What are stock photographs?

Svetlana November 11 2021

Stock photography is a supply of photographs, which are available for purchase or license much like stocks and shares. These images are usually supplied by companies known as stock photo agencies. There are currently over 40,000 individual stock photos housed within the Shutterstock collection alone.  

The word "stock" describes both the image inventory that's for sale or licensed (also called commissioned) and also the business itself. A set of 20 high-resolution images might cost $100 to download whereas an exclusive usage license could cost upwards of $10 000.  

What is so special in stock photos?

Stock photos are usually in high resolution, rights-managed, and suitable for general distribution. And if the photo is not available for distribution it can be purchased at a reduced rate.

What makes stock photography different from other types of images is that they are often snapped by professionals or with special equipment that gives them added clarity, depth, and detail when compared to say, an image taken on your mobile phone camera.

Another advantage of investing in stock photography is that there are no publication restrictions, which means you can use the photo anywhere and however you please without having to seek additional permission from a photographer.

It's all about credit

One thing to note when using stock images is that you must always provide proper attribution (credit) whenever they appear in your work. Credits should not be placed on the same page as the image, but find a separate caption or even in later pages of your work. There are different ways to credit images, some will provide you with text that you need to include with each photo which others require you to link back to them. Linking is usually seen as most convenient for both parties since it also benefits the designer by encouraging other potential clients who visit their website further down the line.

Name your price

Another option when sourcing stock images is going direct and contacting photographers yourself. This can be a quick way of getting what you want at a price that works for both parties but it's best if you have a clear idea of what you're looking for before commencing negotiations. Most wouldn't mind working out a custom commission for you if you know exactly what you're after.

Some photographers offer free photography in exchange for having promotional rights to their images. This is how some stock photo agencies get their content so it's an ideal opportunity for up and coming bloggers, although more established ones might not be too keen on sharing the limelight. 

There are even apps that will help you find creative commons licensed images easily, although this doesn't necessarily mean they're free to use commercially. Many times there are usage fees involved but these are usually quite low compared to paying full price elsewhere. A good website to check out is Pexels. They have both paid and free content available, with lots of unique options which can come in handy for designing mockups or just adding some uniqueness to your content.

Stock photography got you down?  

If you're an illustrator trying to find royalty-free images, it can be incredibly frustrating trying to find something that's up to scratch and doesn't cost the earth (unless of course, you've got a big budget ballooning around somewhere). So why not consider creating them yourself? Surely you'd agree that the perfect image is one that will perfectly complement everything else on your page without looking too fake or cheesy; something that stands out but doesn't stick out like a sore thumb, if such an image exists.   

There are lots of different styles of stock photo artwork available like design mockups, vector illustrations, and digital paintings but the issue is finding talented artists at a decent price. Don't fear though, there are lots of fantastic stock art websites out there that sell some incredibly classy-looking artwork for reasonable prices.

Where can you use stock images?

The examples of usage for stock images are endless. Here are some of the most popular:

Social media posts (i.e. Facebook, Pinterest) Magazine articles (yes, think print publications too!) Websites (with or without blog posts) Personal artwork (to sell on sites like Etsy etc.) Schoolwork/reports, University projects, Any kind of presentations, Powerpoint websites, eBooks,  etc.

There's also many different styles of stock photos available including but not limited to:

  • Fashion
  • Food & drink
  • Nature & landscapes
  • People
  • Productivity
  • Technology
  • Toys, games & gaming
  • Experiences
  • Travel
  • Animals
  • Portraits
  • Life events
  • Weddings
  • Parties
  • Places
  • Hobbies
  • Gardening
  • DIY
  • Home decor
  • Trees&plants
  • Religion
  • Business

Do I need a license?

The answer to this question is yes. Whether you're using someone else's photos or taking your own, you will need a license when uploading them on stock photo websites because it will mean that you have the legal rights to use and sell them commercially. This makes copyright infringement very unlikely and in most cases protects the original photographer (or whoever has taken the photo).

How to become a stock photographer?

Becoming a stock photographer is easy, just try to shoot photographs that are visually stunning. Whatever you do, don't go overboard with different props or equipment because this can significantly increase your costs for editing and post-production. Do not under any circumstances use Photoshop effects in your photos if you want them to be generally accepted by stock photo websites, instead keep it simple; backgrounds should look natural but still stand out against the subject of the photo without appearing too busy.

