Thirty keys to stock photography

Well, I asked for it. I suggested on one of Alamy‘s forums that stock photography was nothing like art, photo club or personal photography. You might have pictures which have won contests, pictures good enough for a friend or two to have asked for prints and still have them on the wall. You might have pictures from a decade or two during which you have happened on some wonderful sunsets or visited great places at just the right time.

But you might not have anything which would work in the stock image market for unreleased editorial or released royalty-free, the two big volume markets which exist.

Why do I say these are the two volume markets? Two important stock image sites say it for me. One is iStockphoto, the main repository for royalty-free images at silly low prices. The other is Alamy, arguably the main source for unreleased editorial and illustrative images.

Royalty-free pictures are not an intrinsic evil. In fact, for the most part the term is not accurate as the images are licensed under a set of rules which make it very clear you are not free to do what you want with them. Their uses are fairly restricted and that’s why iStockphoto offers extended licences. It would be more accurate to term the genre hassle-free; no print runs, no date or time limits, no size constraints other than the size of the digital file you get.

What has been an intrinsic evil is the association of RF with tiny fees, dollar downloads, cent payments. It would be a cut-throat business, but the photographers supplying it arrive with their throats already cut, all the site owners have to do is hang ’em up to bleed into the corporate bucket.

Alamy also offers Royalty-Free, but as statistics over the years have shown, it’s at far higher prices than typical Rights Managed usage. Just as with iStockphoto, you can only designate an image for RF sales if you have valid model releases for any human components appearing in the image, and/or property releases for any identifiable branded or privately owned element. Unreleased images, and that means nearly every picture everyone has ever taken in their pre-stock existence including their own family snaps and self-portraits, must be restricted to licenses which are appropriate.

That means they are not going to earn thousands as key images in a major international advertising campaign. Nor, as we know, are those iStock RF images despite having all the releases in place. They will earn the same few tens of dollars for a large file whether it’s projected on to the surface of the Moon by laser or used to liven up an invitation to your mum’s 100th birthday party.

My mistake on the Alamy forum was to say that I could probably rustle up 30 separate points which a stock photographer would bear in mind when taking pictures, that any other photographer would not. I can be generous with estimates. Several photographers immediately wanted my list.

Used in a newspaper a few days before I wrote this. The elements are simple enough, the content is always topical several times a year – guaranteed

Well, it’s a challenge. So here it is. Bear in mind that this applies mainly to MY kind of stock – editorial and illustrative. It is the kind of stock which is used for newspaper, magazine, website, intranet, business flyer, postcard, calendar, book, textbook, CD cover, travel guide, point of sale display, product labels, AV presentations and the like.

Generally, it is not the kind of stock which is used to illustrate business meetings, financial services or desirable lifestyle consumer purchases. This is not because I fail to recognise that such stock accounts for the bulk of all photo uses. It’s because so much of that is microstock at micropayments, mass produced, generic, fully released – and anyway, I don’t like those market sectors.

Nor is it the kind of stock which involves breaking radical new ground, or important old bones. It’s not extreme adventure, exotic environment, war zone, unexplored territory, impenetrable tribal societies, rare wildlife – or anything which involves press calls, passes, access to celebrities or admission to exclusive properties. Though wait to see my conclusion!

What we (Shirley and I, and sometimes our family) shoot for stock is what anyone anywhere can see every day in their daily life, work and travels. My thirty points can not, and must not, include various reasons for taking certain pictures. That would be giving too much away. But they can all be about how those pictures differ from the ones taken by the next camera to click in the same place.

So, here goes. Thirty points which distinguish the stock shooter from the creative amateur, hobbyist, artistically-aware camera user and even from the working professional.

1) A Picture is Worth One Word – if your pictures neeed 1,000 words to explain them, they have not worked. Some of the best stock images of any kind are those which make a single word, phrase or idea come into your head the moment you see them. Stock photographers are always looking for shots which say one thing so clearly that anyone who sees the pictures would immediately think of it.

