Knowing which stock photos sell best online is a fast-track way to make more money with your photography.
Whatever stock photography website or app you use, creating the right types of stock photos can make a huge difference in your earnings.
All the best-selling stock photos I’ve researched below will provide you with inspiration for your next photoshoot.
You’ll discover what types of stock photography images are most popular in 2023, so you can cater for each client’s needs.
Creating stock photos takes time, so it’s great to have a list of best-sellers to make the process more efficient in the long run.
So, let’s make you the next successful stock photographer right now.
Table of Contents
10 Best-Selling Stock Photos in 2023
These are the stock photography themes and types that are most popular among all the best stock photography websites.
Be sure to check the image requirements of each of the individual stock photo agencies before you upload the stock images.
1. Holidays seen from a local perspective
Selling stock photos is a great way for a professional photographer to make passive income. However, there are so many stock photo sites with so many contributors that it’s difficult to stand out.
To make money selling stock photos, you need to find popular topics and make unique images around them.
One of the most common topics in stock photography is the holidays. There are so many that you’ll have to work all year round.
A good way to make best-selling stock images is to portray how the holidays are represented in different cultures or countries.
Let me give you an example. The traditional Christmas dinner in the US is turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. In Mexico, we usually eat bacalao (cod) or pozole – which is a traditional stew.
However, if I do a generic search for Christmas dinner on sites such as Adobe Stock or Shutterstock, I mainly get photos of delicious – yet US-centered – turkey dishes.
Of course, each one of these countries has different regions with other dishes that are also mixed with family or religious traditions. So, there’s more to it than what I just said – but I wanted to give you a quick example.
Offering a wider variety of holiday traditions is not only good for the stock photography agency, but it’s also a great way for your photos to separate from the bunch.
There are also multiple ways to represent the holidays. You can focus on decorations, food, events, or lifestyle photography.
2. Seasonal shots with a unique point of view
Another type of stock photo that’s always popular is seasonal photography. Whether it represents food, costumes, customs, nature, or any other subject – these images are always best sellers if done well.
The challenge this time is to put your creative view into the seasonal images. You need to separate yourself from the hundreds of thousands of images on sale so that clients pick yours.
Thinking outside the box is crucial in creating a seasonal stock photo. Consider how the images can be used, and think about the potential clients and the needs they have.
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Also, seasonal photos usually sell before the season actually starts. So, you need to think and prepare in advance. Timing is everything, especially if you want to stay away from the ‘traditional’ images and stay up to date with trends.
When you think about seasonal images, you can consider natural and cultural elements. In autumn, for example, you can think about the trees changing colors, but also the start of the school year.
3. Visual trends are trends for a reason
You need to keep updated to stay on trend, as this is an essential part of success in a stock photo agency.
Trends have to do with topics and aesthetics, and these themes make up the best-selling stock photos of the year.
One of the easiest ways to keep your images trendy is by following a color palette. Pantone releases a color of the year that you can use as a starting point. In 2023, the color of the year is Viva Magenta.
Another popular trend in 2023 is the cinematic look. There are multiple filters – free and for sale that help you in your post-production process to achieve this look.
The best way to stay current is by researching and paying attention to advertising, magazines, and, obviously, stock photo websites.
4. Follow the less-is-more rule with Stock Images
Less is more is an important rule to follow when you’re aiming to make top-selling images. This isn’t just because minimalism is a strong visual trend. This is also a practical matter.
Think about your potential clients. If the photograph is too busy, it will be more difficult to place.
When you’re doing editorial photography, you need to leave space for the text. You can do multiple images considering the diverse needs of your client.
Think about how the title of the article could fit, then do another composition or cropping, considering that a column of text would fit as well.
If you do images for commercial use, then consider the logo placement and maybe even a slogan. All these things need enough negative space to make a harmonious composition.
5. Nostalgic vintage – the 90s are back with stock photography!
If you’re wondering what kind of photos sell the most online, most trends come back around at some point or another.
Maybe it’s because it’s human to feel nostalgic about lost times, maybe because inspiration always builds on top of past masters.
Whether it’s in fashion, interior design, or the visual world – the vintage look is always trendy. However, vintage is too generic to make best-selling photos.
You need to understand which era is in full swing at the time you’re creating stock photos. Right now, the vast majority of clients on a stock photography site are looking for the look of the 90s.
There are many ways to reference a particular era in a stock photo. One of the most common elements is the color palette.
Generally speaking, the visual aesthetic from the 90s includes bright colors like pink, blue, yellow, purple, and lime. It’s also common to see bold patterns and geometric shapes.
You can also reference a specific period with the outfits and props. In the 90s, it was popular to see people with CD players and flip phones or bulkier ‘dumb’ phones.
A good way to sell more photos with a nostalgic feel is to make creative projects and sell them in image packs.
6. Empowerment of older adults
Long gone are the days when older citizens were represented as fragile, lonely, tired people resting at home. Instead, we see a more real representation of seniors having an active life.
Thanks to scientific advancement and more conscious habits, life expectancy keeps increasing. As a result, people retire later in life, and when they do, they stay very active.
The expression “70 is the new 50” is more than just a slogan – it’s a way of living. This should be reflected in your stock photos.
