5 Stock Photo Sales Killers


With everyone now owning a hard drive packed with pictures, and with dozens of stock sites offering to turn those pictures into cash, surely everyone should be busy uploading their image files and cashing their checks.

Well, yes, they should, but… not every photo is sellable. Some images can sit on a stock site’s servers for years without being bought, but others are unlikely even to get through the front door. Here are five photographic sales-killers that will leave your image unsold at best and rejected at worst.

Lo-Res Images, Low Chance Of Sales
You don’t need a top-of-the-range, thousand-dollar camera to take shots for stock sites but you do need to create images that are likely to be better than the sort your camera phone can capture. Both iStockPhoto and Fotolia, for example, demand at least two megapixels and require that the images be 1600 x 1200 without being resized.

These days, that’s not a huge demand for even a simple digital compact but if you can’t meet it, you won’t even get your foot in the door.

Imperfect Quality, Out Of Luck
Getting the resolution right is easy enough. Getting the quality right is much tougher. Even a small blemish on an image can be reason enough for a site’s quality inspectors to reject it — and for a buyer to pass it by too.

That means your picture has to get the exposure exactly right, the ISO exactly right, the focus in exactly the right place and it can’t have any “noise” caused by compression or anything else. Ideally, it should be taken in Raw and converted to JPEG, and it should be perfectly lit.

That’s all technical stuff, and it’s where most amateur snappers fall down. While anyone can sell their photos, in practice it’s usually the people who understand photography that make the sales.

If you want to make an income selling images, you’ll need to know more than where to find the shutter release button.

A Common Shot Generates No Interest
Most of the images that most people have lying around at home are snaps. They’re pictures of the White House during a trip to Washington, Dad at the Eiffel Tower or the beach on a summer’s day. They’re photos that are fun for the owner and dull for friends, who look at their watches whenever they’re brought out.

Everyone has tourist pictures, including the buyer. If a shot can’t raise eyebrows, it’s not likely to raise revenue.

Visible Brands, Big Trouble
When you’re taking pictures for yourself, copyright issues don’t count. When you’re selling images for money, they count a lot. Logos are copyrighted and if a brand is recognizable, it’s not going to be sellable on a photo — the brand owner might not like where it appears and talk to a lawyer.

If there’s a company in your image — or even a copyrighted image such as a celebrity or a sports personality — another company won’t buy it as stock.

Not Another Landscape…
Nature is all very nice, but stroll through any photo sharing site and you’ll have push your way past the trees and the flowers and the clouds and the sunsets to find anything interesting. You might have a lot of these sorts of images on your hard drive but most stock sites have a lot of them on their servers too.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t submit them, but don’t be surprised if cliched pictures fail to generate cash.

A lot has been said — especially by professional photographers — about the way microstock sites has changed the photography market. In practice though, quality and composition demands keep the bar to entry fairly high. You can climb over it, but it will take more than point and shoot.


2 comments for this post.

  1. ashok pai Said:

    good article, serious photographers pretty much know what it takes to make the cut into professional stock sites. guys like stock.xchng are however needed for bloggers, small time web designers, NGOs, charity organisations who cant afford the high prices of getty etc. there is a market for those who need these images for free (or they might simply pilfer images). so why not support microstock - and also do some charity along the way ?

  2. Mark @GraphXT Said:

    Thank you for the information ! I remembered my first adventures in photography and do's and don'ts while reading it :)

    I'm also a photographer and part of GraphXT which was started as an idea in 2009 and launched this summer 2012 to make a difference for all possible photographers and buyers. We specialize in editorial / commercial / artistic
    photography and encourage photographers to work with us for the longterm. We offer one of the highest commissions and in exchange offer only the best to buyers. We have many advantages so feel free to check our F.A.Q and further information on our site. In our news section you can also read a bit about our roadmap.

    Since we're new we hope to attract enough photographers to supply images so we can actively approach buyers. I'd like to invite you and everyone who is interested hereby !

    Thank you,

    Mark @GraphXT

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