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How to Build a Stock Photo Business With WordPress

Stock Photography

Selling your photography can be a great way to funnel your passion into a business.

However, the web is awash in stock photography sites that curate photos from thousands of photographers. To stand out, you might be better off going your own way. And with the right tools—such as WordPress and Sell Media—you can build your own stock photo business.

Why Stock Photography?

The Internet has opened up new ways for people to make money online, and for photographers, stock photography can be a golden opportunity.

Stock Photography

Stock photography involves licensing photos to others for an objective use. Generally, people buy the rights to use a stock photo because it’s cheaper than paying a photographer to compose a new photo specifically for a given project. The flip side, of course, is that you can sell the license to a single photo more than once.

All sorts of people pay money to use stock photos, including:

  • Marketers
  • Web designers
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Musicians
  • Bloggers
  • + many others

Stock photography presents its challenges, but you can make some good money off of it—especially if you have your own stock photography website.

Should You Launch Your Own Site?

The big stock photo websites have huge audiences, but individual photographers generally can only snag a small share of those audiences.
The big stock photo websites have huge audiences, but individual photographers generally can only snag a small share of those audiences.

At the top of the stock photograph food chain are the big names; those large stock photography websites that gobble up a huge share of the market. Companies like Dreamstime, iStock, Shutterstock, and Bigstock all exemplify the types of behemoths that dominate the industry.

There’s a lot to be said for simply making an account on one of these sites, uploading your photos, and hoping to capture your own slice of the pie. But then again, you could also create your own outlet.

Both options have their pros and cons. For joining a major site, the benefits are:

  • A large market of existing customers.
  • A low barrier of entry: joining these sites doesn’t take much time, energy or money.
  • A low level of risk: if it doesn’t work out, no harm done.

But there are also drawbacks:

  • You’ll be just one of many photographers competing for the attention of site visitors.
  • You’ll have a harder time taking your stock photography business to bigger places down the road.
  • You have a lot less control over every aspect of how your photos are presented, priced and marketed.

While starting a stock photography website of your own may seem scary, it’s very doable. Creating and managing a website is easier today than ever before. In fact, you won’t need to worry about coding, server maintenance or any of the confusing technical stuff that often deters folks from starting a website.

The benefits of going your own route are:

  • Complete control over every aspect of your website.
  • A choice on how your stock photos are displayed to customers.
  • An opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition.
  • The chance to integrate your marketing efforts with your photo content.
  • Ownership of every aspect of what you’re doing.
  • A sense of independence, freedom, and excitement—you’re really building your own business!

How Can You Find a Market?

Stock photography is an industry of fierce competition. Simply put, lots of people want to sell their photos online.

The problem is that if you go off and create a website selling general stock photos, you’re unlikely to get anywhere.

The solution is to specialize, specialize, specialize. The big stock photography websites already offer a one-stop-shop for just about every type of photo. It’s not realistic to compete with their volume and advertising dollars. But you can compete with them in a smaller arena. If you provide amazing photos geared toward a single niche market, you have a chance.

How do you find a niche market?

First, think of the themes that appear in your photographs. Are they geographically related? If so, you might consider starting a regional stock photo business that targets just your local area. For example, if you’re a photographer based in Montana, start stock photo business that targets the keywords “Montana photographs” or “Montana stock photography.”

Perhaps the themes in your photography archive are defined by subject matter, such as surfing. Start a niche stock photo business that is optimized around the words “surfing photography” or even something regionally specific like “California surfing photography.”

The best way to do this is to find a market need. Make a list of industries or potential customer segments that utilize stock photos; be sure to focus on people that use the kinds of images you can create. Then, look at that list and identify who will be willing (and able) to pay good money for stock photos. At the intersection, you’ll find your niche market.

How Can You Create Your Site?

So you want to do stock photography. You’ve decided to sell photos on your own website and have identified a market. Now, how do you actually set up the website that will serve as the start of your stock photography business?

Three main steps will take you from no web presence to a solid site:

  1. Buy a domain name
  2. Get web hosting.
  3. Install and set up WordPress.
  4. Install and set up Sell Media.

1. Buy a Domain Name

Having someone else take care of web hosting hassles is worth the money.
Having someone else take care of web hosting hassles is worth the money.

Launching your own site takes a lot more legwork than just throwing your photos up on someone else’s platform. It all starts with laying the groundwork for your site.

You should first purchase a domain name. Since it’s what users will type into their address bar and see on a search results page, it’s important to pick something simple and recognizable.

You can buy your web address from a domain name registrar. Each registrar has different pricing and services. Here are a few companies to consider:

2. Get Web Hosting

Once you have a domain name, you’ll need WordPress web hosting. Web hosting gives you server space to hold your site’s files.

3. Install WordPress

wordpress-logo-stacked-rgbChances are, you’re not looking to spend time plucking at HTML and CSS to make a website from scratch. Luckily, there are much easier solutions. For a stock photography website, the clear choice is WordPress.