This picture shows various points – ‘worth one word’, it conveys its message using text in the image (always a strong point in stock pictures), it is close but not so tight that it can’t be cropped, and distractions are minimised by use of onOne Software Focal Point plugin

2) Exclude Distractions – I’d rate that as one of the most important picture editor influences, but see my next three points as well, as they go together. No matter what you photograph for stock, every square millimetre of the frame should either be of the subject, relevant to the subject, or neutral space. Do not include things for purely compositional reasons.

3) Get Close – this is not just the old advice for movie-makers reh
ashed, ‘if it hasn’t worked you were not close enough’. It’s also a bit of visual psychology. Closer viewpoints connect to the viewer better than distant telephoto shots even if the subject has the same scale in the shot. I do not mean use an ultrawide lens and shoot from inches away, simply don’t rely on your 70-200mm for everyday shooting. Your images will lose immediacy. Henri Cartier-Bresson understood this well.

4) Don’t Crop Too Tight – Hey? You just said exclude distractions and get close? How is that not tight cropping? Easy. Your pictures must be flexible enough to allow later cropping, not necessarily for composition or to change a vertical to a horizontal, but to cope with media formats. The old US magazine size of 8.5 x 11 inches loses a stack off top and bottom of a cover shot. European A4 210 x 297mm loses more than some compositions readily allow. Bleed printing (flush, edge to edge, covering the entire page) requires at least 3mm all round on that size, but the 3mm margin also applies to small flyers, postcards and many products. TV display may call for a 16:9 panoramic crop. So, don’t put critical parts of your main subject very close to the edges of the shot and be careful when using the full height of any composition (it’s not quite so important to allow horizontal space on either vertical or horizontal shots, as this dimension is rarely cropped to fit page or screen sizes).

When you see a combination of elements which tells a clear story, you may have a seller, like this one

5) Use Juxtaposition to Tell a Story – this is where my points 1 and 2 may seem to conflict, but really don’t. By far the most effective stock shots actually convey a phrase, an idea, a term, a saying, a concept or an action. Juxtaposition of two items, or a person and an object, does mean getting them close together and not just both in shot. For example, a man in a bowler hat (visual code for a city businessman) holding a pistol to his head is a viable set-up stock image where a shot of him picking up a pistol from a desk is not. In the street, a stock photographer will instinctively seek a viewpoint which places required elements close in position and scale.

All these points so far are also valid for any editorial or news photography, and some would say they are important for ANY photography. But it’s amazing how many images I am sent as an editor which end up not even being considered because they can not be used in any way except as an uncropped image floating on the page. Sometimes part of the subject will be placed just 1mm or so into the imaginary 24 x 36mm film frame, just away from the image edge. Sometimes two elements which tell the story in an image are separated by dead space, or even worse, something irrelevant that confuses the message.

6) Let There Be  More Light – this is a basic rule for modern stock photography which I’ll admit to breaking. Editors will choose lighter, brighter images over lower contrast, darker, duller images for two reasons. In print, photographs reproduce darker and flatter than their screen version. The most successful stock and commercial producers aim for a surprisingly light, open look. On screen, the RGB gamut colours which never work in print are in the midtone to highlight regions, and website or email shot designers like to use these.

Lighter toned images are often preferred to dark. This shot, with extra contrast and converted to black and white with a nearly pure white, won me the title of UK Press PR & Stock Photographer of the Year in the MPA‘s annual awards – not something I have ever entered before, until they opened it up to 10 x 8″ prints which made it affordable!

7) Let There Be More Colour – or rather, what designers call a colorway or a colour theme (or what we used to call a palette). If you can compose an image so that all the colours within it are harmonious, complementary, suitably matching or suitably contrasting it will catch the eye of graphic designers. If you are working in the studio, consider creating similar images with different coloured settings or backgrounds. I wrote an article for Amateur Photographer called ‘Hypercolour’ in the mid-1980s which took things to extremes – coloured filters lighting similarly coloured backgrounds, bright yellow lemons on intense blue perspex. But even back then, I also photographed my lemons on white, on pastel shades, and on different saturated colours (all using gels and a light table and offcuts of signmaker’s perspex sheet).

