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Digital Photography Tips, Tutorials and Resources

How to Create a Stock Photo Website

by [email protected] on Mar 26, 2020

Stock Photography is a great way to sell an image, or multiple images, in bulk. Some photographers focus solely on stock photography to earn a living, while others dabble in it or use it as a secondary source of income. Especially now, in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever to diversify your income. So, how can you create your own stock photo website to help your business in this period of downtime?

First, you’ll need to have a firm understanding of stock photography as a genre and stock images. Stock photography sites typically use multiple photographers take photos that they sell through the stock platform.

Stock photography consumers value stock photography websites because they typically need to outsource their image needs. They don’t have time to take the photos they need, so they rely on stock photo websites to provide imagery for them.

Stock images are usually rather generic, but they will generally come at a very high quality. Sometimes, stock photo sites offer photos at a single resolution, while other sites price larger files at a higher rate. 

Types of Stock Photography Sites

While some stock photography sites manage their images through Creative Commons licenses, many participate in what is called microstock photography. Microstock photography is just a payment style subgenre for stock photographers. In a microstock photography system, stock photographers receive a small amount of money each time a customer purchases their image.

Making your own stock photography site would allow you to showcase your work and sell it to other people. Not all stock photography is generic, however, so don’t worry if you’re more interested in a niche photography field. Some stock photography sites specialize in a single field or subfield of photography, which sets them apart from the competition.

This guide will explore:

  • The benefits of creating a stock photo website
  • How to create your own stock photo site
  • The tools and resources you need for building your stock photography site

By the end of this guide, you’ll see the appeal of making your own stock photo site! Read on to find out if you should build your own stock photography site!

Benefits of Creating a Stock Photo Website

What can you learn through the process of building a stock photo site? And, what are the rewards you can gain through this endeavor? Creating your own stock photography website can teach you how to market your photography. It can also teach how to dedicate yourself to your craft in a new way and improve your skills.

Having a social media presence dedicated to your own styled stock photography shows customers how dedicated and professional a photographer you are. 

Whether you take all the images yourself or you decide to work with other photographers, a stock photo site can help you diversify your photography income. While you may not generate very much, especially initially, developing a stock photo site provides the opportunity to earn passive income on images you’ve already taken.

If you are already a professional photographer, a stock photo site is a great place to send potential clients who need images. If a news station asks you for a photo you took, simply upload it to your stock website and send them a link. They’ll likely pay to use that picture!

Using a Creative Commons license for images on your stock photo site protects you from online image theft. With a Creative Commons license, anyone who uses your stock imagery is obligated to credit you where that photo appears. If you establish a license early on, you’re less likely to encounter problems with people stealing your stock photos.

Advantages of a Stock Photo Website

What are the advantages of a stock photo website? Especially for professional photographers, a high quality stock photography website allows you to both sell more work and gain more exposure. A stock photo site is the perfect way to monetize those old photos just clogging up your Lightroom catalogs.

Stock photography is also useful because it allows you to gauge which of your images the public finds most interesting. Maybe you didn’t like a photo that has now been downloaded a thousand times. Maybe you loved a photo that for some reason hasn’t had the same resonance with others. Either way, you’ll learn something about the marketability of your photography so that you can improve in the future. 

Running your own stock photo site can also help you break into the world of professional photography if you’re an amateur or freelancer now. You can use your stock photo site to connect with clients who need professional shoots taken, or who want to work more personally with a photographer. 

Developing and running your own stock photography site will also prepare you for the hustle professional photographers face. Many work tirelessly and are often underpaid for their skill, so learning how to diversify your income streams is important. The experience of either creating your own stock or working with another stock photo site will allow you to better understand the world of professional photography as a whole.

Why Should You Build Your Own Stock Image Site?

Why do you want to build your own stock image site? Each photographer considering starting their own stock photography website will have their own answer to this question. But, the first thing you should consider is how much time it will take you to create both your bank of stock images and the stock site itself.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to learn how to manage your website if you’re going to be successful at owning and operating a stock photography website. You’ll have to have enough server space to host your images, and you’ll have to work out a payment system for customers who want to buy your photos. Also, make sure the website is visually appealing so potential clients have fun browsing your collection!

