The Best Types of Photos to Sell Online for Money

Joe Coburn 27-06-2018

Selling stock photos online is an attractive way to make some extra cash. We’ve previously discussed the best places to sell your photos online, so this article will cover the best types of photos you can take, based on what actually sells.


What Types of Photos Sell Best?

With over 200,000,000 stock images, Shutterstock is perhaps the most popular paid stock photography website. Here’s what’s popular, based on their 2018 creative trends and data analysis.

Top Contributors

Studying the top contributors on Shutterstock yields an interesting result. With some notable exceptions, the vast majority of high-performing contributors sell either generic photos of people or events, or vector artwork.

Contributors antishock, Rvector, Aha-Soft, and Toluk all sell custom vector artwork, and are listed among the top 10 best contributors to Shutterstock. Each artist has their own personal style, but their work can be loosely grouped into two main styles.

Icons can be used for websites, fliers, apps, and more.

Abstract backgrounds can be used for desktop wallpapers, posters, or simply inspiration.


These kinds of images sell well, and businesses of any size are always looking for artwork for a whole variety of media. New laws coming into force may mean that there’s always a seasonal trend to look out for.

Contributors Rawpixel, Kathy Hutchins, and s_bukley all sell a vast amount of photos featuring people or celebrities.

These kinds of photos will always be in demand. Newspapers and other publications need “generic” photos of people shaking hands, serving food, or having a meeting. Celebrity photos will often rise and fall in popularity, depending on the media cycle. The trick here is to have a large library, to ensure that there’s always something selling.

Seasonal Trends

Looking at the Shutterstock top contributors list, alongside their popular image bundle categories, there’s a large number of seasonal themes. The World Cup is a good example, as when it’s held every four years there’s great demand (and supply) for soccer-related images.


National and international laws, events, and news may also feature here. Big changes such as the the GDPR regulation, or weather-related events such as a lunar eclipse often feature here, but the hype may not last long.

You could be onto a winner if you can spot a potential upcoming event, and prepare photos in advance.

Popular Searches

What people are searching for is a great place to see what images are selling. Search trends can also be impacted by seasonal events, and may not reflect popular local or national changes.

The overwhelming majority of popular searches feature nature, animals, Christmas, or cars. There are a few exceptions, such as “cool backgrounds”, but the vast majority of these searches will always be in demand.


It doesn’t make sense to focus heavily on Christmas in summer, but it may be worthwhile taking photos of a new sports model of car, or a cute puppy.

Photos of specific seasons at the appropriate time (e.g. summer photos during spring and summer) sell well, but nature and season photos in general are fairly popular all-year-round.

Don’t forget to include regional variations for images, such as “Fall” and “Autumn”.

Popular Categories

Just like the popular photos above, animals, celebrities, and vector artwork are all in-demand photo categories.


These categories contain the same two types of photos: cartoon vector artwork, and real-life photography.

Consumers appear to be looking for “cute” little graphics to liven up a product, service, or advertisement. Professional looking photos may be featured in magazines, tutorials, or publications.

Creative Trends

Every year, Shutterstock publishes a list of up-and-coming creative trends. These are popular artwork ideas and photo styles that are being used more and more, and styles that are beginning to swell into large numbers of images, genres, and searches.

Producing content like this can be tough to maintain. Their popularity may only be a fad, or perhaps content creators are looking for that style with a very specific brand name, slogan, or phrasing. By studying seasonal trends, and evergreen content that is always popular, you could produce trendy artwork, based around the ever popular content mentioned above.

According to Shutterstock, trends increasing in popularity are:

  • Fantasy
  • Sci-fi
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Holographics

These categories may not be surprising, but by combining these trends with current cultural or pop culture trends, you could be on to a real winner. Film and television hits or cult classics are always popular, so combine the two for artwork that will really do well.

What Photo Resolution Sells Best?

You don’t have to own the latest and greatest in photography equipment to take good photos. Shutterstock require images of at least 4 MP, but preferably higher. The vast majority of modern cameras are capable of producing a decent image at significantly larger resolutions than 4 MP.

While larger is often better, don’t get carried away with the specs, and end up with a 50 MP photo taken on a $50,000 camera—use what you have.

Our guide to understanding megapixels What Is A Megapixel? Megapixels are one of the most common ways of advertising the quality of cameras, especially relatively low-end cameras aimed at the mass market likes the ones in typical smartphones. Read More may prove helpful here if you’re not sure on the measurements. As a rough guideline, somewhere between 10-15 MP is more than adequate.

For vector artwork, customers will often demand original vector files. This will allow them to enlarge or modify your work to suit their needs. If you’re just getting started with vector artwork, then don’t forget to read our guide to working with vector graphics in Photoshop Creating and Working With Vector Graphics in Photoshop Photoshop is a surprisingly capable alternative to Illustrator for vector graphics. Here's an introductory tutorial on how to create vector graphics in Photoshop. Read More .

How to Edit Photos That Sell Quickly

Photo editing is a skill which requires practice, so the best way to learn it is by doing. As a rough guideline, many popular images are “good photos”. The exposure is perfect, composition good, and there’s no distracting objects in the foreground, or rude words which may cause offence.

If you’re an Adobe Lightroom user, then our tutorial on getting started with split toning How to Start Split Toning Your Photos in Lightroom Split toning is a technique that can take your photos from good to great. This article explains everything you need to know to get started split toning your photos in Lightroom. Read More is a good place to start. If there’s a photo style you really must copy, then knowing how a photo was edited in Lightroom This Site Shows Exactly How a Photo Was Edited in Lightroom This nifty online tool breaks down any photographic JPEG into each individual edit applied using Adobe Lightroom. Read More may help.

Photo Types That Stand Out in Stock Photography

As the Shutterstock data shows, some trends come and go, but other photo styles are always in demand. By building a high quality, consistent catalog, you can start selling more images online. You could also sell other things online with your photography skills 8 Photography Tips to Help You Sell Products Online If you're looking to sell something online, here are the basic photography tips you need to know. Read More .

Here’s a summary of what sells well:

  • Vector artwork
  • People doing everyday things
  • Nature
  • Animals
  • Seasons
  • Transport

Trending topics or seasonal events do well at the correct time, but make sure you plan in advance, or combine them with bestselling content to produce something that really stands out.

And if you ever run out of ideas, these Instagram travel accounts could inspire you Travel The World With These 10 Instagram Accounts If you can't actually get out and about yourself, there's no better way to travel the world than through photography. And while Instagram might be often (and unfairly) better known for food photos, or even... Read More . From that, you may want to know how to earn money from Instagram 7 Ways to Make Money on Instagram It's possible to make money on Instagram if you are popular and have a big following. Here's how to earn money from Instagram. Read More .

Image Credit: Violin/Depositphotos

Explore more about: Make Money Online, Photography, Stock Photos.

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