8) Let There Be More Contrast – stock images are sold by catching the eye with thumbnail images. The close-up, simplified aspects mentioned earlier are important to making thumbnails work. Complex images don’t work at a tiny size. But contrast, pure light and shade, adds most to thumbnails. One very good contributor to Alamy, Simon Stanmore, commented that he regularly defaults to maximum 100% contrast when processing with Adobe Camera Raw. I was surprised; that’s a bit extreme. But actually, it’s not. While 0% contrast is a useless setting in ACR or Lightroom, 100% does not reduce images to lith quality pure black and white. It is actually a useful setting.

9) Bracket Your Effects – Alamy, as an example, don’t like to see more than five ‘similars’ from a subject. If you must have five similars, make them five differents! For example, with some shots of a distinctive skyline rather than submit five straight-processed shots, I processed a couple of normal results, a warmer effect, a fake sunset colour and a fake moonlight colour. All used contrast, of course, and the variants used strong colour. Those coloured versions (achieved by changing the colour temperature during raw conversion) increase the chance of a sale.

Blarney House, Ireland – Shirley Kilpatrick. It just doesn’t look the same in colour!

10) Remember Black and White – this is a very, very important issue. Well over half all professional images sold to the public are monochrome. It’s a different medium and it can be hard to think black and white when shooting digital and defaulting to colour. B&W has great potential and you only need to study the search results from any on-line library to see just how little B&W is there, compared to the proportion of B&W used. I believe it will become more popular not less so. I am not suggesting you should shoot all the time for B&W, but when it seems to enhance an image, do not hesitate to use it.

These points are about the look of a processed image. To a degree, they may involve camera technique (lighting and exposure) but most of this is linked to how you process your pictures. Remember, if you use nothing but the default raw conversion or even in-camera JPEGs (good enough these days for stock) your pictures will look pretty much like all the other results on a search page. I am no-one to lecture on this, I am far too conservative and do not use strong enough processing settings. My images are too neutral.

11) Shoot vertical compositions as well as horizontal – this is extremely important not only for cover uses (a wonderful landscape-shape horizontal picture will rarely if ever make it to a cover use) but also for small spot illustrations. In the last 20 years, reprographic costs have been removed entirely with DTP-CTP (desktop publishing and computer-to-plate). This makes the use of single column colour photos cost effective. Most small illustrations work better as verticals.

12) Don’t crop your square pictures – if you work with a square format such as a Hasselblad CV16 back or 6 x 6cm rollfilm. Instead, try to compose them so that either a vertical or a horizontal image can be cropped out of them. Sometimes, the square format can be filled in a way which makes cropping difficult, but don’t worry. Here’s why: square images make HUGE thumbnails on Alamy compared to 35mm shape images. This does not apply to all libraries or websites, but it is likely to happen. Square shooters get a bonus. At the very best, they can file one single picture which can be used uncropped, vertical or horizontal – and they can get it shown at a size which dominates rivals. Create squarer formats from 2:3 35mm ratio pictures if you can.

Sold, for the cover of the town’s Ordnance Survey Map, by Alamy – fisheye view to look different. Vertical composition and low viewpoint – lots of my points on this page in one shot!

13) Shoot some fisheye and some panoramic versions – if you have the equipment or like the results. Don’t go overboard and shoot entire sets in panoramic format. Remember that for publication, extreme panoramas are unlikely to sell. The most common panorama shapes are DL (1/3rd of A4) and three-page gatefold. These are only a 3:1 ratio and a 2.12:1 ratio respectively. Website header pictures have a longer format generally. Thumbnails and previews of panoramic images can look very small – thumbs may be impossible to interpret.

