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13 Ultimate Stock Photography Rules for You to Follow

Last updated: 07-29-2019

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13 Ultimate Stock Photography Rules for You to Follow

The stock photography and video market is predicted to exceed more than $4 billion in revenue by 2023. The field is evolving rapidly to include more techniques, styles, and voices. With more than 550,000 contributors worldwide, Shutterstock is helping to ​lead the charge​ by emphasizing dynamic, high-quality visuals.

These days, stock photographers follow a different set of guidelines than they did just five years ago. We asked eighteen Shutterstock contributors about the rules they always follow when submitting images. Below, they lay the groundwork for understanding this growing market and making profitable images.

Think about the ways buyers can use your photograph. It’s not always the most beautiful or elaborate images that have the most commercial potential. While the market can be unpredictable, photos taken with the buyer in mind are usually the ones with the most sales. These considerations should guide your choices on editing, lighting, design, and copy space.

My rule for stock photography is to submit photos that I can imagine many uses for! Imagine that the image might be used for anything from a desktop background to a postcard to a print that hangs in a home or office. It’s always a good idea to compose in a way that would allow someone to add text or graphics to your image without detracting too much from the quality.

​As much as I can, I try to make sure that there is some copy space somewhere in my images. Most images will be used for advertising purposes, and advertising needs a combination of text and images! More generally, not cropping too tight is a good rule. Often, the end-user will need to crop the image to make it fit a specific layout, so leave some breathing space around your subject.

Indexing is crucial in my workflow. I spend a significant amount of time creating an accurate title and description for my files, and I use a good number of relevant keywords. I avoid spamming and inaccurate keywording. Of course, the image needs to be nothing less than perfect technically, but indexing is no less important.

Research your keywords! When I started with Shutterstock, I didn’t have the keywords I needed to get my work in front of buyers. After a few years of uploading images and doing research on effective keywords, I can honestly say that buyers are now able to find my photos.

Be bold enough to change up your keywords and see what happens. Shutterstock enables you to add a lot of them and get creative. Put yourself the buyers’ shoes. Ask yourself what designers will search for down the road when looking for your images.

My number one rule for stock photography is to prioritize quality over quantity. Aim for every shot you upload to be one that you can be proud of. Have a portfolio that reflects the highest possible standards. That way, the agency’s clients will look at every shot as a potential purchase.

My number one rule for stock photography is technical quality. A photo can have an excellent subject and composition, but if it is out of focus or has too much noise, it won’t be accepted by a stock agency. With the wide variety of equipment available these days, it’s not hard to get technically superior images. It just takes a little time and consideration.

When it comes to technical quality, give 110%. Use the correct camera settings and proper post-processing techniques. Getting your photo approved is just the first step. In order to attract buyers to your portfolio, you need to have that extra edge.

The photo has to be sharp. When you zoom in at 100%, the area in focus can’t be semi-sharp. It’s also good to leave space for text in case the buyer wants to add it.

I always ensure my stock images are neat and tidy. That means having nice compositions, colors, and lighting. Additionally, the concepts behind your photos should be just as clear as the visuals. Buyers need to be able to use them to convey a message effectively.

For me, the first rule in stock photography is submitting a clean photograph. That means no brand labels and no unnecessary objects in the frame. Keep it clean and meaningful!

I usually submit six images of the same subject. Different angles, different styling, different props, but always the same subject. I prefer to give a variety when it comes to angles and styling, from minimal to elaborate.

Try different angles and compositions. I usually take outdoor photos, so I make sure to capture the image in as many ways as I can think of by using different foregrounds and depths of field. I create a variety of close-ups, wide shots, etc.

​I make sure to submit both vertical and horizontal images. I work with a few clients that use my work for print ads, and their requests usually require blank space for print, both light backgrounds for dark text, and dark backgrounds for white text. I try and play with the backgrounds available to allow the client to have flexibility.

Study the latest trends before you plan your shoot. You want people to buy your images, so make sure there’s a market for them. From there, it comes down to technical excellence and proper descriptions and keywording during the upload process.

Research stock sites so you can gauge which of your images have the potential to be accepted and sold. Not all the images you submit will be accepted, but you can use this experience to understand the market better. I’ve also found that this has helped in improving my photography.

I submit my own photography, and I also buy photography for marketing purposes. My experience has taught me that stock photos need to be ​perfect. When I make an edit of my pictures, I try to be critical and select only the best. From this edit, I do yet another edit of images I’ll submit to Shutterstock.

My rule for stock photography is not to take pictures that look like traditional “stock photography.” Times have changed, and so has the demand for stock photos. Today, there is a need for more natural, authentic images that do not look artificial or “set up.”

I think the most important thing is to make your images relatable. If you shoot something that feels natural and not overly produced, you can create more of a bond with the viewer.

The image needs to say something universal and also remain conceptual rather than literal. For instance, an image of a slice of apple pie that makes one think of “good old American family values and tradition” is a way better stock image than a slice of apple pie that speaks to a specific recipe. Great stock images do not sell specific products. Great stock images sell a way of life.

In the flood of images we see these days, it’s good to be different. Occasionally I buy photos myself, and I am always impressed by distinctive pictures. Maybe it’s the composition, or maybe it’s the color, but it’s always that unique element that catches my attention.


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