What Kind of Stock Images Sell?

When discussing stock photography the first question photographers tend to ask is, 'What kind of stock images sell?' Here, I will give some answers to that question.

Look around you
Maximise your context
People pictures
Model releases
Get inspiration
Input from a global perspective
Images that do not sell

Look around you

Probably the best way to get a good idea of what kind of stock images sell is simply to look for images that have been used around you. Images in magazines and brochures, images in displays and advertisements, images in text books and on websites. Many of those images will have been purchased from stock libraries. In general, stock images should capture:

  • an emotion
  • a place and what is unique about it
  • daily life in unusual places
  • elements that are particular to this time in history

Maximise your context

As a photographer based in the Majority World you have a huge opportunity to create stock imagery that is unique. The images created by stock photographers from Europe and the USA are difficult to compete with directly. But taking images that capture your own unique context where you live allows you an immediate niche that photographers from the Minority World can't compete with. See the example below. This pictures of solar panels with Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa in the background has a unique value because the context has been captured. Much more so than if the photographer had simply taken a close up of a solar panel without the context.

Solar panels in Cape Town

Figure 1: Cape Town based photographer, Ed Suter, took this image of solar panels with Table Mountain in the background - if you look at it the I has been separated from mage by formatting

There is also often a lack of genuine, quality everyday life images from the Majority World. And if you can get them model released they will have even more value and versatility. Alamy has a section of everyday life images to give you some ideas.

People pictures

Stock photographs of people sell best overall, but the people must be doing something specific.  Look for images of people that:

  • convey an emotion like fear, joy or frustration
  • convey a concept like success, addiction or wealth
  • display a lifestyle
  • show a mix of different cultures
  • show people at work both in the office and in other workplaces
  • show traditional festivals as well as local versions of more global celebrations like New Year
  • leisure activites
  • travel - capturing the essence of what it is like to be there
  • people eating local food
  • science and technology accurately depicted in different contexts


Make sure you put the activity, emotion or concept that you are aiming to convey into your caption and keywords, so that, for example, someone searching by 'frustration' will find your image.

    People pictures must have model releases wherever the people are recognisable.  Take a book of model releases with you wherever you go.

Model releases

When an image is going to be used for more than editorial use, for commercial use for instance, model releases are required. Very few images from the Majority World are model released which means that there is a huge gap in the market for such images right now. Why not start fo produce model released images where you live right now.


Get inspiration

For inspiration it is worth looking around at the web sites of stock libraries. Most stock agencies display their best selling images and usually have lists of what kind of images they need. You can learn a lot from these photos and what buyers of that particular stock photography website are looking for and are willing to buy.  Here are the Best sellers and Stock photo needs from Africa Media Online.

Input from a global perspective

I interviewed Alexandra Bortkiewicz from Alamy and asked her to give us some input on the kind of images that the global market requires from the Africa. 

Figure 2: Interview with Alexandra Bortkiewicz from Alamy on global stock photography needs from Africa

Images that do not sell

Pictures that are praised on photo-sharing sites like Flickr don't necessarily sell well, although they may be dramatic or beautiful, as they often lack any meaning to a picture buyer.  The kind of images that do not sell well as stock include:

  • light blurs - and other effects which might be fun
  • photoshopped backgrounds
  • people doing nothing
  • sunsets and clouds, unless they are brilliant