This café terrace view in Marrakesh is shot by every tourist – but not every tourist is there at sunset on the last day of Ramadan, as the sun passes behind the Koutoubia mosque (a travel guide seller)

14) Use raised vantage points as often as possible – if there is a tower with a viewpoint, go straight for it. If you see access to any raised camera position, try it. Do not stay in the crowd at ground level if you can get a better camera position. Some positions are so well known that every tourist will be directed to them (the balcony or roof terraces of the cafés in Marrakesh’s Jemaa el Fna square for example), and these viewpoints have low originality value. Access to nothing more than a first floor window can give you shots of events, or places, which no-one else has taken.

15) Use low viewpoints too – (mainly effective with wide angle lenses) ranging from ground level to waist level, rather than always shooting from eye level. Make a habit of squatting down to get a slightly lower camera position, and checking the effect. If you can obtain a DSLR with a tilting or articulated rear screen allowing live composition, get one! Low viewpoints can be most effective with children and animals, but also can show adults from a child’s position; this has a powerful subconscious appeal to the viewer, which can range from appealing to theatening.

These five points cover aspects of format, composition, and viewpoint. But in practice, good stock photography demands much greater attention to composition than this alone, and returns to my point 2) about excluding distractions. Let’s just say that I use the two aspects of viewpoint mentioned – high vantage points, and low camera position – for the specific purpose of excluding or minimising irrelevant detail or distractions in shots.

16) Let your intentions be obvious, in terms of visual or photographic technique-effects. By this I mean things such as movement blur, action panned against a blurred background, differential focus effects, extreme horizon tilts, strong convergence, narrow focus zones created using products li
ke LensBaby. Do not ‘moderate’ your effects because you think they may be too strong. If you are going to use techniques which in a minor form resemble photographic faults, make them so deliberate it is clear they are NOT faults…

If you use something like differential focus, use it in a big way – sold to a UK tobacco trade magazine, fake fags

17) Emphasise the conditions, situation, weather, season, time of day or other factor which you might try to ‘correct’. It is better to make a cloudy sky look dark and stormy than to brighten up the picture and add a fake blue sky. Today’s picture buyers are looking for archetypes, pictures which sum up whatever theme they are trying to illustrate with your image. Don’t try to make a rainy windy day look ‘normal’ by waiting for a weak break in the clouds. Instead, concentrate on making the best rainy, windy shots you can imagine.

18) On location or out and about, choose your colour content carefully (point no 7). Be careful to exclude distracting coloured objects or details. If you can give your shot a definite dominant colour do so. Designers looks for colour to a far greater degree than photographers and will look for shots which completely exclude some colours and emphasise others. This can mean breaking that old (flawed) bit of advice about having a figure in a contrasting coloured coat, or whatever, in your shot. Study paintings and graphics. If you can, avoid including details which will detract. If you can’t get rid of them, consider selective colour adjustment.

A travel guide seller, probably not just because of the content, but because it has a strong simple colour palette

19) In the studio, style your shots. Make your own backdrops, buy unusual items, build miniature sets, acquire interesting props which can be used in many shots in different ways. Use colour themes (point no 7) to help you select all the things you can assemble when shooting still life. If your subjects are neutral, consider the idea of using coloured accent lighting but remember this should be what fills in the shadows, not what strikes the highlights and edges. Style your use of viewpoint and lenses and focus as well. Create a ‘look’ for your work so that if a whole page of your images is viewed, it has coherence in the scale and treatment of studio objects.

Reflection by backlighting boosts contrast in this studio shot, a seller which – because of current UK newspaper rates – didn’t quite pay for the chocolates themselves…

20) Use studio lighting contrast – digital images tend to have a very flat look, or to be too ‘linear’ in their rendering. They are the exact opposite of colour reversal film. From the 1970s onwards, we learned to use very soft diffuse lighting which worked well with the colour films of the time. Look back to the 1930s to 60s before studio strobe flash was standard, when theatre-style spotlights and floods were the best lighting tools. Digital can’t cope well with highlight overexposure, but it can look great with much more contrasty, direct, textural studio lighting. The problem is that many flash systems are far too powerful to do this, mine included. So I’m still working the old way with easygoing, frankly rather dull softbox lighting. I know this is lazy and I should be rethinking all my lighting styles. Classic Hollywood films can give some inspiration. Use shadows, use rim light, use backlight, use skims and accent lights.

