Want to learn more about the art of stock photography? These 25 established photographers offer newcomers their best advice on everything from uncovering new trends to staying inspired.

In 2017, we interviewed more than 250 Shutterstock/Offset contributors about the ins and outs of stock photography. These artists came from all backgrounds, including lifestyle, portrait, food, wildlife, interiors, documentary, and fine art, and their experiences shed light on new trends within the industry. They gave us their best tricks for shooting at night, shooting underwater, shooting in the wild, and even shooting on the red carpet.

As we entered 2018, we asked 25 established photographers to give some advice to emerging photographers. What, we wondered, do they wish someone had told them when they were just getting started? Their responses ranged from technical rules to business tips, all catered specifically to stock. Some discussed the importance of researching and understanding the market, while others put an emphasis on truly enjoying what you do. Read on for some inspiration.

1. “Some areas sell better than others, but ultimately, quality always sells.”

Autumn Sky Photography

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Seek to Produce Quality

Image by Autumn Sky Photography. Gear: Canon EOS 6D full-frame SLR, Canon 24-105L lens, Tripod. Settings: Focal length 45mm; exposure 24 sec; f22; ISO 160.

Pro Tip

Choose your niche or area of expertise. This should be the thing you are most familiar with, whether it’s landscapes, flowers, macro, people, etc. Some areas sell better than others, but ultimately, quality always sells. The important part is that you feel you are an expert on the subject.

Learn how to supply metadata. This is extremely important and far more difficult than it might appear. I’m a landscape photographer, so in the beginning, I’d name all the mountains in a photo. Wrong! Customers are searching for words like “landscape,” “snowcapped mountains,” etc. Most often, it’s generics instead of specifics. Use the awesome Shutterstock Tools that allow you to see what search terms customers used to lead them to some of the images you sold. Examine the keywords others have used in the “Most Popular” tab. Once again, this is often not natural, and it does not come overnight.

Finally, have fun! Like everything else in life, if you enjoy what you are doing, you will be successful.

2. “Although I travel as often as I can, a lot of my best-selling images were shot within an hour of my house.”

Johnny Adolphson

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Look Close to Home

Image by Johnny Adolphson. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon 16-35mm f2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/60 sec; f9; ISO 640.

Pro Tip

Take a closer look at what is near your home. Although I travel as often as I can, a lot of my bestselling images were shot within an hour of my house. Stock photography keeps me searching for shots all day long, and I find myself looking for places and compositions that I might not see otherwise.

3. “The most important thing is to truly love what you do and to prepare yourself for some long-distance running.”

tomertu (Tomer Turjeman)

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Love What You Do

Image by tomertu (Tomer Turjeman). Gear: Canon EOS 80D camera, Sigma Art 24-105mm lens. Settings: Focal length 50mm; exposure 1/15 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.

Pro Tip

The most important thing is to truly love what you do and to prepare yourself for some long-distance running. Another tip is to think like a graphic designer in order to understand what each image will be used for.

tomertu (Tomer Turjeman).
tomertu (Tomer Turjeman).

Pictured: [1] tomertu (Tomer Turjeman). [2] tomertu (Tomer Turjeman).

4. “Always check customers’ feedback to see what sells and what doesn’t and learn from your mistakes.”

ansharphoto (Andrey Omelyanchuk)

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Listen to Feedback

Image by ansharphoto (Andrey Omelyanchuk). Gear: Nikon D810 camera, Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 31mm; exposure 0.6 sec; f11; ISO 64.

Pro Tip

Follow your heart. If you shoot only subjects you love, you will find your niche. Be obsessed with quality. Invest time into learning Photoshop, as this will allow you to get all you can from your RAW files to create state-of-the-art images. Always check customers’ feedback to see what sells and what doesn’t and learn from your mistakes.

5. “You are not born a photographer; you learn to become one. Always seek improvement.”

Eo naya

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Never Get Complacent

Image by Eo naya. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon 70-200mm lens. Settings: Focal length 154mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f14; ISO 100.

