10 Sources of Inspiration for Microstock Photographers

When you find yourself in a stock photography funk, what’s the cure?  Where can a microtstock photographer find inspiration for new shoots?  Below is a list of 10 ideas to get you started.

Collecting your Tears

EvernoteTear … as in ripping out a paper, not crying from lack of inspiration… although doing both will probably do you good.  When you see inspiration, have a way to save it.  Take a picture of it, jot it down, save a voice memo.  Do something to remember the thought for later.  If the image is in a magazine that you own, tear the pages out.  If the image is not disposable take a picture with your cell phone.  I keep a folder on Evernote with tears.  Using evernote I can quickly add tears from billboards, magazines, people on the street, anything I see, by simply taking a picture.  Having the tangible feeling of a scrapbook is more pleasant but a digital scrapbook is handy.  Do whatever works for you, the point is creating a bag full of ‘inspiration gems’ to use later.


Magazines are full of images.  These images have a strong influence on how people will look and dress in the coming months.  The style in which the images were shot, the lighting and the set all become part of our culture weather we like it or not.  Break down the images you see and consider how you can apply them to your next shoot.

Stock Sites

No one likes a copy-cat, or a ‘microstalker‘ as one person so lovingly put it at a recent conference (sorry, I can’t remember who coined that term).  Don’t be one.  Looking at stock sites for inspiration, however, is smart.  Sort a favorite search by downloads and ask yourself what similarities there are between your favorite images.  Sort the search by newest uploads – what catches your eye as attractive. Which thumbnails pop off the page and why?  Take what you learn and apply it to your next shoot.  Your shoot can be on a totally different subject, it is the small elements you are using as inspiration, not the entire image.  The framing, style of wardrobe, lighting, mood – take the one (best) element in the photo and add it to your shoot.  Don’t limit your browsing to microstock images.  Check Alamy, Getty, Veer, Corbis, Blend


Flickr has both the best and the worst of online photos. Use this to your advantage.  People are uploading images to flickr with little regard for self control.  Images are free and uninhibited.  There are tons of flickr users that are pointing, shooting and uploading.  Do the best of these images have a quirky appeal?  Does the relaxed, impulsive nature of the shooting offer anything to the image?  Again, take the elements that are unique and attractive and try them in your next shoot.


AmelieI love watching movies.  Movies are full of everything creative.  Lighting, angles, movement, style, lights, darks, emotion.  Play your favorite movie, put the sound on mute and focus on the visuals.  Watch how your favorite scenes are shot.  What mood is being conveyed, how is it lit?  What is in focus, or more importantly, what is out of focus.  Where are the actors looking in relation to the subject of the shot.  When shooting stock, story is important.  Even though the majority of microstock photographers shoot stills, a still that tells a story is a strong stock image.


What is the thing that you are best at.  Have you photographed it?  What do you love to do, have you shot that?  Think through your day – which activities could be used  as a stock photo?

Visit a Second hand store / Garage sale

Like Flickr, the best and the worst of stuff is found at garage sales.  Which junk catches your eye.  Could you use it in a future shoot?  Are there any gems amongst the junk?  How about the people – does anyone catch your eye?

Watch People

Head to mall, airport, cafe, anywhere there’s lots of people.  Grab a seat and watch.  Look for things like style, attitude, professions, relationships.  What of this could you use for a stock image.  If someone catches your eye, ask to take their photo and add it to your collection of tears.

Read a Book

Reading a book can engage your creativity and imagination.  How are the characters in the book described?  Can you reproduce the scene or feeling from the book in a shoot?  Which words are used to express the feeling or mood.

Your Own Portfolio

Look at your own portfolio and see where the sales are collecting.  Why are those images selling?  Could you shoot those images better?  What did you like or dislike about those images?  How about your worst images.  Why aren’t they selling well?  Could you add anything from your tears to improve your non-sellers?

Where do you look for inspiration?

Discuss on the forum or in the comments below

About The Author:

Tyler Olson works as a microstock photographer who also runs the MicrostockGroup forum and blog. Being so closely involved in the microstock community as a submitter, forum moderator and blogger, Tyler is able to keep updated in the constantly changing microstock marketplace.
Posted on February 10th, 2011 in Tips / Tutorials | tags: , ,
  • Excellent suggestions! What a great idea to use Evernote to keep your ideas at hand. I’ve kept a physical scrapbook of ideas for years, snipped from newspapers and art magazines. Just went through it this week and I have clips from the 80’s … and they still inspire me! Thanks for this post.

  • Thanks Tyler! I use a text document on my desktop to make notes of ideas. When being outdoor I use my iPhone notes or Google Clanedar that’s synced to my desktop…