These points are about the look of the picture and could be expanded in detail. What matters is that your pictures should HAVE a look, or a number of looks. Combined with the points earlier on, the ultimate aim would be that your work would be instantly recognisable if scattered through a search result page on Alamy. That’s harder than you think. When I set out as a freelance, my black and white prints were apparently in a class of their own because I used A4 paper when everyone still used 10 x 8, I printed a black border using masks when others did not or printed a raggy border from full frame. That distinction in presentation and size got me through many doors. Then when colour came in my studio was the first in our region to use colourful Fujichrome instead of tired old blue Ektachrome, the first to use Panodia flexible black masks to present our results, so that our images looked MILES better than the competing studios when seen by ad agencies and prospective clients. Even our lighting was better, modern UV-gold coated tubes instead of the high UV content old workhorse flash packs. Our colours were stunning and we took accounts off the ‘old guard’ studios effortlessly.

On the web, in picture library search windows, such distinctions are eliminated. Your image alone is seen alongside others. It has no special presentation, no visible hallmark of quality. Therefore by its visual look only it must stand out.

21) Shoot close (and medium if necessary) and far versions of scenes which allow it. Although a good large image file with plenty of space to crop small parts if necessary is the holy grail of stock, in practice thumbnails do this type of file no favours. If you have other images w
hich are likely to be shown as a set, including zoomed-in or closer views of key elements may either win you a sale of the close view or help sell a more distant one. Comps are limited in size, and having closer shots may serve in place of a zoom function which libraries don’t support. Ideally, on-line libraries would allow a 100% view of a section of every shot but that is rare. Certainly different crops into a scene are more useful as ‘similars’ than pictures taken with the same angle of view from viewpoints a few yards apart.

A typical ALCE contrast enhanced image. In the original, the yew trees are completely lacking the highlight and shadow contrast present in this result (not a sold image, and don’t expect it to be as it does not say anything, just an example)

22) Use local contrast enhancement in combination with wide radius soft masking. All the controls necessary to do this are present in Photoshop, but some of the off-the-shelf solutions can save you a great deal of time. Hunt down ALCE, or purchase Photoshop Actions from photographers like Yervant who make use of this technique. Taken to an extreme, it can give pictures an otherworldly look, rather like HDR but with a metallic desaturated feel. The overall effect is to boost the visual impact of textures, details and zones of lighter or darker tone in a way which improves thumbnails greatly. You can base your entire shooting style on this kind of post-processing to achieve a ‘look’ but you may lose sales as well as gain them.

Sedona’s Courthouse Butte with Moon, by Shirley Kilpatrick – Moon enlarged to 200% scale in Photoshop

23) Rescale significant elements which are too small to work. I don’t like dropping fake Moon images into scenes, though this produced great sales for past masters of slide montage like Chris Alan Wilton and Ed Nagele. However, I don’t mind selecting that circular Moon in a real live shot, and carefully rescaling it by 30% or 50% upwards in size. This can work for other elements in images, especially against white or plain backgrounds. Sometimes you can emphasise using very short or long lenses, but don’t forget, digital has given us the ability to make very subtle changes to images.

24) Remove distractions like wires or intruding irrelevant detail. Simply retouch them out on a version of your image, even if you offer both the original (no digital alteration) and the retouched version. State if you have retouched. It’s up to you what you think might deserve removal. Two cases where I’ve done so have been a Barbados street scene with local women, but an ugly power meter on the wall right next to them; and a 16th century castle with twin power lines neatly strung all the way in front of it.

Speightstown ladies, Barbados, original shot

Speightstown ladies, retouched to remove the singularly ugly stuff fixed to the wall!

