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An example of a stock photograph used in an article explaining how to shoot the best stock photographs
Written: April 2020
Updated: May 2020

So you are trying to make some money with stock photography? Cool! Maybe you already have some pictures online. Great! Now it is time to create some new content, but how do you shoot the best stock photos?

In this article, I will explain how you create the best stock photographs - the ones that will make you money - by listing 10 important stock photography tips. Assuming you already know how to make money with stock photography, it is time to improve your game and shoot those pictures that will you some make money.

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You want those photographs downloaded, right?

Of course you do! But not every photo sells. Making money with stock photography is not as easy as uploading the hundreds of blurry vacation pictures you shot with your Ipad. No, there is more to stock photography.

You could easily find hundreds of terrible pictures that somehow made their way onto the stock photograph websites. How they got accepted I have no idea. The point is, those pictures will never be downloaded. For the contributor, no download means no money. That's not why you started with stock photography, right?

No, you came here to figure out how to shoot the best selling stock photographs, the ones that actually get downloaded and that will make you some money. For that, you are in the right place.

For this article, I have focused my research on sources provided by some of the biggest and best known stock photography agencies online: Shutterstock, 500px and Adobe Stock. Using their advice, I have composed a list of 10 photography tips which will help you shoot the best stock photographs that will actually make you money.

This article is part of the series called all you need to know to start making money with your photographs, which covers all the basics of stock photography. If you haven't already, go check it out now!

Now lets dive into it, shall we? But first: here is an infographic to summarize this post. Feel free to share it, pin it or tweet it, or embed it on your website using the piece of code below.

An infographic explaining how to make the best selling stock photographs, the ones that will actually make you money.
This infographic on your site? Use the code below.

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Tip 1: Pick your subject


First and foremost, pick a subject to photograph. The subject is the most important part of your photograph and should be obvious in a glance, so make sure it is distinct and grabs the attention. This Shutterstock article describes it best:

“Every successful stock photo has a distinct subject, be it a person, landscape, or a recognizable object. Before you get artsy with exposures and depth of field, your photos need to fulfill a specific function that people can use commercially.”
- Shutterstock -


There you have it. Try to remember this quote as we will refer back to it later on.

First, let’s take a look at some examples. Can you tell me what the subject is in the following picture?

An example of a stock photograph used in an article explaining how to shoot the best stock photographs
What is the subject in this picture?
Image by All around the Earth from Shutterstock.*


Yes, the red flower! Now there is no missing that...

The subject in this photographs is obvious in the first glance. It pops out due to its size, its bright color, and the overall composition. Also, there are no other distracting features in this photo that might distract the attention from the subject.

A photo like this could be great for people looking for - for instance - a picture of a flower, a red flower, a tropical flower or the specific species: the Spiral ginger. Though no more than a flower, this photo can be broadly applicable to a wide range of subjects: from gardening to botany and from "just a nice picture" to social media posts. In tip 4 below we will dive deeper into the application of your stock photograph.

Now take a look at the following photograph and tell me what the subject is here:

An example of a stock photograph used in an article explaining how to shoot the best stock photographs
What is the subject in this picture?
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay.


Though the forest in this picture is just amazing, the thing that pops out is the guy in the tree. This example shows that the subject doesn't always have to be in-your-face like the flower above, but can instead be further away. There is one thing, however, that the flower and the orange guy have in common: They are a distinct subjects, they can't be missed.

What makes them distinct is te way they pull your attention towards them. Be it by being in-your-face, in the center of the image, or by being further away but still popping out and with no other things distracting from the subject. How you do it is up to you, as long as the subject is obvious.

That said, I will contradict all the above in this last example: What is the subject in the following photo?

An example of a stock photograph used in an article explaining how to shoot the best stock photographs
What is the subject in this picture?
Image by All around the Earth from Shutterstock.*


Wait, what? There is no distinct subject here...

True. Though, in a way, there is. Though there is no singular object that pops out right away, the lack something that pops prevents distraction from the real subject: the forest.

Images like this also work on stock photography sites. They do great as background behind a text, for instance in a social media post or the header of a flyer. They make your content visually appealing while not distracting from whatever you place in front of it.

Think back to the quote from Shutterstock above, though there is no distinct subject, these kinds of photographs do “fulfill a specific function that people can use commercially”.6

Now assuming you have picked a subject for your photograph, let’s move on to tip 2.