Pro Tip

Do not hesitate to get inspiration from other photographers’ shots, but find your own style. Never get complacent. You are not born a photographer; you learn to become one. Always seek improvement.

6. “Define your passion, your mission, and your dream.”

Artazum, LLC (Iriana Shiyan)

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Define Your Passion

Image by Artazum, LLC (Iriana Shiyan). Gear: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70mm lens. Settings: Focal length 70mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f2.8; ISO 400.

Pro Tip

Define your passion, your mission, and your dream. Figure out how this passion can help the planet and how it can help make other people more profitable.

7. “Keep it simple, think about stock photos 24/7, keep smiling, and don’t give up.”

mimagephotography

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Treat It Like a Job

Image by mimagephotography. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L USM lens. Settings: Focal length 70mm; exposure 1/1000 sec; f7.1; ISO 200.

Pro Tip

Be willing to work 60-70 hours a week in the first few years. Keep it simple, think about stock photos 24/7, keep smiling, and don’t give up. Treat it like a job.

8. “Instead of asking myself, ‘Am I a talented photographer?’ I can ask, ‘Do I have a desire to make better photos?'”

TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney)

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Seek to Learn

Image by TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney). Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.

Pro Tip

In any art related realm, there is often talk of talent or being gifted or having some inborn skill or genius. I find a lot of the thinking around the topic of talent to be misguided. We all go through periods of self doubt. Asking yourself if you have talent or not is fruitless and often discouraging.

TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney).
TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney).
TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney).

Pictured: [1] TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney). [2] TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney). [3] TierneyMJ (Michiko Tierney).

I find it helpful to jettison the topic completely from my thoughts and replace it with a question of desire. Instead of asking myself, “Am I a talented photographer?” I can ask, “Do I have a desire to make better photos?” If the answer is yes, that’s all that matters because then you will spend the time and make the effort to constantly improve and learn new aspects of the craft. After all, that’s what talent actually is. Not a natural skill but a natural love of learning a skill.

9. “Upload your images weekly, keep up with trends, and love what you do.”

ImageFlow (Denis Ismagilov)

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Do Your Research

Image by ImageFlow (Denis Ismagilov). Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon 24-105 L lens, 2 Profoto D1 Air 500Ws. Settings: Focal length 105mm; exposure 1/100 sec; f10; ISO 100.

Pro Tip

Have discipline. Upload your images weekly, keep up with trends, and love what you do. Before shoots, I carry out a ton of research to identify concepts that are globally relevant and universal. For example, I produced the image above more than three years ago, but it is still in demand today.

10. “Shooting something that you’re interested in will keep you motivated.”

Larry Malvin (pics721)

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Shoot What Interests You

Image by Larry Malvin (pics721). Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon 16-35mm f4 lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; ISO 200.

Pro Tip

For emerging stock photographers, I would suggest going out and taking photos that you are excited about and getting the best possible quality in each photograph. The photos must be top quality because the competition is tough. Shooting something that you’re interested in will keep you motivated. Also, take the time to edit each photograph, as every photo needs at least some post-production to add contrast, saturation, and sharpening.

11. “It is more important to be an authentic artist than it is to try to please every commercial client or current fad in the industry.”

Salome Hoogendijk

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Embrace Authentic Artistry

Image by Salome Hoogendijk. Gear: Nikon D3x camera, 80.0-200.0mm f2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 175mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f8.0; ISO 50.

Pro Tip

For any photographer, my advice is to realize that you simply cannot be the photographer that everyone likes. It is more important to be an authentic artist than it is to try to please every commercial client or current fad in the industry. For instance, there is a trend at present in fashion photography where everyone tries to be as shocking and vulgar as possible. If that is your thing, then go forth with my blessing, but personally, I do not like those images. I like my images to be beautiful and to provide a bit of escapism from our world. That might mean that my images aren’t the natural choice for several buyers, but it means that I enjoy my work. That is, I believe, the only way to have any kind of longevity in this fickle industry.

12. “Be bold and creative, but always ask yourself, ‘How would I use this image if I were an editor or a designer?'”