25) Reshape people distorted by wide-angles! Whether you use a lens correction plug-in, a remapped utility like PTLens, simple Photoshop scaling controls or a ‘warp’ type reshaping function, do the best you can to correct the fattening of figures or stretching of face shapes created by far too many modern zooms and ultrawide lenses. Sometimes, in photojournalism, it’s not important and may enhance the image (Henri Cartier-Bresson’s famous first use of a Leica wide-angle 28mm Hektor, ‘Picnic on the Banks of the Marne’, is a great example where the distortion has made the picture what it is). But most of the time it simply looks wrong, and may prevent the image from being cropped as needed. You may say, don’t use the lenses involved, but that can mean sacrificing far more impact and creative control. Just try to make sure nothing looks WRONG or ODD in your shots.

Apart from point 21, which perhaps belongs with the arbitrary grouping of five points before it, these last considerations have more effect at comp/scamp download or view stage when the image is seen beyond thumbnail size.

26) Caption editorial concisely but with the maximum information. The ‘Caption’ IPTC field should be used as a sales clincher for editorial stock. If your caption alone was printed below the picture, it should be good enough for publication. Of course some shot
s will just need the name of item or place or a mere three or four words. But if you can write a storytelling, explanatory, enhancing caption then do so.

This is one of my most frequent repeat sellers, year after year. The caption detail is very specific as is the keywording, so it can be used for textbooks without any worry on the part of the publisher

27) Vary your keywording even if the subject is the same. This depends of the outlet involved, some will keyword for you and others use keyword selection methods which do no-one any good, buyer or seller, even if they keep it simple for the library. For Alamy, for example, if makes sense to have a complete set of keywords in their Comprehensive field which might be identical for five images. The more weighted Essential keyword field could be given just one different keyword for every image, or maybe a set of three in a different combination and order for every image. The better you can diversify keywords, the more potential users are likely to see your work. I’ve realised this far too late, and also find myself simply copying the same keyword sets because time is short and I’m impatient. But I know how it should be done even if I neglect to do it…

28) Upload work to as many tested and proven portals/agencies/outlets as possible, as long as their licensing models and acceptance procedures suit you. If you can, send different images not duplicates. The important thing is ‘tested and proven’. I do not try enough outlets, because there is not enough time. To test an outlet properly, several hundred images need to be filed and left for a year. The temptation to simply leave images on non-performing sites, because ‘it might sell for thousands’, is considerable. I would argue for closing accounts entirely on inactive sites, and making sure you actively promote those sites which work well for you. It’s very hard work to find, and to populate with images, new outlets.

29) Promote your work directly to known customers of your agency! I used to send sets of images out to magazines listed in various freelance newsletters, or found on the bookstalls, with a high success rate. My ‘response to requests’ often worked in the days of physical images presented in filing sheets, with documents and return postage paid. In contrast, I have tried sites which send out picture requests to their photographers, and wasted a great deal of time without success. You can create a better quality JPEG, larger than any preview on a library site, place it an email and create an embedded link so that if this image is clicked on, it leads straight to your image on sale. Do this with the right image, to the email of the right person, at a publication which has a deal with your online agency. It works for a few individuals I’m aware of. It is no accident that the same bylines crop up frequently in the same publications. Guess what? Picture editors actually like using images from photographers they ‘know’. Being proactive can increase your overall sales as well.

Gurus will sell you anything from hot leads to Search Engine Optimisation (sure, if we all do that, who ends up on top?). But stock sites can sell your SEO results in a different form!

30) Ignore everything written by all other stock photographers, photographic journalists and gurus! If they are working stock photographers, they will only be trying to mislead you slightly, being helpful but NEVER letting out what really works. If they are photographic journalists, I can assure you as one myself that they are just making it all up as they go along. That’s what journalists do in every instance which does not involve a direct quotation from a third party or a reference to a source. Now they may be making up good stuff, or complete rubbish. And if they are gurus, by which I mean they make money from providing workshops, insights, 1-to-1, seminars, books, subscriptions or other help-you-get-rich-quick secrets… well, they are helping themselves get rich by NOT doing what they are claiming to be so good at!

