in just under 60,000 images. This may sound like a lot, but actually it is a pretty decently small sized genre. Not too many, but not so few that it will never be in demand.

In contrast, ‘fishing’ results in 1.5 million images.

Remember to look for these sub categories within larger genres to help you find a niche that works for you and your interests.

fly fishing search on shutterstock

Notice when I begin searching for ‘fly fishing’ that the search box populates additional search ideas for you.

This is an excellent tool to use to your advantage. These results are populated from other searches that are most often used, so let some of these be your guide.

Use them for additional photo ideas, or even use these terms in your keywords and descriptions, since you know others are likely searching under this exact terminology.


This is critical to ranking high in a medium to large sized category.

Make sure to be very descriptive in your title and tags.

Selling a picture of ‘fishing in a river’ could be very difficult, but ‘man fly-fishing in Lake Yellowstone’ may actually get you some views.

Selling an image of a ‘cute newborn’ will be nearly impossible. But selling a photo of a ‘newborn in the NICU’ could very well get you ranking to the top of the page, like this one did for me.

Think about keywords that will be searched for within your genre. For me, ‘authentic’, ‘real people’ and ‘lifestyle’ are some that I’ve found helpful instead of simply ‘kids’ or ‘children’.

Nicu newborn shutterstock example

The beauty of this method is that as you start to rank under these very specific keywords, eventually you will begin ranking for some of the broader key words as well.

No one knows the exact formula for Shutterstock’s search algorithms, but I have found this to be true with several of my high ranking photos.

Once they start to gain a little momentum, they quickly rise to the top of the search and stay there. Before you know it you may be selling those photos repeatedly throughout the month.

Again, that is the key to being successful in actually making money with stock imagery - not just selling your image once, but selling it over and over again.


Personally, I have been able to capitalize on a few sales from a quick google search of upcoming holidays. Don’t worry about the big ones like Christmas and Easter quite as much since they are mostly saturated.

Look for ones like International Women’s Day or National Puppy Day. These generally are not as popular, so you have a much more likely chance of reaching some views.

Make sure you use those specific words and phrases in your tags and titles as well.

I am probably giving away some of my own insider secrets here, but below is one holiday I found that has less than 1,000 videos in the search results, yet it has become an increasingly popular subject: International Women’s Day. I notice a handful of sales from these clips every February and early March.

Once I noticed the trend, I made a handful more with a little variation on each of them. All of them rank on the first page for this particular search and do pretty well seasonally.

Pay attention to what is selling within your collection and why. Capitalize on those trends when you find them. (And probably don’t share them with the rest of the world as I am doing now… )

international women's day shutterstock


It is important that you focus on genres that you enjoy.

When you shoot something you love, it shows in your imagery, and you will be less likely to tire of the work involved in the endless cycle of shooting, editing, and tagging.

The burnout is real. I’m a mom and I love to travel, so these two genres are where I put most of my focus. And of course, they are still broad genres, so I am continually looking for even smaller niches within those two categories.

Whether I am uploading to stock sites or not, I know I will always being taking an abundance of footage of my kids and my travels, so it works out well.

Think about your hobbies and things that interest you. Try to narrow them down using the search tools we discussed early. With just about every broad genre, there is more than likely a smaller niche in there somewhere.


It’s always smart to try and reverse your mindset and think about who is going to actually be buying your photo. Think about what type of photo they are looking for.

This depends widely on genre, but let’s take general lifestyle photography for example. Many times stock photos are used in some form of advertising, whether it be in a magazine or online. An article about children getting good sleep may involve a small child sleeping in a crib. Let’s think about where an image like this may appear.

If it is on the cover of a magazine, there probably needs to be some space left somewhere in the photo where the title of the magazine might go. This is called negative space. Many times with stock photos you need to keep this in mind and remember to leave space where the text may be put over without covering any important content.

Take a look below at some of my own blog title images and you will begin to get a feel for what I mean. Frame your photo in such a way that there is space left for this text. This often results in a more universally appealing image as well - perfect for stock.

Instead of the child in the crib taking up the entire frame, leave space on one side or at the top for some text to appear.

Be careful not to crop in too closely on images as well. I have heard this complaint multiple times from consumers of stock media. They very often want more control over the final image and may even need to size it specifically to meet their needs, so make sure to give your buyer enough room in the frame to do so.

I hope you’ve found some value in these ideas that I’ve learned along the way. Leave me a comment below and let me know what’s working for you!


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Hi, I'm Beth.

I started Handcraft Films to give other filmmakers and photographers the gift of documenting their own stories for years to come. I hope you'll learn something new and share your creativity here.
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