How to buy equipment for Stock Photography Part I - Dreamstime

© Dacky
I have some tutorial videos on YouTube and I got an email from a guy about something that comes up very often in message boards, forums and so on so I hope I will be able to clear it out in the next two articles. The email said something like “I like the tutorial videos you did and I want to get into stock photography but I only have a small 10 mpix digital camera so can you recommend what should I buy before I start taking pictures”. Now I told this person – Its good enough. And I know that maybe a lot of you reading this are thinking something in the lines – what is this guy talking about a 10 mpix camera is not good enough for stock . Well it depends. Do you think that having a 36 mpix dslr will make it easyer for somebody who has never done a stock picture to get accepted in a micro stock website. I am not completely sure. The other thing behind my statement is – the most important thing is to start taking pictures.

I’ve done it and I keep doing it and I’m sure a lot of other photographers can confirm. We make excuses not to take pictures – … if I only head that extremely fast lens, if I had just one more flash I would make the greatest pictures but now I can’t … I’ll wait until I buy it and then it’s the next piece of equipment and the next one. We as photographers love equipment but don’t get caught in that game - grab your cameras and take pictures. Read about composition, watch tutorials and whatever else gets you fired but get your feet wet.

Anyway I hope reading this you will be able to get a good Idea of how you should build your equipment so u don’t make my mistakes - get one thing then get the same one better and then redo it with another brand and lens mount .

Let’s start with the cameras – So u want to buy a camera and make cash from stock photography. Buying a camera is a painful process for a lot of people and I’m one of them but if you want to shoot stock here are some tips and considerations before spending money.

First is your budget – I guess if you are on a unlimited budget you would not be reading this so I will not deal with this situation . Let’s say you want to go with the cheapest solution possible. Get a compact camera that has manual controls. I’m not recommending particular cameras but the idea is if you can control every aspect of the picture then it’s all in your hands. Being able to set the shutter speed and the aperture means you are able to make the picture like a pro is able to. So set the shutter and exposure take a picture and look at it. Is it under or overexposed. Readjust and take it again, in a week you will be able to make decisions about exposure very, very quickly and accurately. Manual focus is also important, maybe that extra sharpness in the picture is not there - try to refocus manually and see if it helps and don’t forget always to use the lowest possible ISO setting since digital noise is one the biggest problems with getting your photos accepted. Because photography is the process of capturing light you might want to get an extra reflector that will help you soften the shadows in your images but we will deal with that later.

Now consider when buying a camera this – some compact cameras are more expensive than a used DSLR so maybe you can check ebay for a used DSLR in the same price range as your compact camera. The compact camera that I have is made by Casio - shoots JPG but also RAW fiIes. I can manually adjust everything and it costs about 100 USD used.

Buying a DSLR is even harder than buying a compact camera but let’s say you are in middle low budget situation you should consider getting an entrance level DSLR. Maybe with a kit lens and maybe a fast prime lens like 50mm 1.8 or short zoom - 17-50 2.8. This will give extra flexibility and still keep you within your budget. Another thing about DSLRs is that once you buy three or four things for it it’s hard to start all over and change brands and get everything once again so if you decide to get married to Sony or Pentax and invest in their equipment it will be hard and expensive to switch to Nikon or Canon later so pick your poison wisely. Another thing is don’t jump on expensive camera body and buy crappy lenses . In the long run you will be better off getting an inexpensive body and nice lenses . A camera body is easy to change - todays bodies in a year will be cheap. The other case is - trying to get rid of 5 crappy lenses is always hard and time consuming. So invest in nice lenses and consider carefully how much you drop on a camera body.

Now let’s say you want to get a nice setup from the start and not deal with it later – forget it. You will always look for new stuff to add and new lenses to get but go ahead and buy a prosumer or professional body and maybe 2 or 3 fast lenses. If you are doing that make sure you cover the whole range of focal lengths. Meaning – you have a wide angle lens – 17 or even 12 mm to say a lens that goes to 200 mm. Also make sure that your lenses are fast 70-200 2.8 is a must. Maybe a 17-35 2.8 and a 17-80 2.8 a prime or two – 90mm 2.8 and 35mm 1.8 a macro lens or a long long 500 mm. Something in these lines but then you are in a situation where you will walk with a big and heavy camera bag and maybe now u envy the person that you see on the streets with his huge camera and big lens but once you carry around 8 pound camera for 5 or 10 hours I don’t think you will be that exalted about big cameras anymore .

