Composition is the key?

I'm not sure how many of you entered the micro-stock business as contributors, but I first started as a customer, mainly to get images for my web design company. I always appreciated the great diversity of pictures I found in micro-stock websites and the low rates they charged for those amazing photographs. Then, I started to create my own photos for the websites I develop and now I only buy the pictures I cannot shoot myself from various reasons.

But now I would like to talk a bit about the pictures and the composition. There are some pictures in here that are just amazing. You first look at them and say: "wow, now that is one picture that is probably selling like crazy". The colors are great, the picture is sharp and clean and still... the downloads are not as many as you first thought. One thing I discovered while working as website designer was that even if I had a great picture on my digital canvas, it didn't always fit in a particular website design. The story is the same if you want to include a photo in printed materials, product catalogues, labels and so on.

Most of the time, the designer has to crop the picture, resize or rotate it. It doesn't matter why. The website design is not usually made from a particular photo up, it's the other way around: a photo has to fit within a particular layout. Sometimes the picture you need to include has to be very large but you have to cut the height. Now, what would happen if your subject is all over the photo? By cutting the top and/or bottom of the image, the subject might be unrecognizable or too much details will be lost. There are some pictures that will fit perfectly and still give you plenty of room to manipulate the picture even further. Now, that is a good image for a designer to use in his or her project. Many of my photos were just unusable - even for my own projects. But I had the chance to shoot them again, this time with the project requirements in mind.

This is not the case with the pictures you send to a microstock website. You have to upload the most relevant pictures, and you rarely upload a better version of a picture afterwards. So, think about this aspect in the future and try to imagine your picture in various sizes (cropped, not resized). Does it maintain the original idea? Is your subject still there and looking great? How is the background affected if some parts of the picture will be cut out?

These are some pictures that will always look good. I tried to find a better replacement but I just couldn't. It's because they are perfectly composed:

Blonde nurse with her team in the background

A caring profession

A young caring doctor

Photo credits: Wavebreakmedia Ltd, Yuri_arcurs.
  • Coraldesign
Commercial photography, product photography, food photography, architectural and interior photography, macro photography.

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June 19, 2011

Yes Phil, you're right. It's a hot issue, especially when it comes to reviewers and the rules they use in order to accept or reject a photo. But let's get over the accept/reject issue. We all figure out sooner or later what it takes to get our photos accepted. Just having a photo on DT does not mean you will actually sell it. To earn more from a photo while complying with those acceptance rules, I believe you have to give designers a bit of creative space. Let's take your example: using the rules of thirds just step back a little bit to include more space around your subject and you're done. P.S. I really like the work you presented in your website, you got talent.


June 17, 2011

@coraldesign: yes I was being facetious. The point is you are not the first designer to bring up this issue and you won't be the last. I am a designer myself and have posted on this subject before. The DT staff have a habit of judging images based on their strength as photos rather than as elements in a design. For example rule of thirds. If the rule of thirds requires that the top of the subjects head is cropped so that the eyes are on the third line then so be it. It works as a photo but is unusable for me because if i want to isolate the subject and put them on a different background, the top of their head is missing. Trust me, it's been brought up many many times.


June 15, 2011

Ideally, when I shot with my Hasselblad, I would compose the square format so that it could be cropped practically any way, horizontal or vertical. Then I would put on a wider lens from the same vantage point and take another shot. This would give the art director plenty of options. Nowadays I can't do that for stock. The backed off version would be rejected for poor composition. Also, I find that verticals sell maybe 70% less than horizontals. Finally, I have had images rejected for not being sharp. I shoot RAW with no sharpening. Then, after I've "fixed" whatever bothers me about the image ( telephone wires! ), I size it then slightly sharpen it with unsharp mask. The buyer can sharpen it some more if he so desires. Since I haven't "over" sharpened it, some of my submissions are rejected for not being sharp at 100%. If I over sharpen them, then my images are rejected for "over-sharpening"! I'd love to submit everthing un-sharpened but neophyt buyers would not buy them because they would look unsharp or they don't know about unsharpmask! I'm damn if I do and damn if I don't. Incidentally, Dreamstime is excellent on it's acceptance rate ( at least with me ).


June 14, 2011

we should have more designers explaining these facts about the technical issues they have to deal with in working with our images! Also, DT editors should take these reasons into consideration before hurrying to reject some images for the "too many images from the same series" reason, when in fact, as a photographer I'm trying to get several various images having in mind different possibilities of them being used by designers!


June 14, 2011

@Digitalexpressionimages: Good point :) but I never thought (nor hoped) that DT team will actually read this article and change their acceptance rules. In fact this article was triggered by one article written by @Haslinda regarding landscape vs portrait formats. I wanted to point out one aspect that made me choose one or other photo based on proportions, framing and things like that. To be more specific, look at the 2nd and 3rd picture I added on my article (yuri's photos with the young doctors holding a clipboard). I could use them in a website layout very easily. I was able to cut from the bottom almost half of it and still - the picture remained representative for a hospital scene. If you do this on other pictures in the catalogue, there will remain no recognizable doctor because the stethoscope will be almost completely gone and the scrub will not resemble a scrub but an ordinary piece of clothing.


June 14, 2011

I agree wholeheartedly about composition being the key factor. Thanks for sharing your comment in my blog and expanding it further in this article.


June 14, 2011

So you're actually writing this blog in the hopes the DT staff read it and are convinced by the argument. I have had more images rejected for "poor composition" while trying to do exactly as you suggest, then I care to think about.


June 14, 2011

This is very useful and interesting topic that i should have in mind when taking photo in the future. Thanks for your feedback..


June 13, 2011

I like your blog. Very interesting. Thanks :).


June 13, 2011

Thank you for sharing the consumer side of the equation ... always helpful


June 13, 2011

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing!


June 13, 2011

yes, exactly as Xiaofeng123 said below, there's more potential in a photo if the designer can play with the image a bit. I'm not saying this is a proven fact, it's just something I noticed while working with the images: I end up with images that will fit in my particular design and discard other pictures that might look better at first sight.


June 13, 2011

It's always helpful to hear from designers!


June 13, 2011

This is very helpful information. I will think about it when shooting.


June 12, 2011

so you mean the picture must give the designer enough space for creative work.