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Tip 2: Avoid cheesy shots


You have probably seen them before: those cheesy stock photos of people in situations that are obviously faked: a cute happy family playing in the park or office workers having the time of their lives in a meeting.

These types of pictures should be avoided at all cost 1. They may have worked in the past, but they don’t anymore. These days people look for images that are real 2 5, that fit their website and don't creep out their readers.

Check out the two pictures of meetings below and tell me, which one is better?

An example of a stock photograph used in an article explaining how to shoot the best stock photographs
Meeting 1
Image by Werner Heiber from Pixabay.

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An example of a stock photograph used in an article explaining how to shoot the best stock photographs
Meeting 2
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay.


Meeting 1 you say? Please go away, stop reading this, you’re hopeless...

Meeting 2 of course, there should be no doubt.

Though still obviously posed, you can almost believe meeting 2 is really taking place. The people in this photograph look more real, like they could be your co-workers discussing something real, whereas nobody has ever been in or seen a meeting as creepy as meeting 1.

Conclusion: try making your photos look like meeting 2. That said, don’t try and copy this exact photograph, of course. Try to copy the natural and normal vibe of meeting 2, but be unique!


Tip 3: Be unique


Some categories or locations are over-represented.2 5 Think of cats. Cats are cute, many people have them and even more of us like seeing images of the little fluffballs. For this reason, stock photography sites are full of cat pictures. To stand out in this ocean of cat pictures you have to come up with something unique. A picture of your super common black and white house cat napping on the couch might not have much of a chance.

An example of a stock photograph used in an article explaining how to shoot the best stock photographs
Awwhh!
Image by Susann Mielke from Pixabay.


This was the first of 26,785 cat images on Pixabay alone. On Shutterstock there are currently 1,914,044 cat pictures, Adobe Stock: 1,623,789 cat photos... You still think your photo has a chance? Then go for it! If not, no worries, there are more subjects to try. Be unique!

Keeping it unique doesn’t only mean that your photo stands out from the others. Your pictures should also stand out from your own. Don’t submit multiple versions of the same photograph with different filters and effects. Instead, submit a variety of different pictures of your subject.2

Try to think like the customer. What would they want to see?

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Tip 4: Be universal


A broad range of people and companies use stock photographs. To improve the chances of your photographs, make sure your photos are broadly applicable.1 How you do that? Prevent hinting towards a specific niche, keep out brands, keep out objects that are too specialized, and be as universal as you can be.

It's not just the subject, the setting or your great photography skill that make that your picture gets downloaded, it's also its broad application possibilities. You can shoot the best ever image of a cup of coffee, but that won't make a tea company download it. To make it interesting for both the coffee and tea company, you could shoot a neutral cup of steaming liquid without showing what's inside... Get the idea?

For example, take a look at the photograph of the meeting under tip 2. The second meeting, not the creepy one. Tell me, what kind of meeting is this? What are they talking about?

No idea? Well, there you have it. This is a picture that is broadly applicable.

Now if you could see what is on that computer screen, for instance, the application of this image would already be more limited. Say you would see something like a fashion website there, then a banking firm wouldn't be able to use this image anymore. Even something as simple as an Excel file - even if you can't read what is written in the file - might make this image unusable for a photography company.

So, to keep your image universal try to leave out things like computer screens, graphs, specialized tools, specific products or product related items, etc. This is, of course, when these things are not part of the specific subject you are photographing.

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Tip 5: Check your focus


Check your focus and make sure the subject is in focus.2 6 The subject is what it is all about - as we discussed in tip 1 - and if the subject is out of focus your photo will not be in the focus of your potential downloader.

Other parts of the picture do not necessarily have to be in focus. Think about the background, for instance. A blurred background might even help bring the attention to the subject.

An example of a stock photograph used in an article explaining how to shoot the best stock photographs
A blurred background might bring attention to the subject.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay.


When you shoot your photographs try to avoid things like motion blur - either from movement of the camera or movement of the subject - and make sure you focus is exactly where you want it to be. Doubting whether your focus is on point? Shoot another few photos and pick the best one.

Almost every digital image needs a little sharpening afterwards.7 So, when working on your photographs afterwards, check it carefully and consider whether some more sharpening could benefit the subject. 2 But don’t overdo it or you will lose quality.