Building Your Own Stock Photo Website vs. Joining an Existing Stock Photo Site

If you’re a hobbyist, an amateur or even a younger professional breaking into the professional photography scene, building a stock photography site from the ground up might be a worthwhile endeavor. You’ll learn a lot about different fields of photography and have an online avenue for hosting a more extensive portfolio of your work.

Of course, you could choose an easier alternative that provides many of the same benefits: choosing to work for an existing stock photo site. An existing stock site like Adobe Stock already gets a decent amount of traffic, so your images are likely to be seen by more potential buyers. Thus, you’ll be able to earn money without having to deal with customers or payments directly. This avenue requires both less up-front work and less maintenance on your part. 

But, there are downfalls to working for a pre existing stock site, too. These other sites will have access to your images, and you may not have the ability to track where your photographs end up. Furthermore, if you want to work in corporate photography, having images hosted for public usage might work against you. Many corporate businesses would rather commission their own stock than buy stock listed on a stock site because they don’t want their images to appear in other competing advertisements.

Making a stock photography site of your own can be incredibly rewarding and provide a great opportunity to learn skills adjacent to photography. Taking the time to do it well is definitely worth it in the long run!

How Do Stock Image Sites Work?

As mentioned above, stock photography websites generally operate using one of several different payment models. In general, these sites offer collections of related images that they license out to clients for use in their projects.

Some stock photography sites give images to customers for free. These sites typically offer licensing agreements like Creative Commons. Or, they simply allow the consumer to choose whether to attribute the original photographer.

Different sites all work differently, so it’s up to you to decide how you want your site to operate. If you plan on working with other photographers to offer a broader selection of stock images, you may consider paying them a one-time fee for their work. You could also choose to pay them a percentage of the sale each time a customer downloads their photo. 

I highly suggest paying your photographers if you plan on building a larger scale stock website. Your paid photographers, assuming they have healthy social media followings themselves, will drive social media traffic to your new pages. Social media growth is important for new companies because it’s the cheapest form of marketing you can get. 

Secondly, consider paying contributors to your stock photography site to incentivize networking. Photographers who feel you value their work will be more inclined to work with you in the future, or refer you to their clients. If your website hosts good quality work, your photographers may find themselves getting job offers from site visitors. They’ll be more likely to pay it forward if they feel like a valued member of your team. 

Finally, having your own stock photo or video site allows you to work with more people. Many times, you’ll have easier access to more experienced models and commercial clients to create longer-lasting relationships.

How to Create Your Own Stock Photo Site

The creation process for a stock photography site can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Using a WordPress site with gallery-style plugins, like Envira Gallery, can help you display all your images in a user-friendly format. That way, people can buy them more easily. Throw in some automation, and you’re on your way!

A premium stock photo site that gives clients access to images through a built-in portal, requires more up-front work to do. But first, you’d need to make sure you had plenty of server space. High resolution stock images take up a lot of server space, which can get expensive over time.

There is, of course, a happy medium between these routes. If you plan on keeping a relatively small stock library but still want to automate the buying process, you can do that. On the other hand, you can choose to work as more of a curator.

A curation-based website would look something like this: Clients reach out to you for images, then you provide them with photo options to choose from. They can then select the ones they like and pay for them.

Though this model is atypical of modern stock photography websites, it would be an interesting spin on the stock photography business that may allow you to solicit higher-end clients. Many times, these clients would rather not do the heavy lifting of sifting through enormous image libraries. If you could save them some time and effort, they may be likely to use your curation service.

What Do You Need to Build Your Own Stock Photo Site?

The first thing that you will need is a lot of images. You cannot run a stock photography website without either a large amount of media or consistently publishing professional photographers.

Once you have accumulated a mass of images, you’ll need to sort through them. You want to get rid of everything below a certain quality. You can choose quality metrics for yourself, but set a barometer and stick to it so your site looks consistent.

After sorting the media, you will want to establish a tagging system for the photos. Tag your images so that your software can filter them more easily. Make sure you are also adding IPTC data and copyrighting the photos.

Now that your images are set up, you can get into the development stage for your website. I highly recommend getting a website designer if you want to get set up quickly. They’re skilled in web design so they can often do in weeks what it may take you months to accomplish!

Best Software for Running a Stock Photo Site

What kinds of software do you need to run a successful stock photo site? You won’t always need the best, top-tier software, but you will need some programs and other tools to get you started. 

