Lake Reflection in the Uintas

Lake Reflection in the Uintas - About 10 miles from the Trailhead

As an aspiring stock photographer, I am always looking for what to shoot that will sell well. What can I shoot that will make me the most money?

However, there is a huge difference between what I like to shoot and what sells well.

I love nature. I love the quiet solitude that exists in the mountains as you endure the chill in the air and the mosquitoes buzzing around your face. I love to have my fishing hook in the water while I sit and talk with my son about basketball, school, girls, and life in general. I love the stillness in the middle of the night and love to bury myself in my sleeping bag and have the frost on the top of my tent because it dropped below freezing outside. I like it because everything tastes better in the Mountains. Even Top Ramen tastes good when you are above 10,000 feet.

However, anyone can take a hike or drive to a lake and shoot a landscape shot that is beautiful. Even those long hikes out in the middle of nowhere to a lake that only a handful of people in the world have ever seen are only appreciated by a relatively small number of people. Even if you capture that amazing, once in a lifetime sunset where the sun is reflecting on a crystal clear lake don’t generally sell well in the market today. The market isn’t generally looking for sunsets. The market isn’t looking for images of flowers. The market isn’t looking for pictures of your pet dog or cat.

Instead, the market is looking for stock images that will reflect the image that they their companies are trying to portray. They want strength. They want stability. They want creativity. They want inspiration. They want power. They want professional.  They want growth.  They want diversity. They want to portray good health. They want to portray active lifestyles. They want to portray “green” and environmentally conscious behavior. Those are examples of what the market is looking for.

You should consider how companies are going to use the stock image.  They are going to put it on their website.  They are going to incorporate it into their advertising materials.  They are going to include it in their annual report. My Uintas Lake Reflection image is never going to make it into IBM’s Annual Report to their shareholders because there is no obvious connection to their annual results and the amazing scenery that I saw at 12,000 feet.

So how do I find out what is selling?  I look at the various stock photography websites.  Most of them have a link to their most popular files. has a link to their Most popular stock images.  On this page you can view all their content including photographs, illustrations, flash, video, and audio files. You can sort it by what is most popular over the last 3 months, the last month, or the last week.  It is very interesting to see what sells the best on iStock.

Bigstockphoto has a similar popular stock images page.  You can also search the most popular files by category which is a nice feature if you specialize in a certain genre of photography.

It is also easy to identify some trends that will be coming up.  For example, most advertising for Christmas is completed and ready for the press sometime in the September/October timeframe.  So if you are going to take Christmas pictures, you need to have them completed and uploaded to your portfolio when the creative work is being done in the July/August timeframe.  Those December Christmas images that you shoot won’t get looked at until the next year, because the creative departments are already planning for their spring break sales events.  Similar lead times exist for other holidays as well.

Similar trends exist in other industries.  Have you ever gone to the Mall in February and they are displaying all of their swimsuits in all the stores?  February is the last month that I am thinking about buying swimsuits for me or my family, but if you wait until summer, that is when all the fall clothes are available.  Go figure…

These tools are just helpful to see what types of images are selling and are the most popular.  I do not advocate copying the style or ideas of other photographers, instead, evaluating other successful photographers content can help prime the pump and get the creative juices flowing on what you might shoot that will result in you making more money with stock photography.

Chime in and provide your input!