WordPress is an intuitive content management system that enables you to efficiently manage your site without having to worry about coding. With literally thousands of plugins to add functionality and themes to customize your design, WordPress can help you build a unique presence on the web.

These statistics illustrate the widespread popularity of WordPress:

  1. More than 60% of people using content management systems choose WordPress.
  2. WordPress powers over 27% of the Internet.

You can easily find guides on the web that explain how to install WordPress (herehere or here).

You’ll want to install a theme designed specifically for photography. In fact, since we’re going to talk about the Sell Media plugin below, it won’t hurt to install a theme specifically designed for use with Sell Media.

Once you’ve installed your theme and gotten a feel for WordPress, it’s time to bring it all together.

4. Install Sell Media

sell-media-advanced-search-screenshotIn the past, tons of problems plagued photographers who wanted to sell their images online. But many of those problems are no more, thanks to a new handy little plugin.

Sell Media is a WordPress plugin helps you sell photos, prints, videos and other digital files directly from your own website. With Sell Media, you can:

  • Assign different license types and prices to photos.
  • Manage online payments via PayPal or credit card.
  • Password protect files that you’re not ready for the public to see.
  • Offer discount codes.
  • Upload your photos individually or in bulk.
  • + more

The plugin is free to download, with a handful of upgrades that make it even better. You can download it here.

Once you’ve downloaded the plugin, you’ll want to install it, configure the options and give it a test drive. You should log in to your WordPress dashboard and follow these steps:

  1. On the left-hand sidebar, go to Plugins > Add New.
  2. Near the top of that page, click the Upload Plugin
  3. Click Browse and select the .zip file you downloaded containing Sell Media.
  4. Click to activate the plugin.
  5. Look to the left-hand sidebar again. Click Sell Media > Settings. There, you can configure options for the plugin.
  6. Go to Sell Media > Licenses to create or manage default licenses for new photo uploads.
  7. Head over to Sell Media > Add New to upload your first stock photo!

You can then use nifty shortcodes to insert the Sell Media plugin on any post or page. One of the most popular features is the “Filters” shortcode, which creates a custom layout that is perfect for your stock photography business homepage. It includes tabs for filtering your stock photos by Most Recent, Most Popular, Collections or Keywords. The Filters shortcode looks like this when added to a page.


If you’re just starting out, don’t worry about everything all at once—there’s a lot to consider, and you’ll improve over time. Jump over to the official Sell Media Documentation for a comprehensive setup instructions. You’ll want to explore pluginsthemessocial media and web traffic, among other initiatives.

What Gets Images Noticed?

If you’ve picked a good market and set up a good site, you’re halfway there (you should also give good thought to increasing traffic to your site). But a website alone won’t rake in cash. You need to actively work to draw people in through keywords and loss leads. Let’s look at each of those in turn.

Captions and Keywords

Don’t skimp on captions or keywords. Sure, you’re a photographer and you love working with images, not text. But to succeed, you have to bridge both worlds. When people pull up a Google search, they’re typing text to find an image. You want to make sure they find your image.

When writing captions and keywords for your stock photos (which you absolutely must do), make sure that you do two things:

  1. Conduct keyword research for your photography website to hone in on a niche.
  2. Make sure your photo keywords are accurate and align with the search terms your customers use.

The second point is necessary because people will use a wide variety of search terms to search for photos. If you can anticipate the terms likely to be used by people looking for an image like the one you’re selling, you up your chances of making a sale.

Captions and keywords help your audience find exactly what they’re looking for, which saves them time.

Loss Leads

Some of the big stock photo sites let photographers donate images to the “free” section. While the appeal for the site itself is obvious (free photos draw more users), this model also garners benefits for the photographers.

A free stock photo, which tends to see lots of traffic, can get visitors interested in who took the photo in the first place. Because free offerings can lead people to your paid pictures, putting a free image out there every once in awhile is not a bad idea at all. Use the Free Downloads extension to simultaneously drive traffic and increase your email marketing list. You can also set the price of a photo to $0 and it will generate a free download for your visitors. It’s a win-win with either approach you decide to take.

Loss leads help your audience by providing high-quality pictures that they can use (free of charge) in a pinch. Chances are that some visitors will be happy to return the favor later on by buying a license to use one of your photos.

Take it to the Next Level: Sell Subscriptions to Your Photos

To take your stock photo business to the next level, you’ll want to sell subscription/membership access to your stock photos.  Offering subscription plans turns a one-time product sale into a monthly or yearly recurring sale. The more photos and video you add, the more valuable your service is to your customers. All you have to do is activate and configure the Subscription extension.


Stock photography is a way to merge your passion with a profitable livelihood. Creating your own stock photography website is a risk, but it’s one that can pay off both financially and emotionally. With WordPress, Sell Media, and solid strategies in your toolbox, you have a great shot at success.

How have these ideas worked for you? What struggles or successes have you had with building your own stock photography business? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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