8 Rules for Stock Photography

It´s been a long time since I wanted to make this article and now I take the time to right it down. The main purpose for this post is to introduce you into the world of Stock Photography. But it is also for me, for keeping me focused, as I want some steps to be pointed out as a constant “reminder”.

Here are some “guidelines” for microstock. Please note that these are my rules and may or may not apply to you. Anyway, let´s get down to business:

1. Do Your Homework    

If you have an idea in your head, drop everything immediately and start shooting. No, I am just kidding :). If inspiration suddenly strikes, don´t rush, take your time to research and plan your shots. Take a look on the main stock agencies, on Flickr, Behance, etc and see similar work done, see how popular are those images, how many downloads they have. When you are in “research mode” use keywords to find similar ideas so you won´t waste precious time.

2. Stay Focused

Now you have a general idea over the photo/s you want to create. Remember that stock photography is about having high quality images that promote a concept or a product. So stay focused and don’t waste time!

Nowadays, the stock photography industry exploded and it is harder and harder to make money by selling your stock images, as there are more microstockers and of course the quality of images is way higher.

7 years ago, if you had a portfolio of about 800 images you were doing well, you were making some good money. Now, some say that you need around 4000 images to make a decent earning, so you do the math.

In the end what you need to be successful is a “fat” diverse and high quality portfolio.

3. Know Your Camera …Settings

Learn your camera and don’t complain that you need a 100 megapixels beast.

I am not ranting here, but most of the time the limitations that you see are not from the gear you work with. I guess you understand what I´m trying to say :).

Before every shoot make sure you choose the correct mode (manual mode :)), revise your last ISO values, your last flash settings and so on…Why ? Because you will, in time, learn to estimate your settings.

If I am shooting, let´s say a portrait outside, first thing I do is to guess my settings and then take a test shot. From now on, the only thing I do is to tweak my exposure and concentrate on my subject.

If you are shooting objects, the settings from your last shot may not be the same, so make sure you setup your lights, ISO, Shutter Speed and aperture accordingly.

Another important thing: don´t shoot a photo and think “I will fix it in Photoshop”. In the end you will waste precious time. Do it as close as possible in the camera!

4. Organize your Work Space/Studio

I tend to spend a lot of time before sending my files to stock agencies in my desire to create “the perfect” exposed and composed image. This is good and bad. Good because the rate of unapproved images is low and bad because I´m wasting a lot of time and energy. And time is important!  What I´m trying to say is you have to be well organized in order to be productive.

Being organized with your work space / studio is another key to get more productivity. In my case it is or should be easy, because I have a small studio, but I  kinda´ suck :).

5. Write Down/Draw your Ideas

It is well known that inspiration come while working, but if you are watching a movie, if you are in the park or you name it and have a nice idea, write it down. Don´t wait until you are back home because, most probably, the idea is long gone :).  I always have a piece of paper and a pen close to me while I´m in my office. When I am out, I use my phone to write down my ideas. We have so many tools at our disposal to remind us of everything, let´s use them.

I, also, like to draw some of my ideas. I was asked to create a photograph (1th image above) for an article and immediately I had the image in my head, but I preferred drawing it. Even if you don´t know how to draw, do it, ´cause you will understand it and remember the idea.

This is, on one hand, a good exercise and, on the other hand, you gather ideas for shooting.

6. Be Different

When I started in this nice world of photography I´ve told to myself “Mihai, you have to be better”. But you know what? Be better than who ? I think the way to go is to be different and original. Don´t “steal” other  photographer´s work. Don´t confuse inspiration with reproducing other people work. Be yourself. Express yourself !

7. Analyze Your Work

Analyzing your own work is very difficult as we are very subjectivists, but make a step back, forget the making process and look at your images with an honest and critical eye.

Think about what the photograph is and suppose to transmit, also review the technical aspect of it. These images will not just be beautiful images but will be used as a product that garner cash.

-       Does my photograph help promote or sell a product, concept or idea ? Is it a conceptual image of let´s say healthy eating , or beauty treatment ? If your answer is a straight YES then you are good to go, if not see what can be improved and reshoot!

-       Technical aspects. Make sure that the image is sharp, well exposed, well composed and has the correct white balance.  Is there anything you could have done different: another angle maybe?

Remember, most stock agencies have quality requirements and your image/images has to meet them in order to be approved.

8. Have a Beer :)

Actually, don´t :).  OK, you are allowed to have some beers, but be careful, beer kills creativity. In case you had more than a couple of beers remember that, for next day, you already have a full list of ideas :).

Mihai