First, you’ll need to purchase a domain for your website. While web domains aren’t software, they’re incredibly important to starting an online business, and they come first. Your domain name is what people will associate with your business, so make sure you choose it wisely.

Next, you have to choose where you want to build your website. We recommend using WordPress, because it offers tons of plugins, themes and addons to help you customize. A lot of these plugins also allow you to creatively display your images, like Envira Gallery. 

What Options Should You Consider for Your Stock Photo Site?

First, consider the scale of your stock photo operation. Starting small is always a good idea, because it’s manageable and gives you room to grow. You can begin with a lot of images, but keep your initial selections small and build up gradually. You want to make sure the website works seamlessly with 500 images before you stock up on 20,000 images.

And, don’t forget the power and importance of social media, especially for stock photography sites. Consider building your stock photo site social media profiles in conjunction with the site itself, so they’re ready to launch at the same time. Social media is a completely free way to advertise your new business!

Finally, consider who you want your target audience to be. Do you want to serve a niche community, like medical professionals and scientists at medical journals? Or, would you rather offer a variety of images that serve multiple purposes? Have some really cool images that don’t work commercially? Possibly offer print services!

There are many variations and mutations you can try out on your website, especially before you get a larger following. Throw everything at the wall that you can think of and see what sticks!

Tools and Resources for Building Your Stock Photography Site

Other successful stock photography sites and online portfolios are a great free resource you can utilize while building your stock photography site. Professional photographers with similar businesses may even be willing to help you get started or mentor you through the process. Regardless, existing sites can help you figure out what features you like — and don’t like — in a stock photography website.

Your greatest resource when you actually begin building your stock photography website will be plugins, especially if you choose to build your site with WordPress. Plugins like Envira Gallery can help you tailor-make your website so that it functions and displays your images exactly how you want. Learn more about using Envira Gallery to build customized image galleries with our comprehensive tutorial.

Stock Photo Site Inspiration

As mentioned above, keep other stock photography sites in mind. Look up to professional photographers that have accomplished things with websites you want to accomplish. Look at the diversity of work, find websites that cater to niches, spend time consuming the content that is available.

The more of this content you absorb, the more you’ll understand what content is missing from these websites. Once you isolate that content, you might find your very own niche! 

How Do You Keep Your Stock Photo Site Fresh?

One of the biggest problems with smaller stock photography sites is that they invest themselves too heavily in image trends. These trends might last a while, but often they’ll fizzle over time, leaving your site looking stale and outdated with images no one wants to buy.

In order to keep your site fresh, make sure you don’t sacrifice on image quality. Having fewer quality images is better than offering thousands of mediocre photos. Additionally, try to limit your “trendy” photo offerings. Again, stick with classic, well-composed images that buyers can use in a number of advertising campaigns. Those photos have a longer shelf life, which will make your site look current all the time!

Online Tools for Creating a Stock Photo Site

Because of its massive size, WordPress is a great online tool you can utilize to jumpstart your stock photography website vision. In fact, over 35% of websites online today are powered by WordPress! That means there’s already a large community that can help you implement anything you need for your site. And, because it’s such a popular website building platform, you can find tutorials and WordPress tools for free online.

If you intend to utilize WordPress to create your website, I recommend looking at WordPress’s theme section on their website. Within their Themes Library, you’ll find creative website designs you can use to make your site stand out. Instead of paying a designer to translate your ideas onto your web page, you can modify an existing WordPress theme yourself. That way, you’ll save money without sacrificing customization options!

The other great thing about WordPress is its scalability. WordPress websites range from sites with little traffic to sites that host millions upon millions of visitors annually. WordPress can scale with you and your site as it grows, facilitating continuity across your stock photography site’s lifespan. 

Finally, WordPress offers a fantastic resource for WordPress beginners called WPBeginner. WPBeginner can teach you all the basics and help you be a fairly fluent WordPress website designer with practice. I think that this resource alone makes WordPress incredibly simple and can remove a lot of the obstacles many professional photographers face when they create their first website. 


So, if you want to create a stock photography site, start with this guide. Figure out your large-scale plans for the site, and then choose whichever website building route you prefer to take. You might want to design the entire site by yourself and commit to learning web design! 

Or, you may decide to hire designers and managers to run the site for you so you can focus on capturing the stock imagery. The choice is truly yours.

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