Marina Tatarenko

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Consider Your Buyer's Needs

Image by Marina Tatarenko. Gear: Nikon D750 camera, Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 200mm; exposure 1/400 sec; f5; ISO 640.

Pro Tip

For those who are just starting out: practice, practice, practice! Be bold and creative, but always ask yourself, “How would I use this image if I were an editor or a designer?”

13. “One should keep a good balance between creativity, fun, and economic benefits.”

stockfour (Ralf Cornesse)

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Keep Yourself Balanced

Image by stockfour (Ralf Cornesse). Gear: Sony A7RII camera, Carl Zeiss FE 55mm 1.8 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f2.5; ISO 100.

Pro Tip

Stock photography offers many advantages to a photographer and allows you to work independently. One should keep a good balance between creativity, fun, and economic benefits. Analyze your image sales, and always think of the needs of the buyers. Implement a workflow for image editing and keywording and stick to it. Prepare each shoot perfectly, and then make sure you have a good mood on set!

stockfour.
stockfour.

Pictured: [1] stockfour. [2] stockfour.

14. “While planning your shoot, ask yourself if your creation will be bigger, better, or different from the competition.”

www.rawpixel.com (@rawpixelimages)

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Get Competitive

Image by www.rawpixel.com (@rawpixelimages). Gear: Nikon D800 camera, 50mm f/1.4 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f1.4; ISO 160.

Pro Tip

While planning your shoot, ask yourself if your creation will be bigger, better, or different from the competition. If the answer is no, keep planning.

15. “Before taking a photo, think about its future advertising potential.”

Ekaterina Jurkova

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Think About Your Audience

Image by Ekaterina Jurkova. Gear: Canon EOS 6D camera. Settings: Focal length 75mm; exposure 1/25 sec; f3.2; ISO 160.

Pro Tip

Before I take a photo, I think about the target audience. I think, “Who might need my photo? What kind of advertisement can I see it in?” I’m trying to look to the future and make a photo that a potential buyer can’t pass by. Before taking a photo, think about its future advertising potential.

16. “Believe in yourself, and also if your start is slow, don’t let it get you down.”

Carlo Dapino

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Stay Confident

Image by Carlo Dapino. Gear: Nikon D800 camera, Nikkor zoom 70/200mm f 2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 175mm; exposure 1/100 sec; f4.5; ISO 200.

Pro Tip

In ten years, this market has grown a lot, so you must think like a professional photographer. Believe in yourself, and also if your start is slow, don’t let it get you down. Just try and try again.

17. “Find out what sort of images you really like to make, and keep your work fun and enjoyable.”

Sander van der Werf

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Build a Diverse Portfolio

Image by Sander van der Werf. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 65mm; exposure 1/100 sec; f8; ISO 100.

Pro Tip

Keep in mind that it will take time to find out what sells and to build a diverse portfolio. Find out what sort of images you really like to make, and keep your work fun and enjoyable. This will definitely increase the quality of your images!

18. “No matter what genres we are shooting, we must put our heart and passion into it and explore the possibilities.”

Abd. Halim Hadi

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Explore the Possibilities

Image by Abd. Halim Hadi. Gear: Fujifilm X-t1 camera. Settings: Exposure 1/800 sec; f9; ISO 200.

Pro Tip

I wish I got into stock photography much earlier than I did because it requires commitment, time, and energy to be successful. No matter what genres we are shooting, we must put our heart and passion into it and explore the possibilities. Stock photography rewards those who have an idea to sell.

Abd. Halim Hadi.
Abd. Halim Hadi.
Abd. Halim Hadi.

Pictured: [1] Abd. Halim Hadi. [2] Abd. Halim Hadi. [3] Abd. Halim Hadi.

19. “Focus on a story you want to tell.”

Shanti Hesse

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Tell Your Story

Image by Shanti Hesse. Gear: Olympus E-M1 camera, Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 9‑18mm 1:4.0‑5.6 lens. Settings: Focal length 9mm (8mm Full-frame-equivalent); exposure 1/1000 sec; f8; ISO 200.

