There is a lot of misconception among first time stock photo contributors about the kind of images that sell well as stock. They feel if an image has the X-factor it must be a good stock photo as well. They feel swayed when their peers, colleagues and friends on social media leave rave reviews for their images. They feel those images would sale like hot-cakes on Shutterstock or iStockphoto too. They are disappointed when that don’t happen. Looking for microstock secrets? Don’t believe everything you hear, and certainly don’t have pre-conceived notion about all things.

Microstock can be a very frustrating experience if you are just getting started. So, don’t add to that pressure. The demand for stock photos, at least those which are meant to be licensed for commercial use, are directly linked with advertising, marketing and promotional requirements. Such use require a certain level of quality that is impossible with a half-hearted approach. You have got to raise not only your shooting prowess but also your editing skills to be able to taste success as a microstock photographer. At the same time you need to do a lot of research.

A Different Ball Game

Stock photography is a completely different ball game. This is not your average daily point and click photography. The quicker you realize this the faster you will be out of the learning curve and start making a bit of money for yourself. Images that go viral on social media might have that oomph factor but those don’t necessarily translate into cash cows. Visually aesthetic imagery may not translate into great stock imagery, though the reverse is almost always true.

images that sale as stock

Visually aesthetic imagery may not translate into great stock imagery though the reverse is mostly true

Stock photo buyers rarely look for fine art style photos of sweeping vistas. Neither do photos of the prettiest flowers from the local park would interest them. That image of a hummingbird which received 300 likes on Facebook? Chances are it will be pass too. Photos such as these do have their own selling propositions. Sometimes they get downloaded for use in calendars, travel brochures or even blogs, but those are not the type of imagery that can promote products or send across marketing messages; avenues that bring the maximum amount of money. Unless of course these were shot in some context and in a way that fits the marketing needs of a business, images such as these will sell slow, if at all.

So, what kind of images do well? – Images that have space for copy

Images that are simple to understand, have no hidden undertones, are clean, well composed and lit, and have been properly post-processed have the highest chance of getting sold. Images that have some space to put content in, are generalized, in the sense they can be used in different types of marketing campaigns do well too.

tips on shooting stock photos

Leave space for copy

The above image has ample space for a copywriter to put in a line or two. Images such as these can be used by businesses to send holiday wishes to their customers and patrons – a reason why this image is likely to see more sales.

Microstock secrets for post-processing

In a previous article on the importance of post-processing and how it can help increase the sale of stock images, some key points were addressed. One should should keep those in mind when post-processing one’s images. Cropping e.g., is an important part of the post-processing workflow because this is when you eliminate elements at the fringe of your frame which you did not mean to capture in the first place.

Wide angle lenses can at times capture more than you intended to. To compound your woes entry level (and even some semi-professional) cameras don’t show you 100% of what the camera sees when you look through the viewfinder. This means you inadvertently capture elements that are ‘outside’ the frame. Cropping is one of of those microstock secrets that allow you to eliminate all of that.

Post-processing for stock

Pay careful attention when post-processing your images

More is certainly not merrier when it comes to stock imagery. I am referring to elements in a frame. Simple, clean compositions make for better stock imagery than ones that have a lot of clutter and overlapping elements in them. Images that have been shot in artistic style in harsh light or post-processed in black & white with dramatic clarity are another example. These, however, would make for great street and documentary style images. Some photographers make decent amount of money selling these as fine art prints. But they will likely not make great visuals to market brand names.

Images which are clean

Clean can be interpreted in a sense that is both aesthetic and signifies clarity. I’ll explain both contexts. An image that conjures multiple emotions is not necessarily an image which is confusing; well, as long as it does not have a visual clutter. Thus, an image of a single tree, composed so that it stands on the left of the frame with the horizon line splitting a grassy meadow and a blue sky in half can be a good stock image for a number of reasons.

shoot clean images for stock

Visually clean images work best

The image above can be interpreted as something that stands for success, triumph, simplicity, loneliness among other things. But you cannot have an image of a forest (an image depicting visual clutter) with anywhere near the same impact.

Looking for sure-shot microstock secrets? Here’s one you can’t afford to miss. Clean has an aesthetic implication as well. This refers to something called digital noise. Images with noise are rejected outright by reviewers. Digital noise is sometimes artistically compared to film noise, which is not the same. Digital noise happens usually at higher ISO, affect smaller sensor cameras more, and when you fire long exposures. Noise is compounded when the resolution of the sensor increases. Thus, maximum noise happens when you shoot with a small sized yet high resolution sensor at night time, especially when shooting long exposures.

Make it a habit to check each of your images for noise and apply some noise reduction if necessary. Also, make it a point to review your images in full size, preferably on a large computer screen, to locate lens spots, sensor dust and dead pixels. There are many different ways to remove noise and sensor spots from your images. I will discuss some of them in a later article.

Post-processing your images can take a lot of your time, but it is one of the best kept microstock secrets and a reason why professionals tend to get more images accepted than amateurs. They have great attention to detail. Amateur photographers find this a tedious task. Here’s one of the most important microstock secrets – if you can employ the services of a professional image editor by all means do that. is a great resource you can look into to outsource your post-processing tasks.

Ben Novoselsky

Ben Novoselsky

CEO and Founder at
Entrepreneur, geek, photo enthusiast.
Ben Novoselsky

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