Can You Shoot Stock?

Several readers have asked me about what it takes to be a stock photographer, and not being a stock photographer (at least not a very good one), I had to honestly say, “I don’t know”! I wanted to find out though, partly to satisfy not only reader interest, but also my own interest, so I signed up to become a contributor at iStockphoto – one of the premiere stock photo agencies around.  I also picked up a copy of “Taking Stock“, by Rob Sylvan to give it a read and prepare for my foray into stock photography.  For regular readers, you may remember an interview I had with him a while back, and the contest giveaway where 3 lucky readers won a copy of the book.

So, for starters – I’d suggest that you educate yourself on how to shoot stock, which means reading resources like Rob’s book.  You also need to practice, and be aware of trends in the market place.  You also need to be prepared for something else, and that is rejection! Even the best photographers have images rejected from iStock.  It’s going to happen, so get used to it.  Images can be rejected for any one of a number of reasons.  By far, one of the most common ones I’ve seen is worded as follows:

“This image appears to be over-filtered/over-processed which has affected the image quality. This may include Photoshop filters & effects (over-sharpening, excessive adjustments to levels, curves, contrast, hues, gaussian blurs, saturation, added textures, noise reduction…) or other manipulations.”

What can be frustrating about this is that you may have applied very minimal processing, and applied no filters whatsoever, but your images are still rejected.  The reason?  The next part of the rejection description:

“Inspectors judge images based on quality, composition and usability.”

The key is not to worry if this happens – it can happen to anyone, and images can be rejected for any of many reasons.  Here’s a couple examples of photos I’ve had rejected from iStock during this test phase:

Blue Water Slide

Blue Water Slide



Beach Therapy

Beach Therapy

One thing I’ve always tried to do when assembling work for stock is to make sure there is negative space available.  This allows buyers to have their text or content overlay on the image.  Plus, it’s a pretty effective compositional technique – which I’ve talked about in the past…for more details, you can read that full article here.

Here are some other suggestions and approaches for shooting stock:

  1. Try and avoid brand names.  If someone is wearing Nike shoes, a Champion sweatshirt, or other easily recognizable logos, forget it.  First off, you can’t use them without permission, second, the clean-up work required in post degrades the image quality, and third, it’s just not worth the time to remove when you consider that stock is not just about the quality of photos, but to make any decent revenue, it’s also about quantity of photos!
  2. Incorporate people into your work.  This doesn’t mean having someone put on a headset and pretend to be a customer service rep (because this has been done too much already).  It does mean to be creative and use people to demonstrate things – like lifting weights, or singing into a microphone, or repairing a computer.  These are the types that typically will do well in sales.
  3. Plan ahead.  If you are thinking of shooting your Halloween themed photos now and getting them online for sales possibilities, then expect the purchases to start happening around August or September of next year.  Buyers of stock work usually are working ahead of schedule to line up ad campaigns, and other uses well in advance, so you need to be publishing your work on their schedule, not in real time.
  4. Make sure you get model releases if people are recognizable in the images.  Stock work requires it, and if you don’t have it – then forget even submitting.  For more details on what model releases are appropriate and what should be included, visit this location where iStock gives you one to use!

That’s just a couple tips for how to get started in stock photography.  For more information, go to the pros that already do it, and know the industry much better than I.  As mentioned at the beginning – Rob Sylvan is a great resource as an iStock reviewer and author.  Other people you may want to keep tabs on include Nicolesy (who I’ve talked to here on the podcast series!).

Got your own tips and ideas on how to shoot stock?  I’d love to hear what others think too, so sound off in the comments.  Happy shooting and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

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2 comments for “Can You Shoot Stock?

  1. October 19, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Good read and wise words Jason. I’ve diped my toes into Stock but really had no luck with it so far. Thanks for the resources outlined in this post.

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