Gear and editing can only go so far. Capturing images that have relevant, yet unique, concepts could be a game-changer.

The stock photography business is fun and profitable if you know what you’re doing. But, it’s also fairly competitive. Each month, thousands of new images are uploaded on Shutterstock, and the scenario is quite similar on other stock photography sites. So, how do you make it as a successful contributor to stock photography sites? How can you make this actually work?

One of the key answers is to conceptualize your shots well. Get creative, stay away from ordinary shots, and exert more effort in creating interesting concepts. Here are some tips from our amazing contributors on how you can conceptualize your photos well and make actual money through stock photography.

Make your shots unique! Image via Master1305.Mattias Drotte of Maskot Images

There are some ingredients that have to be there and that have to harmonize when shooting a premium image to make the concept salable. First off is the believability, or ensuring that the image looks real. We test this by thinking: “If this was a Hollywood film production, would this scene feel real?”

Dinner with Friends There should be a feeling of authenticity in your images. Image via Maskot.

The understanding of the concept is easier said than done. From putting it down on the storyboard to the actual shot, a lot can happen. For example, when the storyboard is about the concept “caring and loving your children,” and the situation is to shoot a proud mother embracing her daughter who’s fixing a bike, it’s important to remember that fixing the bike isn’t important. It’s just a way to get to the concept. If it doesn’t work, change the situation to get the concept right.

Images via Maskot.

Lastly, the style of photography can turn an image from cliché to high-end creative. The more cliché a concept is, the more important the style of the shot. Our job is all about getting the balance of these three things right. And, when we do, we create interesting and beautiful images portraying concepts with great sales potential.

Glean even more insights on creativity and inspiration through this interview with Maskot Studio’s Mattias Drotte.

Sasha Navetyana of Zjuzjaka

In my opinion, the most important things for an image to be salable is an emotional connection. It needs to be touching something. Something that’s important right now in society. Sometimes, it’s a trendy topic, a trendy image, and that’s fun. Trendy images can sell like hot pies, but it may not last long.

Woman Practicing Yoga Trendy or not, your images need to find a connection with the viewer. Image via zjuzjaka.

It’s all about eternal values, like love and relationships. Anything that connects to the audience. When an image represents that nicely, it’s salable now and for a long time. Be very sensitive to what’s happening in the world and supply those touching images.

Images via zjuzjaka.

Alex Treadway

When you’re working on assignments for magazines, you have an underlying goal of getting at least one shot that tells the whole story that could potentially be the opener for the article or the cover. I often work with filmmakers on shoots, and it’s interesting how different the two disciplines are. Film can layer images and build the story in fragments to reveal the complete message at the end. Meanwhile, a cover for a magazine needs to get attention and say as much as possible in just one frame.

Brick Laborer Your goal should be to grab the attention of the viewer. Image via Alex Treadway.

When I was shooting a rafting trip in Nepal for a magazine called Action Asia, I really wanted to capture people’s expressions as they went through the rapids, rather than shooting the boats from a distance. I thought this would be the most engaging concept for the cover. So, I used an underwater housing and shot faces while sitting backwards at the front of the boat. After quite a few failed attempts, I eventually got some shots of screaming faces surrounded by white water.

Images via Alex Treadway.

These images have also proven to be very salable further down the line. If an image stands out while strolling past a magazine rack, it’ll also stand out while scrolling down a web page.

Explore how travel photographer Alex Treadway uses still images to tell authentic stories in this featured interview.

Alessandro Biascioli

Market research is important. Know what the trends are and what’s going on in the world. Understand how facts matter in and to our society. Take a look around at what’s happening, and with your imagination, create a set. Start there.

Happy Surfer Start by knowing what is trending. Image via AlessandroBiascioli.

Other aspects to a good image concept is the model, if your concept requires models. Do accurate model research. Focus on diversity—the stock market is full of Caucasian people. They now need other subjects like BIPOC people.

Images via AlessandroBiascioli.

When it comes to editing, it’s important to give a commercial value to the photos. Pay attention to your color correction, sharpness, and shadows. The image must be clear and luminous, with a good sharpening and trendy color correction. If you used a good lens, then you already got 50% of it.