Pro Tip

Focus on a story you want to tell. If the shot conveys this story well, people will like it and buy your work. I’ve observed that pictures with a clear message perform best. This image is an example of a clear story I wanted to tell. On one hand, there’s the near-aseptic Taj Mahal. On the other hand, there’s the dirty, rubbish-covered Yamuna River, which is located next to the Taj. For me, it was a great allegory about India: people are literally dying on the streets, and tourists are splurging close by in clean hotels.

20. “Read, explore, and learn about the current trends.”

Amrul Azuar Mokhtar

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Read, Explore, and Learn

Image by Amrul Azuar Mokhtar. Gear: Nikon D3S camera, Nikon 24-70mm lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f4.5; ISO 320.

Pro Tip

Look for inspiration and not comparisons. Be disciplined and consistent in producing stock photos. Read, explore, and learn about the current trends. Go to classes and workshops.

21. “Most importantly, shoot what you like, but think like an image buyer as well.”

Dutourdumonde Photography (Thomas Dutour)

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Shoot What You Like

Image by Dutourdumonde Photography (Thomas Dutour). Gear: Sony RX 100 m4 camera. Settings: Focal length 8.8 (equivalent to 24mm in 35mm format); exposure 1/100 sec; f4; ISO 160.

Pro Tip

On top of mastering your camera, it is also important to have good knowledge about the post-processing of your pictures. For that, Youtube is your best friend! Most importantly, shoot what you like, but think like an image buyer as well.

22. “Start by checking the quality of your photos and comparing them with the portfolios of other photographers working in the same genre.”

Martin Mecnarowski

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Compare Your Work

Image by Martin Mecnarowski. Gear: Canon 1Dx Mark I camera, Canon EF 400mm F/2,8 IS L lens + TC 1,4 x teleconverter. Settings: Focal length 560 mm; exposure 1/500 sec; f5.6; ISO 2500.

Pro Tip

Start by checking the quality of your photos and comparing them with the portfolios of other photographers working in the same genre. You have to raise an unpleasant question: are my pictures just as good and interesting? Are they different? If the answer is “yes,” then do not hesitate to start contributing as a stock photographer, the sooner the better. If the answer is “no,” start by learning from professionals and joining workshops.

23. “Make sure you have a camera at the ready.”

Jandrie Lombard

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Keep Your Camera Ready

Image by Jandrie Lombard. Gear: Canon 50D camera, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 32mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f8; ISO 100.

Pro Tip

Not everyone can go on wild and adventurous holidays every day, but there are lots of opportunities for stock photography all around us. Make sure you have a camera at the ready. Some of my bestsellers have come from seizing opportunities.

Jandrie Lombard.
Jandrie Lombard.

Pictured: [1] Jandrie Lombard. [2] Jandrie Lombard.

24. “…keep current on trends, and be ready to see and recognize everyday moments that are universal to the human experience.”

Suzanne Tucker

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Look for Authentic Moments

Image by Suzanne Tucker. Gear: Canon EOS 5D camera, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. Settings: Focal length 35mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f10; ISO 100.

Pro Tip

Look for authentic moments in your regular life, keep current on trends, and be ready to see and recognize everyday moments that are universal to the human experience.

25. “Don’t be afraid to be different and make content you really like.”

indira’s work (Iryna Kalchenko)

25 Helpful and Surprising Tips from Stock Photographers — Don't Be Afraid to be Different

Image by indira’s work (Iryna Kalchenko). Gear: Canon 60D camera, Canon 24-105 f/4L IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f13; ISO 160.

Pro Tip

There is a lot of similar content out there. Don’t be afraid to be different and make content you really like. Create your own unique style. I believe that this is the defining feature of a successful person. And one more thing that is very important: you should create a good team. They’ll be your support and inspiration. If you are alone, it’s always difficult to break through. You need to find people who share your beliefs and the same attitude about work.

Top Image by Amrul Azuar Mokhtar.