The Three Pillars of Stock Photography

A constant occurrence in the forums is seeing contributors who ask the question of why they are not getting sales. They want people to look at their images and tell them what's wrong. People oblige and say the photographs are great, you're a great photographer, and everyone scratches their heads over the lack of sales. Someone might suggest improving the keywording but in the end, everyone fails to see that stock photography rests on three fundamental foundations.

So what are the Three Pillars of Stock Photography?

You should have already guessed the first: Well executed photography. Images with poor composition, poor lighting, lacking pop, they are just not going to sell well. Buyers want images that will grab your eye and keep your focus. Advertising, web pages, books and printed material, the most basic strategy is to get your attention. People do judge books by their cover. People will leave a web page if it's not interesting to look at.

Still, electronic and print media are commercial based and after getting your attention, they will try to sell you something. Even if it's free information, the visual graphics and imagery need to convey the points the media is trying to provide.

That's the second Pillar: CONCEPTS.

Business Risk, Goals, Sales, Marketing

Pretty pictures, even if they are stunning, generally don't sell if they are generic scenes and subjects. Many contributors tend to walk around the area they live and shoot landscapes, city scenes, and the various other sites around their immediate home region. The thing is, despite vast contrasts between cultures and countries, the world can still be very much the same wherever you go. Mountains are mountains, sunsets are sunsets, office buildings are office buildings.

Stock photography is primarily driven by COMMERCIAL needs. School, work, parenting, business, house hunting, food, coin collecting, etc., these are but a handful of thousands of topics that buyers seek images for.

Many beginning contributors will look at the database and photograph paper, pencil, and a calculator because they recognize it as a specific concept and it's easy to do. Unfortunately, it's an over-done concept but kudos to those contributors who recognize that one of the keys to getting sales is CONCEPTS.

Flying Elephant, Sales, Goals, Marketing

OK, you're wondering what the third Pillar of Stock Photography is: That will be COMPETITION.

We just mentioned the paper/pencil/calculator idea. Look at how many people have done that already. You can photograph the idea in a new, refreshing way that is outstanding beyond all others but it's a very common image in the database. It's going to be tough for buyers to find your image to begin with.

I remember a few years ago a contributor lamenting over her image of a stone church being rejected. She said she did her homework and was confident that her image of this particular church would have been the only picture in the database of that one church. The lady lived in the United Kingdom. Trust me, the UK is full of old, stone churches along with the rest of Europe. You can go literally insane if your goal was to photograph all of them. the point is, the database doesn't need another picture of an old stone church in Europe.

The lady couldn't grasp the notion of "competition." She was convinced there was no competition for this one, single church. Technically, she was correct. But it still was not a unique image.

Knowing the Three Pillars of Stock Photography is a step toward understanding the industry and getting sales. Yet it's still easier said than done. Every image you submit would be an "Editor's Choice" if you could accomplish this with every picture you uploaded. Impossible to do! The majority of your uploads will be secondary images but you still have control over how you spend your time. You can continue walking around town and photographing office buildings and stone churches or you can try new ideas. Sit down and plan for an afternoon of shooting specific concepts. Can you go beyond paper/pencil/calculator?

If you try to give buyers what you they're looking for, or at least what you THINK they're looking for, you will find more sales. Remember the Three Pillars and greater success will come your way.

If you enjoyed this blog, I hope you will enjoy reading the other blogs I've written. Thanks!

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Photo credits: Wisconsinart.

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May 10, 2018


great article

May 08, 2018


And you sure got it!

April 30, 2018


Interesting and useful blog! Thank you :)

April 15, 2018


Just had a peak at your portfolio, you really do think outside the box. Amazing work and well deserved sales - well done.

April 15, 2018


What a brilliant article for newbies like myself, many thanks.

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