Stock Photography: Some Tips on How to Get Started

Palm Trees Sway in the Wind against a Tropical Sky

I thought that I’d write a post on stock photography for those of you interested in uploading your images for stock.  In the beginning, meaning a year and a half ago, I was taking a ton of photos and they just would sit on my computer collecting dust.  I wanted to DO something with them so I started uploading my images to stock sites.  This was a great way for me to get feedback on what the industry thought was a good image without being “exposed” to negative critique on the world wide web.  I didn’t know what I was doing then – now I do.

Stock sites review for composition, correct white balance, noise, and clarity, etc. I didn’t even know what many of these terms meant in the photography world before I started in stock.   I get a lot of questions from friends who are getting into photography about shooting for stock.  This post is a general overview of how to do it. 

Blue Skies...

There are three things that always need to be done when you upload an image to a stock site.  One – review the focus point for clarity/sharpness at 100%.  Two – keyword your image.  Three – categorize your image.  Keywording and categorizing are similar to what you do on your blog with the tags and categories.

Clarity at 100% is based on your discretion.  This is where your image may get rejected.  If you assess your image as clear and it is not, then the reviewer will reject it.  This was a great learning experience for me.  After many, many rejections, I began to see my images differently and now consistently, my images are accepted. This also helped me to understand how to shoot better images.  I worked hard on aperture settings, using correct ISO to reduce noise, and making sharper images.

Two Pigs Standing in Hay

Keywording is a bit tough.  There is a tendency to put absolutely every possible word in as a keyword.  For example, if the focal point of your image is a pig, like in the image above, then don’t add “grey” as a keyword because the stone ground they’re standing on is that color.  I read many, many articles on keywording to learn how to do it.  You can usually find them on the stock site blogs.  There is conflicting information out there but as a general rule you should put yourself in the buyer’s shoes.  You would search for an image about pigs using the word “pig” or “swine” right?  The buyer really doesn’t care about the grey stone ground.  The pig is the focus of the image.  Having too many keywords that do not accurately describe your image may actually complicate search results for buyers.

Categories are the easiest part of stock.  Each site has its own pre-set categories.  You simply select the two or three that fit your image and that’s it.  When you are first starting out in stock, I would suggest that you review the categories that the site offers and upload images that fit into those. Eventually, you will just know what to upload as a stock image.

Elephant with Hula Hoop

One caveat here – you may have an image that meets all of this criteria but it is rejected.  The image is most probably better as a fine art image.  Fine art images are not the same as stock images.  Don’t be discouraged if your awesome shot is rejected because it doesn’t qualify for stock.  This is where I am in my photography.  I understand this and have created a fine art website for that purpose.

If you want to get started in stock, I suggest that you begin with either Canstock and/or Bigstock stock sites.  These are the “easy” or “easier” sites for acceptance.  Once accepted there, move on to Dreamstime.  This is a “medium” site.  I got rejected three times before my images were accepted.  This is the site where I upload the most images even today.  Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can run with the big dogs on Istock and Shutterstock.  These sites have the more conservative standards for acceptance.  After doing my trials and errors on Bigstock, Canstock and Dreamstime, I was able to get into Istock and Shutterstock on my first attempts.

I particularly love the keywording system on Istock.  These days I upload to Istock and copy and paste the keywords into Shutterstock and Dreamstime sites to save a lot of time on multiple image uploads.

Here are a few examples of images I’ve sold on each site.  (I don’t use Canstock anymore so I don’t have any images that have sold there).

HIgh Cross in Ireland

This was my first ever stock shot I sold.  I took this picture with a Cybershot before I knew anything about photography.  (This is not from my most recent Ireland trip).  It was accepted on Bigstock.  I don’t upload anything on Bigstock anymore, but having this image sell early on gave me the encouragement to keep going.

There is a way to find your sold images if they’re used on the web.  It’s kind of cool to see what they are used for by others.  I found this image on a religious website here.

Sam and I were walking around Washington DC one day in spring to catch the last of the cherry blossoms.  I took this photo of people in paddle boats in front of the Jefferson Memorial.  I thought it was a good image of springtime in DC.  I was right!  It sold on Dreamstime as an editorial photo.  (There is a difference between a commercial shot and an editorial one.  Editorial images are handled very differently on the stock sites.  That is a post in itself and not covered here.)

Jefferson Memorial in Springtime

Our next walkabout in DC took us to the fish market.  I was practicing taking photos of the seafood and produced the image below.  Gross, right?

Salmon Heads

Now this is where the stock sites can be frustrating.  This image was accepted and sold on Istock but was rejected on Shutterstock for compositional issues.  For this reason, I recommend contributing to multiple sites at each level to maximize your acceptance rates and sales.

Finally, this is another image from the fish market that sold on Shutterstock.  I was thrilled to find this image on TLC’s website for Curtis Stone’s Take Home Chef!

Oysters on Ice

So that is a round-up of how to get started in stock.  I love stock photography!  It gives me a place to put my pictures and to learn. I always have a focus when I’m on an excursion and shooting with an eye for stock…plus it’s fun!

Are you a stock photographer?  Do you have any additional tips or comments about your experience with stock?

All my images on this blog post have sold as stock.


4 thoughts on “Stock Photography: Some Tips on How to Get Started

  1. Great post! Look how far you have come! I love stock photography too and it’s fun to watch my portfolio grow. We need to plan another trip! 🙂


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