The bottom line is make sure the camera that you get will make sense for you. Read about the cameras that you consider and read the bad reviews don’t read the good ones. If it’s somebody who says the packaging sucks it’s one thing but if people say that the sensor has a lot of digital noise at 400 ISO that’s a completely different story.

You might think why I am not recommending particular brands or configurations. The reason is that nobody paid me to do so and even if they did I will still not recommend a crappy camera or a lens but if you want me to say something like that reach me at @cookingstock. However I will give credit to a website that has helped me a lot – is to my knowledge the best camera and lenses site on the net. So jump on it and read what they say about your picks.

Now back to capturing light. Let’s say you got the camera but you can’t exactly get the light right to get that pro image look. Here I will recommend get a tripod first and use it. I don’t want to explain how to use a tripod and if you don’t know stop reading and forget about cameras and lenses. Why a tripod – it will give you sharpness. It will allow you to close the lens extra and lower your ISO.

Then a reflector is great addition. There is tutorials online of how to make one but I’ve made so many of them and they all ended up in the trash , maybe it’s a good solution for a beginner but don’t get Starbucks for a few days and spend 30 or 40 bucks on a cheap reflector online . It will pay off .

Flash is another thing that you should consider. The integrated camera flash will not do the job . Get an extra flash or two - they are not cheap but there is pretty much nothing to replace them. Also make sure you can use them remotely – wireless, with a cable or with a light sensor that will make it fire when your on-camera flash fires. Also in this case make sure you turn of your red eyes reduction from the camera menus. Using off camera flash will get you in another trouble. Where do you put them and how do u soften the light but I will address this in the next post where I will look deeper in advanced equipment for stock photography. I hope this was helpful and remember have fun while you pick you cameras and make pictures.

Photo credits: Alexander Nikolov.

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March 02, 2012


Many good points in your article. I think, you don't need super fast lens, the latest cameras, more megapixels to have photos accepted. But you still need to have decent camera with a reasonable lens, that gives you results without too much noise and sharp. With camera on the "border" for image quality, you just become extremely frustrated with many rejections because of the technical quality. Better equipment saves you lots of extra work and let you concentrate more on photography rather then editing :) that's my opinion.

February 18, 2012


Many people posting on dpreview are infatuated with fast lenses that are capable of taking a photo in the most difficult lighting situation, have shallow DOF which is all good in general. But for stock one needs ideal or close to ideal lighting. Unless some news breaking editorial, pictures taken in difficult light situations are not going to get accepted. Now I am not saying one should buy crappy lenses. I found that investing in lighting equipment like soft-boxes muslin backgrounds and such bring you much more successful images for stock than a 24Mpixel camera.

February 18, 2012


Thank you for the comments and I am sorry that it was not formatted the first time but this I fixed already . About fast lenses in stock photography . I see your point Bradcalkins but here is my idea - if you go out and shoot and your wides apperture is 5.6 you will have to close to at least f8 to get a nice sharp picture . Now on the other hand if you start with 1.4 lens at f4 or f5.6 you will be in the sweet spot so this way you save at least 2 stops light that you might have to compensate otherwise . But great point .

February 17, 2012


I love fast lenses, but I have a very hard time justifying them for stock photography use. I find that it is a rare image where I want very thin depth of field for stock. It tends to limit use and is a source of rejections. Stock photography is an interesting field as on the one hand there is a sort of reward for higher resolution, but at the same time you get the buyers attention with a thumbnail - so more emphasis on composition, lighting, and color is key. Beyond a basic modern kit (slr with zoom, macro and inexpensive prime) there is little improvement in earnings with better gear - in my opinion.

February 17, 2012


You make some very good points about getting out there and practising with your existing gear, rather than daydreaming about better equipment. After all, people like Ansel Adams did OK with their "primitive" gear, did n't they ?
But can i make a small suggestion for future blogs ? This article would be a lot easier to read if you had broken the text into several paragraphs. No offence intended.....

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