Is your subject far out of focus? Then my advice is: Don’t bother continuing with the next tips and start over with a new photograph. An out of focus subject will probably not be accepted anyway. And, if it does get accepted, do you really want the quality of your portfolio be brought down by it?

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Tip 6: Check your composition


The composition of your photograph is something you work on both in the field and while editing afterwards. So let's separate the two:

First, in the field. While in the field, take a good look at the surroundings. See anything that will distract from the subject? A bright colored car in the background? A big commercial sign? A shirtless elderly gentleman pointing his big hairy belly in your direction? No? Then shoot! Yes? Then try and work around it by waiting for it to go away, changing your position or think of how you can edit it when you are back home.

Also important to remember when in the field: there is no such thing as too much background. You can always crop out the excess later on, but you can’t add more. Background, especially negative space, can even be an important factor for the one downloading your stock photograph as it leaves space for them to add their message.3

Now you have shot your photograph, it is time to check it. Still in the field, take a good look at your photograph on your camera's screen. Do you see motion blur? Birds that flew through your shot? A sudden gust of wind that moved the leaves on the trees? No? Great! Time to bring the photograph home.

Once home, enlarge the image on a big screen and check the composition. Some examples of things to check and - if necessary - improve are:

  • Straighten the horizon.2 3 A slanted line will bring down the composition of your entire photograph and might be reason for the stock photography agency to reject it.3 So make sure those horizons are horizontal and buildings and trees are vertical.

  • Check your borders. Anything coming into the frame that distracts the attention from the subject? Crop it out! Too much background and too little subject? Crop to bring the subject into attention!

  • Remove distracting elements.2 Think of electricity lines in an otherwise pristine natural landscape, that one topless sunbather in a beach shot, or planes from a beautiful sunset.

  • Check your background. Too much background will distract the attention from the subject, especially if you have a busy and colorful background. Consider blurring the background, taking away some or even all of its colors, or cut out small distractions.

An example of a stock photograph used in an article explaining how to shoot the best stock photographs
You can take away some or even all color from the background if it distracts from the subject.
Image by All around the Earth from Shutterstock.*

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Tip 7: Eliminate imperfections


The ideal stock photograph needs no to little editing after it has been downloaded by the customer.2 Therefore, when submitting your photographs, make sure they are ready to use. The customer does not pay the stock photo website for photographs that still contain imperfections such as scratches or spots on the lens, digital noise, grain or halos.

“Customers have high standards, so you should ideally submit photos that need little or no post-production work.”
- Adobe -


Imperfections happen to all of us. I once spent two weeks hiking and photographing in the French Alps with a spot on my lens that I only discovered after coming home. Man, that got me grumpy...

An example of a stock photograph used in an article explaining how to shoot the best stock photographs
Damn you spot!


Damn you spot! Luckily I managed to fix it in most of my pictures - Either by cropping the affected part or by spot-fixing it - and I got some of them accepted by Shutterstock.

Tip: Take a close look at your image with a 100% magnification or more to discover hidden imperfections that you might otherwise miss.2


Tip 8: Make it pretty


Now that you have a great photograph that is in focus, has the perfect composition and has no imperfections, it’s time to make it look its best. Here are some things to consider:

  • Properly balance your colors2 to make your image look natural,

  • Check the brightness of your photograph2 and make sure your photograph isn't overexposed nor underexposed,

  • Check the contrast of your photograph and make sure it's set at a reasonable level.2 Set your contrast too low and your image will look muted, set it too high and you will get an unnatural looking picture that is too bright in some places while it is too dark in others.

Important: remember not to overdo your filter.2 Some customers might want to add their own custom filter to your photograph to match the style of their content. An image with already a heavy filter, beautiful as it may be, might not suit the filter of the customer. As a result, they might go for another contributor's image instead.

Most important: Make it look natural!

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Tip 9: Respect privacy


Imagine, you are walking down the street when someone comes up to you and asks whether he can take your picture. You're in a good mood and think "why not?", so you let the weird man take your picture. A few weeks later you have forgotten all about the random photo guy and you are watching television with your lover at night and suddenly see your face in a commercial for adult diapers. What the ...?

The days go by and you start seeing your face pop up in more and more places: a Youtube ad for toilet paper, a fake-news website claiming you're an expert that knows the secret to fighting the Corona virus, an ad for a dating website where they claim your name is Herman and you have been a member for 10 years, and the worst of them all: a commercial for Donald Trump's re-election campaign where you are portrayed as a loyal Trump voter. Yuck!

