What makes for a good stock photo?

So you have been taking photographs for a while and thinking you’ll try stock photography. Now you have to think like a stock photography buyer and their needs are. Just because it’s a nice photographs doesn’t mean you’ll get accepted into stock photography sites. A good friend of mine is an amazing photographer, but the photos he takes are not ones that sell. So what sells?

Think good quality photos. See Resources for Better Photographs for ideas on how to improve your photography.

Think commercially. Photos of flowers and animals abound on stock photo sites, but those that sell are unique, such as my orca whale, shot on vacation in Vancouver:

Orca near Vancouver, BC
or very clean shot of unique poses, like my best selling squirrel shot.

Squirrel staring at you, on white with shadow

That one took me over an hour at the University of Michigan diag to get, total serendipity, curious squirrel on a sidewalk, and then another hour to clean it up…

Think in terms of impact and iconic photos. I shot lots of photographs at a Relay for Life event, but you can see that the most popular ones are the close-ups of the flags, which have the most visual impact:

ANN ARBOR, MI - JUNE 22: at the  Relay for Life of Ann Arbor event on June 22, 2013 in Ann Arbor, MI.

See the Stock Photo Sightings category for more examples.

Think clean photos, without distracting backgrounds. Really look around all the edges of the photos to make sure nothing is taking the viewer away from the key message. Take another squirrel photo that sells quite well:

squirrel eating peanut

Nothing but squirrel and grass there. I even cleaned up the grass in Photoshop to make sure nothing took the viewer away from squirrel.

Think totally white background. Users of your non-editorial photos likely will want to use them in their own settings, so you need to provide them “isolated” photos, with just the object in a totally white background. You can get a quick idea of how to clean up your photos to get that background here.

Plaid gift box

Think perfect focus. People buying stock photographs might end up blowing them up a lot, so photos have to be in focus at 100% magnification. I wrote some suggestions to achieve that perfect focus here.

Realize it takes a lot of time to get the right photo. Take the Flamingo sculpture in Chicago:

Flamingo sculpture in Chicago

It took me over an hour and over 50 shots to get this one photo. I moved around and tried various angles to get just the right view of the sculpture, waited for enough people to be walking under it to give it a sense of proportion, yet with no one distracting from the shot. Or my best-selling Ann Arbor Art Fair photo:

Ann Arbor's South University Art Fair 2011

I stood at that spot for over 20 minutes looking for just the right shot – enough people to fill the shot, nothing distracting from the main theme, a nice couple holding hands enjoying the day…

Lots to think about, but it will come naturally soon enough. Keep in mind the saying “don’t take the shot, make the shot!”


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