To sell or not to sell. What makes the difference?

If I was able to answer that question, I could become very rich in no time. Unfortunately I can't and when the first sales took place it was not the photos I had expected to have the best sales potential.

To start with a little background. I love photography and good pictures. My first camera, an Agfa 6x9 box type, was acquired when I was nine. Later came a german Balda, replaced by Minolta and Nikon SLRs. Much time was spend in my darkroom. Good old analog photography is still a part of my hobby. Russian Leica type cameras like FED 2 and Zorki 4 are my favorites. 50 – 60 years old and they still produce wonderful pictures.

My preferred equipment when I travel is an ”old” Canon EOS 600D with Canon 15-85 zoom lens.

Not to big or heavy. Picture quality is OK. I always uses RAW and process in Lightroom. If a little more sophisticated adjustments is needed I have Perfect Effects, Perfect Layers, Topaz Adjust and Photomatix Pro in the tool box. Photomatix is also used for real HDR images. I never use Photoshop, What I can not do with the other tools, I just don't do. I never remove objects or combine pictures.

And – except for some prices in photo contests decades ago, I have never earned a penny on photography and never expected to.

2 years ago I uploaded 54 very different and carefully selected photos. Nothing happened – of course. Then suddenly after a few months, the first sale:

Stone fence. Thy Denmark.

Search for: Stone fence. 50.000+ hits.

This picture. 3 sales so far.

Landscape Iceland

Search for Iceland landscape. 100.000+ hits.

My best selling photo ( 4 sales) is one with hay bales!

Status today. 4 photos out of 54 sold with a total sale of 10. Not those I expected to sell. What made my photos stand out? Are they a bit different compared to most in the relevant category? Pure luck?

As it is obvious I am in no way an expert in stock photography and it is not my mission to suggest to others what to do, but I can reveal how I try to work.


If I come home with 20 shots of the same motive, I select the 1 or 2 best and delete the others. Forget about using time on these later.

Some think ”carpet bombing” is better and increases sales. I don't agree with that strategy.

Never work on JPG files.

Every time a jpg is saved, information is lost. Use RAW, TIFF or PSD and only convert to JPG before upload to DT.

Always do some processing.

Raw files tend to be dull and without vibrance, so at least some adjustments are necessary.

Cropping is important. Most photos improve by some degree of cropping.

Remove distortions if needed. Photos of buildings can be much improved.

Finish the work.

Finish the photo with relevant tools to the extent You would do it, if the photo was to be printed and put on your wall.

Some may argue that buyers prefer do do their own processing and won't buy an extensively processed photo. On the other hand, if the photo is not processed, it will not be noticed in the first place and therefore surely would not be sold. Offering the RAW file, could be a an option.

After what I consider more or less a success I selected some more photos for upload. Some are just more of what is already there, but you never know. Others are a little different compared to what is already in the category. It will be interesting to see if they sell. A few examples.

Friends in the medina, Marrakesh Morocco.

It seems that everyone is going to Morocco these days. Wonderful country by the way.

Try to search for: people / women and Morocco / Marrakesh /

Fez etc. in various combinations.

Many thousands hit every time, but not many like this one. Cropping to the limit is the key to reveal the intimacy between the women.

Small pottery store in huge medina of Fez, Morocco.

Morocco again. Many pictures of small shops with clothing, pottery, food and all kinds of souvenirs . I was lucky to discover this extremely minimalistic pottery store. A no nonsense picture without disturbing elements.

Portuguese Handmade Glazed Tiles, Azulejos. Lisbon Portugal.

Buildings with glazed tiles, Azulejos in Lisbon Portugal. Thousands of photos. Forget it.

Took some work to made this one. At least it stands out from the crowd.

Now, time to wait.

Comments are welcome.

Photo credits: Carl Erik Gerner Olsen.

Your article must be written in English

November 11, 2019


Selling your digital assets is a way for enthusiasts to help pay for their gear... if you can find buyers. I would put everything up for user licensing if I could. The problem I see with stock photography is that it changes ones expectations. It brings out the professional desire in many participants. When they are knocked back because the professional desire is greater than the quality, they feel insulted. It is a passion and they measure their talent and abilities all the time through club and online enthusiast group activity. So when participating in stock image provision, bear in mind that responses to rejections are usually generic script and the adjudicators are no different from club competition adjudicators... you might expect an honor award for every image you enter, but seldom get one. When you do you know you have something worth a bit. With stock photography it becomes a balance between acceptance and ROI (Return on investment). We want great returns on our best work, while stock libraries only want our best work. You have to decide on what you will accept in return and that is how stock library participation brings out the professional desires in us all. Unless we are already a professional we do it out of passion—often keeping us poor... now what if we could sell our work... and there it begins.

November 10, 2019


I really enjoy your blog, thanks for sharing. Interesting point of view.

November 10, 2019


Thanks for useful comments. As also mentioned often in other blogs, keywords seems to be an important factor. Will have to work on that.

November 10, 2019


I was very interested in your opinion on stock sales, but it seems to me that the keywords are the main thing today. Of course, the quality of a photograph, its size will certainly be of great importance, but if your work gets lost in thousands of others no one will see it sell.

November 10, 2019


Very thoughtful, and good luck. I'm not very disciplined,  and just take the photos I like, and let the (limited!) sales look after themselves. 

November 09, 2019


Interesting and well thought out blog.

November 07, 2019


I've quit trying to figure it all out and just enjoy the process of photography and the sales when they come. Great thoughts! William 

November 07, 2019


Hah, this is the big question in stock photography, this is the Holy Grail we are looking for. Sometimes I do wonder what pics can be sold, and wixh not and why. My family's favorite is the owl pellet I sold on another platform. Le me add, that keywording is also a key factor in selling pictures.I love your azulejo photos, good luck!

Related image searches
Processing related image searches