What I Wish I Knew When I Started Stock Photography

Enticed by a free year of Adobe Lightroom and armed with years worth of photographs from my travels, I started submitting photos to Adobe Stock at the end of 2019. While I had taken photos for years, in hindsight, I didn’t have much of a clue about what I was doing and largely shot with Automatic mode. That being said, I dabbled with photo editing/graphic design when I was younger and had a decent camera so I figured, why not challenge myself and finally get a handle on all those files sitting there doing nothing? After all, I recently completed my degree and had some planned down time to take a break.

Now, this article isn’t for your seasoned professional photographer, but rather someone who might want to use stock photography as a way to build their skills and get some extra income. Most of my experience is with Adobe Stock but I have used other sites — I just prefer that one the most. There are loads out there with different benefits and downsides. Some others that I have found to be more popular are: Shutterstock, Alamy, Freepik, 123RF, DepositPhotos, Dropstock.io, Dreamstime, and 500px.

Screenshot of my Adobe Stock Portfolio
Adobe also has Adobe Portfolio which allows you to present your work in a more professional manner.

Choosing the Right Sites

Like mentioned above, there are loads of stock photography sites — all with different style preferences, fee structures for contributors, and levels of support for their customers and photographers. The majority of my work is up on Adobe Stock because I have found that they have the perfect fit for style flexibility, price, and contributor connection. When uploading for the first time and choosing your sites, you should balance these three items and what is important for you. What works for one site might not work for another. Some sites like extremely clean and crisp pictures (think travel brochures) while others will take more creative moody or artsy pictures. Think about your pictures and style and find the right fit.

It’s also important to prepare yourself for rejection. Different sites have different rejection rates and you should keep track of *why* certain pictures are being rejected. Are pictures from a set too similar? (don’t submit them all at once). Are you being rejected for technical reasons (check your ISO and exposure, is it salvageable?) Did you forget a model release or did you not take out intellectual property from your pictures (the clone stamp and content aware tools are your friend).

An important reason why I primarily chose to stick with Adobe Stock is because of the support, community, and customer service I’ve received (especially in comparison to some others). They have a Discord channel where there is a community of stock photographers sharing their work, asking questions, and participating in challenges to get one’s creative juices flowing.

A screenshot selection of part of Adobe Stock’s Discord Channel for contributors
A screenshot of some of the chats in Adobe Stocks’ Discord channel

Editing Tips

Stock photography has some rules which you might not be used to. What works for Instagram oftentimes will not work for stock. For example, unless you are a selected contributor, you cannot use any intellectual property in your shots — this means identifiable buildings, (some) landmarks, and brands (is your model wearing Nike shoes?). Take the time to edit your photo to take these out if you can (creative cropping or the clone/heal/content aware tools in Lightroom or Photoshop).

Always process your images a little bit (if you’re not using RAW on your camera already, start now!). Check for any visible blemishes on your photo and clean them up. In the field, a rocket blower and lens cloth can be helpful for keeping your sensor and lens clean. This will reduce the need to fix things in post.

An image scrubbed of identifying features (names, companies, licenses, etc.)

Workflow and Time

It’s no secret that the most time consuming part of stock photography is the submission process. This is especially important to consider if you are submitting to several different sites. Find what workflow works for you and try to track your submissions if possible. Some things I’ve found which work for me have to do with the pre-uploading process.

When I import a new set of photos into Lightroom, I’ll run through and flag them right away, ranking photos which I should delete permanently (1 star), keep but not bother with and possibly review later (2), those I’m truly unsure of (3), pictures which have a lot of potential (4), and those which I definitely want to submit (5). If I did a shoot with the same subject or location, I’d also do batch keywording at this point in time too. Adobe Lightroom allows you to upload straight from the program while there are some FTP programs to upload to multiple sites. (I have yet to find one that is worth it though.)

Lightroom allows for batch keywording and applying presets upon import
It also allows you to submit to Adobe Stock directly from the program

Planning and Trending

Timing is very important in stock photography. Planning ahead and watching for trends and gaps in the market is important for success. For example, people will be searching for some static things, such as holidays, around the same time every year. Don’t submit your Christmas stuff on December 26. Buyers won’t be searching and unless it’s phenomenally unique, it’ll just be lost until the next season when newer pictures will take priority in the searches. This year, trending topics are obviously around coronavirus and the ‘new normal.’ Staying on top of ‘long term’ news events and trends will help your products sell.

There are plenty of articles about empty sports stadiums and no concerts. That makes this seemingly uninteresting shot a best seller for me.

Other than templates and images/vectors useful for graphic designers, pictures with people are by far the best selling images. If you’re just starting out, it’s likely that you don’t have access to models or may not feel comfortable doing this. Try taking pictures of yourself, your friends, and family! Authentic pictures of real people sell! As long as you get a model release, you’re good to go. While you’re out and about you can also get creative. If a person is not identifiable in any way (silhouette, from the back, no identifying features like tattoos) then a model release isn’t needed.

This is a self portrait which was taken balancing in an empty bathtub!

Finding Inspiration

If you’re at a loss for what to shoot, many stock websites will publish ‘calls for content’ that represent potential gaps in their catalog or upcoming trends. Some may also publish their top contributors so you can check our their portfolio and see what is selling. For even more inspiration, there’s also curated collections, and ‘fresh picks’ of photographs that editorial teams are drooling over. You can also create your own collections by saving interesting pictures to a library (500px and Adobe Stock are my favorites for this), a Pinterest board, or save Instagram posts in folders. Stock photography is a learning process. Use it to push your craft forward and challenge yourself. But also HAVE FUN!

A screenshot of my library of inspiring pictures on Adobe Stock



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