Case Study: How Difficult Is It to Build Stock Photo Websites?

Stock photography websites mostly look clear and simple. Users often don’t even imagine how much time and effort is hidden under the hood. So, is it really hard to make and launch a website sharing stock photos? Let’s discuss two ways.

Easy Way: Buying a Template

If you want it for cheap, it’s easy. Just Google for a stock photography marketplace template and see what you get. All it takes is a WordPress hosting, a semi-technical person, and something like $62 for a paid theme.

Stocky, a popular theme with 1100+ downloads

Hard Way: Developing From Scratch

For us, it took 9 months to build Moose from scratch.

Moose, the stock photography website that we’ve developed at Icons8

We’ve been a team of 4 who were involved between 80 and 40%:

  • A backend developer
  • Two front-end developers
  • A designer
  • A full-time editor who was labeling and tagging the pictures.

The design was a collective effort, involving our post-production team, a 3D modeler, a 3D artist, SEO expert, and some copy. It doesn’t include the production of the images.

Why So Hard

The front-end, although passed through two iterations before the release, was an easy part.

The first version of our design: tested, but never released. Compare it with what we have now.

The hardest part is the backend. It guides the images from the moment they’re shot in RAW files to the searchable and navigable data published on the website.


All images pass these phases:

  • Being shot in the studio, resulting in the RAW files.
  • Photographer filters the best shots and uploads them to Google Drive. Each scene has a separate folder.

Kate in the bathrobe has a different folder, not the one of Kate in the office setting.

  • Somebody from our post-production team makes the color correction and drags the folder to a Google Drive called Moose Website.
  • Via Google Drive API, the website catches this and publishes the photos on the website. From this moment on, they’re searchable, though only with the keywords from the folder name.
  • The same person marks the category for these images (such as Beauty). From this moment on, they’re published in the category.
  • Post-production starts retouching the images and saving them to the same file on the Google Drive.

Our backend understands it is the same file, but retouched, and marks it as Retouched.

  • Somebody from the tagging team passes the images and tags them with many tags and some smart titles.

For tagging, we use our internal tool, similar to the one Shutterstock and many other websites have. You choose the similarly looking pictures and get the list of the possible tags. You mark the checkboxes, add some custom ones, done.

Titles are the whole different thing. It takes creativity to call this picture “Don’t cry over spilled vanish”.

Creative naming: “Don’t cry over spilled vanish

  • The images get repacked in a single zip file (we allow downloading all our jpeg files at ounce).

More Backend

There’re different scenarios I didn’t mention:

  • Group editing the tags
  • Removing the files
  • Handling the RAW files (we preserve them)
  • Sorting the search results
  • Searching the categories
  • Counting downloads for statistics
  • Choosing the images for the front page

Common for All Websites

There’re some of the operations common to all the websites, not just stock photography ones.

SEO: keywords search, clustering, planning the URL structure, writing page titles, meta tags, sitemaps (we don’t have one yet)
Copy: front page (we’ve got our tagline corrected after the launch, as a ProductHunt member offered a better one), microcopy (like button labels), meta descriptions
Testing: testing on the mobile devices, performance testing, fixing 100s of bugs (not 1000s like in our other apps – Icons8 and Lunacy), and testing again.

And everything mentioned is only the beginning: then, the M-stage of maintenance and marketing comes.

What would you add to the list?

About the author: Ivan Braun, UX designer, founder of Icons8
Title image by Moose

Check our guide How to Steal Stock Photos and Ways to Get Them Legally and a set of tips on making money submitting images to stock photo websites

Do you have an interesting case study to share with our readers? Let’s get it published.


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