How would you feel about that?

I would be really angry, and I think many people would feel the same. That's why there are certain privacy laws when it comes to photographing (recognizable) people for commercial reasons, and those also count for stock photography.

So, when it comes to photographing people, don’t ever photograph someone without their permission 1, and don’t upload their images without a signed model release.2 4 A model release is a document where the person in the photo gives you permission to use their imag, and where they can specify what uses they would and would not be comfortable with.

An example of a stock photograph used in an article explaining how to shoot the best stock photographs
Every recognizable person on your stock photo needs to sign a separate model release.
Image by Couleur from Pixabay.


Note that EVERY recognizable person on your photo needs to sign a separate model release giving you permission to use their image. So if there are 100 recognizable people in your photograph, you'll need 100 signed model releases...

For this reason, and because I don't really like people, I tend to stay away from photographing recognizable people. However, if you do plan to photograph people, don't ever forget the model release. Now it's just an annoying form you need to get your photograph accepted, but having one might help prevent a lot of trouble and even lawsuits in the future. So just get one.

“Asking for a model release before the shoot will make your life much easier, and your model will have more opportunity to clarify how he or she would like the photos to be used.”
- Ev Tchebotarev, founder of 500px -


Tip 10: Be aware of intellectual property


According to Wikipedia, intellectual property is "a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect". Right...

In normal words, intellectual property means those things that are legally protected by labels such as copyrights, trademarks or patents. For us as photographers, that means we are not allowed to photograph things like brands, logos, brand promotions and certain products or artworks without a property release form.1 2 4

“What does it matter?” You may think. Well, firstly it is just not allowed. Secondly, you could get huge fines! And thirdly, nobody will download your image anyway. Say you photograph the Starbucks logo, who is going to download that? Starbucks themselves? No! Why would they pay for their own property?

Conclusion: don’t ever upload something that isn’t yours! You might say: “there’s no need to say this, nobody ever will, right?” Well, people will be people, and there are always those that want to cash in on someone else’s work.

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Man, there you were thinking that stock photography was an easy way to make money online...

Now you find out that there is much more to stock photography than just uploading some random pictures...

Well, sorry to be the one bringing the bad news: Stock photography is no get rich quick scheme. No, instead it's an honest way to make a passive income online that, after an initial effort, doesn't cost you too much effort. Also, if you consider the tips in this article, making money with stock photography is not as hard as you may have thought.

For more articles about stock photography, head over to my article all you need to know to start making money with your photographs or go on and start photographing!

Was this post useful? Do you have any additions? Let me know in the comments section below! Feel free to share, tweet or pin this post to share it with your followers and save it for further reading. I'd appreciate that.

Now go on, go photographing!



Further reading





* Posts and pages on All around the Earth may contain affiliate advertising links. This means that when you click these links and buy something, we will receive a little percentage for referring a customer. No worries, it is them who pay this percentage, not you as their customer. For more information, check out the All around the Earth privacy policy


Sources


  1. Shutterstock (2020, April 24). How to make money with Stock Photography. Shutterstock.com. Retrieved from https://www.shutterstock.com/support/article/how-to-make-money-with-stock-photography.
  2. Sorin, Rechitan (2017, March 22). Tips for getting your stock photos accepted. Adobe.com. Retrieved from https://helpx.adobe.com/stock/how-to/tips-stock-image-acceptance.html.
  3. Feature Shoot (2020, March 31). Composition in Photography: How to create interesting images. Shutterstock.com. Retrieved from https://www.shutterstock.com/blog/composition-create-interesting-images.
  4. Tchebotarev, Ev (2019, December). 10 Helpful tips to jumpstart your photography business. 500px.com. Retrieved from https://iso.500px.com/10-helpful-tips-to-jumpstart-your-stock-photography-business/.
  5. Yehuda, Shenhav (2018, May 23). 7 Tips to create stock photos that sell. Wemark. Retrieved from https://medium.com/wemark-stories/7-tips-to-create-stock-photos-that-sell-a81c7d484d19.
  6. Shutterstock (2020, April 24). What stock photos sell best?. Shutterstock.com. Retrieved from https://www.shutterstock.com/support/article/what-stock-photos-sell-best.
  7. Jardine, George (2014, June 18). Sharpen your photos. Adobe.com. Retrieved from https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/how-to/photoshop-sharpen-photos.html.

Cover image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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