Your photography skills don't matter as much as you think.

Imagine that an algorithm decides whether or not you'll be able to put food on the table this month.
This does sound like a film scenario but is actually the reality for stock photographers.

Even a writer publishing an ebook on Amazon has to rely on algorithms to reach buyers. With 6 million ebooks on the platform, it is easy to get drowned in the flow.

Do you know how many images are uploaded every week on Shutterstock alone?

Close to 1 300 000 new images per week.

You might think that it's impossible to stand out. You may be right. Stock photography is a tough gig. You need patience and the right mindset.

Trends grow and die. There will always be a demand for new stock images.

What sells today isn't what sold yesterday and what will sell tomorrow.

That's why you have to constantly upload more images. You have to play the long game.

You need to be consistent.

There is plenty of photographers who make a living out of stock photography. They have dedicated resources and time, and now they earn thousands per month.
They all started with an empty portfolio, so can you.

One thing that helped them to reach this level: the right keywords.

Finding the best keywords is easily the most important skill to learn if you want to succeed in stock photography. Apart from photography obviously.

If buyers can't find you, you won't sell any image.

Unlike the writer who doesn't have any real leverage on his sales, you still have some control over how your image shows up on agencies' search engines.

How do you optimize your keywords for search engines?

First, you need to understand how they work.
An agency's goal is to sell images to buyers, be it individuals, marketing agencies, or large corporations.
When a visitor goes to Adobe Stock, for example, he wants to buy an image.

The only thing they need to do is to give him the exact image he wants.

Now search engine comes into play.
When a visitor types "young people having fun" in the search bar, he will be given a set of images that best fit his search.

Your objective is to be on that list, preferably at the top.

Put you into the buyer's shoes.

What do they want?
You can think of how a buyer might search for your images.

For each image that you want to sell, define a list of short sentences that describe your image.

Ask yourself: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

  • Are there people on the image?
  • What are they doing?
  • Is it outdoor, indoor?
  • Is it a landscape where geographical location is relevant?
  • When this image was taken? During sunset?
  • Is there a special meaning behind the image?
  • Does it illustrate an event?

This will help you to extract the words you photo can express.

First, describe the main subject and the global context.

Jack Frog Shutterstock portfolio

Here we got young, man, leader, handsome, meeting, business, work, etc.

Then you need to define keywords that describe the mood, emotion, and details of the image.
For example, leadership, team, women, serious, important, office, discussion, etc.

Finally, you add keywords about less important concepts and related objects that you would normally see in this kind of situation:
Laptop, money, co-working, success, presentation, job, creativity, company, colleague, collaboration, adult, etc.

Most agencies let you fill 50 keywords, so take advantage of it. Better too much than too less.
Some agencies specify that you should fill about 20 keywords. That's seems to be the sweet spot.

Every agency has its own way of managing keywords. Adobe gives more importance to the first 5 keywords of the list. So take this into account.

Rule of thumb: find relevant keywords and avoid spam keywords.

This is how you get in front of potentials buyers.

Don't try to fool the search engine with "popular" keywords that aren't describing your images.

If this isn't clear for you, don't put Statue of Liberty for an image of Paris.

You shouldn't write keywords about your gear, or personal info about you and your models. No brand name either.

And check your spellings too...


Creativity isn't enough. You have to think like a potential buyer.

Here are some stock images. Try to find the best keywords and send us over your list, we'll be happy to give you some feedback.


We are writing a complete guide about stock photography, get early access when we release it.