I am not entirely serious about this last point. Everyone has something to teach you, and if you ignore every bit of opinion and advice out there, you will be throwing away tons of free help. But you do need to be aware of where each source of help is coming from. You need to weigh up, filter and factor all the advice you get.

Often, the hardest advice to take comes from the agencies or libraries themselves. That’s because you really don’t want to hear it. They know the failings of images and the strengths of them. Most could provide you with a list of subjects they need, instruct you in the exact shooting style required, and tell you how many sales you would make. Welcome to the world of iStockphoto (etc) where thousands of photographers are given exactly this kind of information and do indeed sell many thousands of images – for small change.

I was there in 1972 when two men walked down a Sheffield street like this. No-one else was there with a camera – and if they had been, would they have seen the shot?

The most important lesson I ever learned in photography was the simplest – you can not take a picture without being there. The main reason for any picture being unique is because only one photographer was in one exact place at one moment, or only one photographer has ever been there. In stock photography (especially of the type mentioned above!) the great fear is that you will create a best-seller, an archetype… and then a thousand others will clone, copy, paraphrase or imitate your original idea.

‘Being there’ might be in the studio, with a particular model or models, or objects. It might be at the other end of the world. It might be at 3am, at twenty thousand feet above or below sea level, at 150°C or -40°C. It might be THAT position allocated by the authorities as the Royal wedding processes past. It might be the front row, when Bob Dylan walked on stage to duet with Jakob. It could be chance, planning, or foresight; it could be the result of great financial outlay, great physical or mental abilities, foolhardiness, endurance, or a flash of inspiration.

The first thing to do with anything new! Sold, but it’s not paid for the Mac yet… and it would have sold more in a modern office setting, not an IKEA wooden desk in an old house

What makes the best stock photographers able to live off their work is nothing more than this on an hour by hour basis. They are not sitting in front of this impressive big Mac screen for eight hours a day. What is in front of the camera, by whatever means, changes by the hour or by the minute. They either go to where the picture is, or bring the picture to where they are, or imagine the picture and then create it.

It might be one picture a day, five pictures a day, twenty a day, or a hundred a day. That depends on whether you are posing perfect horses in a studio, shooting a fake meeting in a borrowed office – or wandering through a market where they’re waiting for the first flights to arrive at the new airport next year.

Experienced stock shooters will know I have missed some key points in my 30, but those are all to do with WHAT or WHO you photograph, not how you photograph it. The critical aspects of human interest, our concerns with sex, beauty, death, money, food, shelter, health, conflict, freedom, repression, religion, art, culture, race, status, fashion, comfort, travel… these are all an entirely different topic. They are all connected with your subject-matter, the ultimate determinant of success or failure in stock sales.

– David Kilpatrick

All photographs © Icon Publications Ltd and have embedded metadata. Unauthorised uses will be found easily enough, the dogs have sharp teeth and long leashes! For authorised use, click on the image.


17 thoughts on “Thirty keys to stock photography

  1. Thanks for the solid 30 keys to stock photography, David.
    “The most important lesson I ever learned in photography was the simplest – you can not take a picture without being there”…. with a camera

  2. You certainly set yourself a big task David! There is so much in there to debate but I think I’d make the general comment that ‘rules’ can often be broken effectively to make an image that stands out from the crowd of generic stock. Of course a photographer has to have first learnt and mastered the rules to then reliably consider breaking them! An interesting read, thanks.


  3. David – I adopted your cropping advice from another posting you made about a year ago… cropping a good percentage of my 2:3 format Nikon images down (or up?) to the 4:3 format because a) they do look larger and more impressive as Alamy thumbnails, and b) the 4:3 format crops-off softer image corners.

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  6. Fantastic advice David, and thank you so much for offering so much advice to others on Alamy’s forum. This must consume a great deal of your time – most generous.

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  9. As usual great advice David.

    Much of it is not new to me but I have not always (or even often) paid proper attention or had forgotten it. Fortunately your pointing out this piece is timely as I am actually working to raise my photographic game now I can work at it as full time as I wish.

    Thank you, these comments and other ideas will play a major part in my business plan for 2014.