Stock Photography Tips


Well-Known Member
  • #1
I had originally intended to write this post and target it toward photography in general, but I think I'll focus more on photographing for stock photography instead. Stock photography is huge on the internet - it has been for years. Every single day, thousands and thousands of photographs are purchased by individuals, creative departments, and media companies alike. These photos are used for all types of things, be it offline in print, billboards, magazines, online in advertisements, to go along with various types of blog posts, and other types of articles. Whatever the case, good stock photographers have been in demand for a long time. So if you're interested in getting into a hobby or money making profession, you may want to look into this area.

To start off, I'd like to give you a quick tip. I mentioned this in one of my previous posts, but it's worth repeating. When you take a photo with your camera, that camera records its specs and stores them in the meta data of the photo file. At any time, you can check these specs. They include aperture and shutter speed settings, ISO value, type of lens used, lens focal length, white balance, and a whole slew of other things. If you were to use Adobe Bridge to organize your photos, these settings are plainly visible in one of the panels. The reason I mention this is because as you look through your images, you can see which ones look good under which circumstances and which ones don't. For every photo, you can compare what works and what doesn't with the camera's settings. For instance, if you see a photo that's got lots of grain in it, you can take a look at the ISO setting to see what it was set at when you captured the scene. If it's very high, the next time you go out shooting under those same conditions, you might want to lock your ISO value at a given high point so it doesn't go over it. If you've got your camera set to auto or one of the priority modes, it'll chose another method for getting light into the camera. Perhaps it'll extend the shutter speed or open up the aperture a bit more. And if you keep comparing the photos you take with the settings the camera used, you'll quickly get used to proper settings and improper ones. This really is a great learning tool.

Okay, let's move onto the potential stock photography scenarios. I've got three popular ones for you that I'll discuss below.

Street Photography

When it comes to stock photography that describes every day living, street scenes can't be beat. We've all seen these types of shots in magazines, newspapers, etc... There really is no shortage of articles about society. To take good street photography though, you'll need to focus on a few different aspects. Your goal is to capture interesting scenes that captivate the viewer. That's the only way you'll sell anything. Really, you're not trying to sell your photos to the person buying them. You're trying to sell them to who the person buying them is writing for. So that buyer is sort of like a middleman. It's his or her opinion about their readers that counts.

To start off, find a good spot to hang out for a while. At this point, focus mostly on the backdrop of the scene. You don't want something boring that you hope will fill up with people. You want a location that can stand on its own. Think about a great looking cafe or a wall mural or something. Once you've found your spot, simply hang around and wait. What you're waiting for is a confluence of events to take place. You're waiting for something interesting to happen. And when it does, you'll begin snapping away.

When people do arrive, you should easily get a real sense of life being lived. Pretend your standing at the edge of a marketplace in Italy. Imagine seeing two men discussing something. Watch their hands move in the air. That's the type of thing you want to capture with your camera. It's simple interactions like this that will easily sell. Also, look for situations that contrast others. If two men are speaking with one another in a vivid fashion, perhaps they're standing right next to a teen who's quietly leaning up against a wall. Look for messages being sent with people's eyes. The eyes are like candy for creative directors. They can't get enough of them.

Finally, lighting can make or break an image. Lighting sets the mood. If the day is overcast, there's one message that might be sent. If you're shooting at dusk, there's another message. High noon with full sun? You might want to avoid that. When it comes to street photography and telling the story of a person or people, you want drama. Sun that comes from directly above doesn't add drama. Sun from the golden hour does.

Working Folk

Another type of photography that's popular with advertising is when it shows a variety of people doing their jobs. Or maybe hobbies. Anything where someone is doing something that the rest of us might not see on a regular basis. Think about an electrical utilities worker leaning against a shovel in the hot sun. Think about an artist painting a scene. Think about a chef preparing food. With situations like this, you want to photograph fairly closely and from as many angles as possible. Each angle will tell a different story and you want to get them all. Don't worry, you can discard all the lousy photos later on. For now, snap away.

Also, while taking all these photos, be sure to not disturb the person who is working. You want candid shots, not ones that are set up. Say the electrical utilities worker is exhausted and decides to sit on a curb in the sun. He removes his helmet and runs his hand through his sweaty hair. That's gold in the stock photography world. If you caught the man's attention and asked him to smile, you likely wouldn't sell one shot.

