Every genre of photography is full of little nuances — and stock photography is about as full of quirks as Willy Wonka. Shooting stock photography is a balance between art and business, between crafting a visually interesting image and creating a useful graphic. Sometimes, essential elements get lost in that balancing act. Shooting a successful stock photo isn’t just about what you do, it’s also about what you don’t do. We asked Adobe Stock what the most successful stock photographers do — and what they don’t do.
A search for “cat” on Adobe Stock turns up “only” about 644,441 results. Successful stock photography isn’t just about taking good pictures, it’s also about taking good pictures that fulfill a need for a certain subject. Before investing time into a shoot designed specifically for stock, do your research and find out what’s already available and what’s missing. For example, cat may have a lot of results, but the second result for “cat at a pet store” shows a cat inside of a refrigerator and “cat at pound” has just 343 results, suggesting that a cat at the right place might meet a need that’s not already filled for designers looking to encourage cat adoption.
One of the reasons Adobe Stock is so popular is integration with Creative Cloud, which means stock buyers can search, edit and license images all inside their desktop apps. The customers who buy stock photos aren’t the same customers who might buy a photo to use as well art. As you shoot, think like a graphic designer, not just a photographer. Designers look for images that have space for text, for example. Designers may also look for a series of related images for a longer work, or look for photos with a specific color scheme.
Along with choosing the right subject, photographers can increase the chances of getting the sale by taking final steps to make sure the image is as close to perfect as possible. Polishing a photo inside Lightroom or Photoshop helps the shot to stand out. Check for things like a crooked crop, inaccurate white balance, distractions, trademarks or logos that need to be removed, along with editing decisions that affect the overall mood of the shot, like tweaking the colors and exposure.
Naming a stock photo isn’t like naming the Mona Lisa. When uploading a photo, give the image a name that’s both descriptive and simple. The best photo titles explain what’s happening in the photos without being too vague or too long. Titles are factored into the search results, so a good title can help get your photo in front of the right buyer.
Titles go hand-in-hand with keywords to put your photo at the top of the search results when buyers look for a specific image. When you upload a submission through the Adobe Stock contributor portal, their auto-keywording tool will suggest a series of keywords. Start by looking through these suggested keywords and remove any that don’t apply to the image. Next, add your own keywords, starting with the most specific, such as the objects in the photo, and getting a bit wider as you progress, like actions, colors and places. Keywords can be concepts as well, such as if your image portrays a certain emotion. Be sure to order the keywords starting with the most relevant and ending with the least relevant.
Keywords help stock photography sell — but there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Adobe Stock recommends no more than 30 keywords, so stick at or under that number, keeping the most relevant in the list. Other keyword don’ts include using camera data, terms that aren’t related or keywords that are too descriptive.
Horizontal images are popular — but sometimes designers are looking for an image to fill a specific space. Don’t shoot in landscape orientation by default, mix it up with some vertical shots too. Using a different aspect ratio, besides the traditional 3:2, like a 1:1 (Instagram, anyone?) or a 16:9 can help fill different design needs. You can upload multiple variations with the same subjects, and shooting a series often doesn’t take much longer than shooting a single photo once everything is set up. Including a few different orientations and aspect ratios can help designers find the photo that’s perfect for their project.
Violating the rules is one of the quickest ways to make sure your image isn’t accepted into Adobe Stock. Images with recognizable people need a model release, while recognizable architecture requires paperwork as well. Images with intellectual property, which includes items like an iPhone that can be recognized from the photo, cannot be used for commercial projects, which limits the buyer. Read up on the legal guidelines on the Adobe Stock contributor HelpX page before you start shooting to make sure you’re full covered.
Stock photography isn’t the same as it was ten years ago. The most popular images are authentic, not the overly posed shots that were once popular. There’s still a need for images of people in business suits — but showing businessmen and women at work, rather than shaking hands on a white background, is likely to bring you more sales. Understanding current imaging trends can help give you identify which images will sell.
While shooting stock is about photography, selling stock is often about meeting the needs of stock buyers. Learning the tricks particular to stock photography can help you navigate the platform — and sell more images.