If you want to sell photos online, you need to be sensitive to how society and media are changing. So, doing lifestyle photos of older adults needs to be respectful and empowering.
Their outfits should follow fashion trends, and they’re often using up-to-date technological devices. They’re also travelling, exercising, or enjoying a night out with friends or dates.
According to Theresa Van Renen from Wavebreak Media, the secret is “Using real senior couples or friends to create intimacy […] it’s important to create genuine emotions and feelings” – she said in a Shutterstock interview.
It’s worth mentioning that Wavebreak Media was one of the leading stock photo agencies in changing how ageing is talked about and represented.
7. Represent people with all abilities
You’ve probably noticed that it’s not as common to see people with diverse abilities represented in media. Fortunately, this is changing, and stock photographers play an integral part in that change.
According to multiple studies, there are two big obstacles we need to overcome. The first thing to avoid is falling into stereotypes.
According to Canada’s Centre for Digital Media Literacy, the most common stereotypes when representing are the victim, the hero, and the villain.
You must avoid these stereotypes in your stock photography. You can simply capture everyday life and still sell images
The second problem raised by multiple organisations is that all disabilities are represented as one – mainly represented as a person in a wheelchair.
Photographing people with all abilities is the best way to avoid this problem. You shouldn’t hire a model to portray a disabled person. Instead, hiring a person with a disability, whether they’re a professional model or not, makes for authentic and respectful photos.
As a stock photographer, you are selling photos, but you’re also contributing to society’s visual culture. Stock photography websites should appreciate your efforts in this direction.
8. Feature diverse ethnicities in your stock photo
Still wondering what the best-selling stock photos are to make money this year?
Making a stock photo with multiethnic models makes all the difference.
As Forum One states in the article How to Choose Diverse and Inclusive Photos – “Images that are not representative of everyone and that preserve the status quo are problematic because they perpetuate the inequalities of society.”
The world is wonderfully rich and diverse and there’s no reason why stock photos shouldn’t represent this array of people and communities.
Customers are interested in images that represent the real world. How can you do that if you don’t include international families or multicultural work environments?
Ethnic diversity was missing for many years in the stock photography industry. Most websites where you can sell your photos are making great efforts to overcome this problem. So, your images are more likely to be featured if they show diversity in a respectful way. This could be useful for your profile to gain exposure.
To work with diverse ethnicities is not just about a mixture of models in a single photo. You can also do individual and group portraits of people from a single community that’s underrepresented by stock photographers.
It’s important to avoid falling into stereotypes. Your stock images should be real and honest. Consider that many people come from multi-ethnic families – so they’ll have a mixture of characteristics that makes them unique.
You can’t put people into boxes, label them and separate them. Yes, I’m aware that stock photography is based on keywords and categories, but your images must not fall into that. Real diversity is inclusive and respectful.
9. Non-binary / LGQBT+ community
Another community that has been under or misrepresented in stock photography is the full gender spectrum.
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Ryan McCoy is a Shutterstock portfolio reviewer, marketing specialist, and contributor. He also identifies himself as part of the LGBQT+ community.
In a Shutterstock article about the importance of diversity in stock photography, he launches (amongst others) these questions: “Where are the mixed-ethnicity, same-sex couples? Where are the real moments of what their life looks like when they aren’t perfectly posed in front of the camera?”
He also makes a call to action to all stock photographers to stay ahead of the game and highlight the “type” of people you don’t typically see in media.
Fortunately, his call has been heard. We’ve been seeing more and more of the gender spectrum in ads, fashion shows, and other visuals.
The key to taking photos that ethically represent this community is not using models just for the sake of selling and staying on-trend. Instead, feature them beyond cliches – capture them with authenticity and not define them by their gender identities.
Tristen Norman, head of Creative Research in Getty Images, stated that “Visuals have been used as a tool to sort of uphold stereotypes […] And we have slowly but surely chipping away and breaking those down for all communities, including the LGQBT+”.
It’s worth mentioning that the first queer image that became a top seller at Getty Images was one that showed a lesbian couple laughing together back in 2009.
The interest in images that depict the gender spectrum community has increased from 129% to 249%, depending on the specific keywords (percentages reported in 2018).
Other microstock sites also encourage their contributors to be more inclusive in their photographs or create dedicated photo albums – such as the Gender Spectrum Collection from Vice.
This is a free-access photo library with a royalty-free license that aims to help the media better represent this community.
In terms of best-selling stock photos to focus your efforts on, this is definitely a niche not to be ignored.
10. Environmental issues
Carlo Buontempo – Director of Copernicus Climate Change Service, said last July that the era of global warming has ended, and the era of global boiling has arrived.
This comment summarises how important it is for us to become more sustainable and raise our environmental consciousness.
This is why environmental images are top sellers. Everyone is talking about climate change and trying to raise awareness of the urgency of taking action.
So, more and more people are looking for images that portray a healthier and more sustainable way of life. They’re also searching for photographs that document the effects of climate change – this often involves aerial photography.
You don’t need to become a documentary photographer who travels to the Arctic Sea and photographs how it’s melting.
You’ll find effects of the global warming wherever you live and ways to fight back in even the smallest habits of our everyday life.
So, take out your camera and make some impactful images that not only sell but also help our planet.
I hope this selection of the best-selling stock photos provides some inspiration to you.