And finally, when taking photos of people working, think about how the person relates to the job they're doing. If the job is delicate and careful and if it requires concentration and focus, that's what you want to capture with your camera. Take close up shots of the person's eyes focusing on their work. Perhaps their hands and fingers delicately maneuvering around the sewing machine or circuit board. These are the types of things people want to see.

The Portrait

Portraits are hot and I have to tell you, people love them. Just visit any stock photography website and search for "person" or "portrait." You'll see a wide variety of pictures of people doing any number of things. You can easily take these types of photos yourself if you simply remember a few key details. First, remember that each and every human face is unique, so don't think that one person is more interesting than another. If a buyer is looking for a plain faced teenage female, that 80 year old Australian guy isn't going to help much. Sometimes though, buyers are looking for a dramatic shot of an 80 year old African, so be sure to take many shots of all different types of people.

Next, always remember to ask your subject before you begin taking photos of him or her. If given permission, you can ask them to act naturally or to do a certain post. Perhaps just a simple smile is all you need. Whatever the case, once you've obtained your subject's blessing, you'll have the liberty to shoot from down below or up above. Smile or no smile. Whatever you want, you've got your model.

And finally, again, always remember your angles and lighting, especially when it comes to portraits. Taking photos of someone standing between you and the sun, such as a silhouette, is always a good idea. There's a lot of drama right there. Kids smiling and laughing in the park can be great. A professor teaching. All good stuff. Just remember to capture these people at different angles and use your lighting to accentuate your goal.

Whatever you decide, just be sure that you don't get in the way of your shot. People can act strangely when they think you're being too obtrusive. So stay out of the way and let them do their things.


Well-Known Member
  • #2
Okay, let's continue on.


There is no shortage of landscape shots out there, but if you set yourself up correctly in the right spot, you can make yours better than everyone else's. To start, you obviously need to find the right spot. Scout around or follow tips you find online that lead you to that mountain top, cliff, or other secret spot that'll give you your money shot. One of the most important considerations is where the sun will be during your photography session, so figure out in which direction you'll be shooting and what will look best. Again, avoid direct sunlight from above. Choose to photograph your scene either in the early morning or just before the sun goes down. Also, be prepared to use a tripod and some wide angle lenses. I'll be writing more about how to focus and how to choose your proper depth of field for landscape photography in later posts. As far as where to situate the horizon, choose either the top third or the bottom third. Avoid the direct center as that's not a very interesting area. Be aware that most good landscape photos come alive during post-processing. Don't be discouraged if you review your shots on your camera and they don't look as good as you thought they'd look. Camera Raw and Photoshop can do wonders for these kinds of pictures. Take a look at this quick example. The first shot is straight out of the camera and the second shot took me about 30 seconds to edit.



Remember, nobody's photos look good straight out of the camera.

Still Life

You'd be surprised at how many still life photographs sell on stock photography websites. Some of my most popular photos are of door locks, bicycle tires, lawnmower wheels, and other odd objects. The trick with taking still life photos is to capture the unknown or overlooked aspects of everyday things. If you were to, say, take a photo of some shower curtain rings, you wouldn't want to take the photo head on. Think about interesting angles. Perhaps you could line the rings up close to one another and shoot down the middle. Angles matter. Lighting matters. Arrangement matters. Don't think you'll get away with boring. You need to make your photos stand out.

When taking your photos, be prepared to shoot from all different angles and at as many distances as possible. Upon review, you'll quickly discover what worked and what didn't. So first, move yourself and your camera. When you're finished with that, try to move the object you're shooting. If the object is mobile, move it so you can capture its different sides. And finally, alter the lighting on the object to give it different appearances. A padlock that's got light shining directly at it will look markedly different than a padlock that's got light emanating from behind it. And above all else, remember those details. That's what people look for in still life photos.


Action shots are big sellers on stock sites too. When it comes to this type of photography, you need to focus on the pivotal piece of action that's occurring at the moment. If you're photographing a soccer game, don't bring a wide angle lens that captures the entire field. You want to bring a zoom lens that will capture the sweat that's flying off a player's forehead as he headbutts the ball. It's those close up pictures that people will want to buy. Be sure to fill the entire frame with action. To do so, you'll need to find a place on the field or in the sidelines that will allow you do take such photos. Trust me, you'll need to practice this style to get better at it. It won't happen overnight. Action photography can be one of the toughest styles to engage in, but the rewards are worth it. Many photographers are excluded from selling these types of photos because if the skill it takes. Learn and move past the others with your success.