The great thing about stock photography is that there are no set hours or rules to follow. This means that you can take your photographs whenever and wherever you want to, whether it's during work hours, lunchtime, evenings or weekends. The choice is all yours which makes it easier for anyone (even students) to do because what matters the most is simply that you take good photos!

As long as your camera equipment works well and you know how to use it properly then there's no reason why you shouldn't start taking money-making shots right away. The more images you submit the faster things will develop so if possible try spending a little bit each week on getting new material because the dream car/holiday/new computer is always closer than you think.

Consider investing in some professional-looking photography gear like lenses with wider angles (to take advantage of all that great scenery), tripod stands (for stability when taking shots) or external flashes (if you're into night photography).   Always make sure you have permission from the property owner before taking photos of any kind in case you want to sell them commercially.

A great idea would be to make some extra cash by taking photos at friends' birthday parties, weddings (to sell) or simply snapping some shots around your neighborhood. This way you'll get more practice too!

Are such photos popular now?

Stock photos have been around for more than a century and they haven't lost traction at all. On the contrary, according to recent reports, they're becoming more popular than ever before with up to 70 million images available on just one stock photo website alone! This is great news if you're interested in making some extra cash by selling your amateur work or simply want to create some awesome artwork that others can use commercially without worrying about infringing copyright laws.

How to develop my style as a stock photographer?

The ability to photograph things in unique ways is what sets amateurs apart from professionals, so experiment with different styles and types of shots within your genre. The more photos you submit the better because you will get fresh ideas (that may even inspire others) and it allows stock photo websites to see your full range of abilities in terms of composition, design, and color.

It's also worth mentioning that even though you do develop a personal style eventually, it may be necessary to produce some photos that are generic at first just to get your foot in the door. If this is the case then try asking friends or family if they can spare some time for a free shoot, where all you have to cover are the editing costs.

Stock photography sites are also a great place to check out other photographers' work in your niche because you can learn very quickly what is popular and what isn't. After all, if something works well for others it may just do the trick for you too!

What are stock photo buyers looking for?

Your images will have instant success if they're interesting, unique, or entertaining in some way. This means that your photos must stand out from the rest (for example by having an exceptional composition, subject matter, and/or color). Don't forget to add relevant keywords when uploading them on stock photo websites either; this helps people find exactly what they need which increases the chances of earning more money with your art because people who would like (to buy) them will be able to find them more easily.

Are stock photos worth selling?

Yes, the money you can make with stock photography is potentially very good if you know how to sell your work. In fact, according to recent sales reports the average price per photo is as high as $250-350! This may come as a surprise but apparently, there are now people who even have full-time jobs just from taking and selling photographs! Although it will take some time for you to get your first sale, eventually things will pick up and before long you'll wonder why you didn't start earlier because the amount of work required to set everything up initially is pretty low compared to what it can bring in later on.

How do I get paid?

Stock photographers make money by selling licenses for their images, which means that they receive an agreed-upon amount of money every time their image is purchased for commercial purposes. Licenses are sold based on how many times an image can be used commercially so if you have limited restrictions it may cost more than something with unlimited usage which costs less.

To be 100% sure that your images are accepted by all stock photography websites, the best thing to do would be to read their terms and conditions very carefully or just check out what kind of photos they accept before investing money into editing. This way you'll avoid any possible future problems caused by unprofessional-looking pictures.

Even though the license is bought from you, the buyer still owns the copyright of everything they use for commercial purposes. All you can do with it freely is use it for things such as web design, personal projects, and portfolios.

How much time does stock photography take?

The amount of work required depends on how often you want to update your inventory (the more often the better) but also on what kind of demand there is for certain genres or topics. If you are new to this business it may even be necessary to invest in some expensive equipment in order to get yourself out there because otherwise, people won't take you seriously because your photos lack high quality.

If you just want to take one or two photos per day then it won't even take up too much of your time because all you'll have to do is upload them online later on (based on the stipulated conditions) and wait for buyers to contact you. Don't forget that the more work you put into becoming a professional photographer, the higher your chances will be of earning money with stock photography so don't underestimate this business model!


Stock photography can be a great source of side income if you just put some effort into it. As long as you're willing to experiment with different styles and types of shots, upload fresh photos regularly and do your research about the companies that buy images then there's no reason why you shouldn't earn good money at least in the short term.