Tips for making best selling stock photos

Best Selling Stock Photos, Sales Volume and RPI

While there is no magic bullet for creating best selling stock photos, there are some principles that can help you achieve consistent sales volume and RPI (return per image). I will briefly go over each of five important points that I have learned from some of the best stock shooters, art directors and creative directors in the business, as well as from my own experience.

Suggestions, Wisdom and Stock Photo Efforts

The points we will go over include: Motion vs. Static, Horizontal, Vertical, and Square Crops, Negative Space, Concepts, and individual models vs. Groups. Keep in mind that these are not hard and fast rules, but rather suggestions gained from my own experience and from the wisdom offered by other veteran stock photographers and industry professionals. As you plan and execute your shoots, if you can keep these suggestions in mind, you can increase sales and income from your stock photo efforts.

Motion vs. Static:

Motion sells. I first heard this from Tom Grill, the most experienced and analytical stock photographer I know. I have first hand experience as well. When shooting any situation in which motion can be appropriate, be sure to include it. Off the top of my head I can think of several instances where a shoot has included the same situation with and without motion. The motion has to be done well, but when it is, most of the time, the motion images out-sell the static ones.

Horizontal, Vertical, And Square Crops

In terms of cropping there are several points to consider. If your thumbnail doesn’t grab the interest of whoever is looking for images, then you have already lost the battle. Thumbnails on stock agency sites are designed to fit both vertical and horizontal images. By having a square thumbnail your picture utilizes all the available real estate, your image is bigger and tends to stand out more.  It is also my belief that if you can frame your picture so that it can be cropped for verticals, as in a magazine cover, and also as a horizontal for applications such as magazine spreads, then you are allowing for the greatest possible sales of that image.

Negative Space

Negative space, particularly in the world of stock photography, can be a very positive thing. Think in terms of headlines and body copy. Allowing room for type will also help maximize your sales potential. In general allow a bit more room for cropping than you might otherwise. You never know how someone will want to use your photos. They can always crop in tighter, but can’t utilize the parts of the image that you have cropped out.

Concept Stock Photos Sell

As a rule, concept images outsell those without concepts, and often by a very large margin. Ideally you can create lifestyle images that have concepts; concepts such as success, standing out from the crowd, teamwork and freedom. I try and incorporate some of these concepts, and others, into every shoot.

Individual Models vs. Groups

The question about whether to shoot groups or multiple models as opposed to single models, is a bit trickier. Pick your situations; don’t just shoot groups to be shooting groups. Each model adds expense and complexity to your shoot. If you do want to tackle groups it is important to have a thorough shoot list with more scenarios than you think you will need. That way if one idea is starting to flounder, or proving troublesome, you can move right on to the next. This is one area where it can be particularly important to do your research. Because it is more expensive and challenging to shoot stock of groups (even small groups of two or three models), there is less competition for those shots. Check and see what kind of group shots are in demand and are under-represented in the collections you shoot for. If you can shoot what is needed in an edgy way that looks “real”, then you will do very well.

Motion, Framing, Negative Space, Concepts And Group

Again, the above are suggestions, not hard and fast rules. But if you can add motion, or a sense of motion, to your still images, pay attention to your framing and crops, allow for negative space, illustrate concepts, and add the judicious group or two, you can add to your RPI, your sales volume, and your bottom line.

John Lund has been shooting professionally for over 30 years.  John was an early adopter of Photoshop, first using version 1.0 in 1990.  He began using digital capture in 1994.  John has been active in the stock photography world as a founding member of BLEND IMAGES, and long time contributor to Getty Images, Corbis, and, more recently SuperStock. John has lectured on digital imaging and stock photography, has been a columnist for PICTURE and DIGITAL IMAGING magazines, and written ADOBE MASTER CLASS, PHOTOSHOP COMPOSITING WITH JOHN LUND.  John has been a frequent speaker at Photo Plus and other venues and has taught workshops at Palm Beach Workshops and Santa Fe Workshops.  His work can be seen at

john lund

Shooting professionally for thirty+ years, using Photoshop to create stock photos for 20 years.

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