Bar Owner Remember, the image must be clear and luminous. Image via AlessandroBiascioli.

This may not be actually about conceptualizing but titles and keywording are also important. Understand that if done well, you’ll have more chances for customers to find your images, not to mention it helps the search algorithm. For sure, this takes time, but it doesn’t make any sense uploading a large quantity of images with bad keywords.

Carlos David

As creators, we need to listen to what’s happening around the world. Keep our eyes open and be curious. I don’t have a straight recipe for the creation of salable images, but I have a collection of actions that help me stay fresh.

Happy Young Woman Look for inspiration through various avenues—art magazines, Instagram, etc. Image via CarlosDavid.

I follow the Shutterstock Shot Lists. I look for inspiration in fashion and art magazines. I scroll through Instagram. I visit art exhibitions. I pay attention to big brand’s advertisements. I create tons of different mood boards. I take time to let it all sink in. Then, I close my eyes and I follow my gut.

Images via CarlosDavid.

When I’m creating I like to ask myself these questions: What can I contribute to this landscape? How can I reshape what’s already out there? How am I going to help evolve society conventions with my images? We are lucky because there’s a revolution on beauty standards happening right at this moment. I don’t know if this will make more salable content, but I know I want to be a part of the change.

Capture consciously diverse images with more tips from New York-based photographer Carlos David.

Niccolo Pontigia of DisobeyArt

Always follow and anticipate the trend. This job needs a lot of study. Which is to say, stock contributors really need to use their creativity. You have to create a concept that didn’t quite exist before. This is what’s going to make it salable.

Images via DisobeyArt.

Also, to make sure that your shots that sell now will also still sell later, it has to be authentic. This means choosing the right people, the right model, is a must. And, last tip, never be afraid to create new concepts. Using your creativity is the way to enjoy this great job.

Laura BC

I mainly shoot portraits and when shooting portrait photography for stock, I always try to conceptualize topics that are currently in demand. I find that by doing this, those portraits are more likely to sell.

Serious Woman Conceptualize your topics. Image via Laura BC.

I try to transmit some emotion, a message, and make them artistic. Conceptualizing them within topics that I know are on demand by clients, I have more chances to be discoverable by anyone looking for specific themes to illustrate their articles, products, or adverts. Everyone doing stock photography should be up-to-date with every trend and current topics.

Images via Laura BC.

I do a lot of self-portrait work as well. I love spending time experimenting with different techniques and ideas in intimacy with my camera. Apart from being such a huge part of my creative process, it also allows me to not have to worry about getting a model release since it’s me in the shots. This is a very good idea for those who don’t have easy access to models. Taking particular photos for stock photography is something super enjoyable. It’s a creative challenge that I have so much fun with!

Daria Komarova

First of all, sales are often influenced by trends. If you get into the trend, then the sales will be in your favor. Sales are also affected by beautiful and well thought-out composition and color. So, focus on what’s trendy in terms of coloration and composition. Understand the niche you’re focusing on or the trends in the type of images you’re capturing.

Pretty African Woman Understand your niche. Image via Darya Komarova.

Secondly, you need to keep in mind the commercial value of the photo. When you shoot, you need to understand where and for what your work will be used. It’s stock photography so the answer to this varies, but you need to at least have an idea in your mind who you’re trying to serve when you’re shooting.

Images via Darya Komarova.

Santiago Nuñez of Santypan

You can never really tell if an image can be sold in complete safety. Many times, when taking a photo, I thought that that image was going to have a lot of sales—but then, it didn’t.

Woman with Backpack You never know which image will sell the most. Image via santypan.

Likewise, I’ve had images that I didn’t expect a lot of sales from that have turned out to be the subject of many purchases over many years. In the same way that one cannot know with certainty whether an image is going to be sold or not, one can be guided by general patterns that indicate whether an image can work well or not.

Images via santypan.

First off, some notes about the models. Your relationship with the models must be excellent so that everything flows naturally and so they feel comfortable. Positive attitude is imperative. Then, there’s location and set. Keep the essence and reality of the place, but not too much, or else you run the risk of having the images look fake. Also, it’s a good idea to sometimes have copy space in your shots. When composing your images, understand it’s all about greater visual attraction.

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Cover image via zjuzjaka.