The Process of Creating a Stock Image on the Fly

A professional photographer, when doing commercial photography, will know in advance what the shot will be. He plans the shot either in his mind or with paper and pencil, figuring out the composition and lighting, along with any consideration for special techniques or effects. He then carries out the plan.

We amateurs usually take what is essentially a snapshot, a photograph "of the moment." However, we still need to think through a concept as a situation develops.

The photograph I am showing here, Man Pruning Hedges, was just that: Taking advantage of a spontaneous moment while doing chores around the house. That doesn't mean we can't carry out a plan "on the fly." Can you look at the image and guess some of the processes that were done in creating the scene?

Even though the image is done outside, a professional would have lit the scene better with reflectors and/or off-camera lights. Not having the means to do this doesn't mean there was no consideration with the lighting; it took about 50 shots (yay for digital!) using a mounted flash to where DT wouldn't outright reject the image. Yes, we may be working on the fly but you can still take time to get things right. There were high, hazy clouds in the sky which took away the blue from the sky but were not thick enough to keep the day from being sunny. There are trees off-camera that put the main scene in the shade. The shade is why a flash was used even though it was virtually a sunny day.

Some of the shooting involved getting the composition right; it made a big difference how the man was standing and the direction he was facing. Also, we got some safety glasses to wear. They don't look like safety glasses but it was the only prop we had; it was a consideration done on the fly thinking some Buyers might pass over the image if it did not have a detail for safety.

After basic photo-editing the image was sent off to DT and was promptly rejected. Despite the considerations taken, the image still failed because of lighting.

It was back to photo-editing; the house in the background was brightened up. Above the man's head were trees in the distance; they were taken out and a blue sky put in to help with brightening things up and composition. The image was resubmitted and accepted.

Still, the overall lighting of the scene could have be better had the proper equipment been used. The face of the man is right on the gutters in the background which affects the composition.

Just because the image is "good enough" to qualify for DT standards does not make it a great stock image. The best selling point of the image is there isn't much competition for this type of an image. Buyers are hungry for images of "People Doing Things." Professional photographers generally don't do scenes like this because of the time and money involved for doing it right, and that is an advantage for us amateurs. But we amateurs have to produce professional quality images even when we're doing on the fly "snapshots."

So... what is the process of creating a stock image? The best stock images are those that have been thought out and planned in advance. Think of a concept and develop a way to create it. Even the most inexperienced amateurs can produce great images if they think things through.

But doing it on the fly with no planning, that's how we amateurs generally operate; here are some guidelines to think about when we're just grabbing the camera:

1. Recognize an opportunity when it happens and be thinking "STOCK." It's easy to snap images of sunsets and old barns; those are "PRETTY PICTURES." Pretty Pictures may be legitimate subjects but they are NOT stock!

2. Lighting! Lighting! Lighting! Sun, shade, walls that are reflecting a bright sun, shadows from trees. Some of you have never thought of using a flash on a sunny day. Some of you don't know about pointing a flash at the ceiling and "bouncing" the light when inside a room.

3. DETAILS: Is a shirt tucked in funny? Are there trademarks that will be difficult to remove? In this example safety glasses were used in case a Buyer was concerned about safety. Details!

4. Composition and background still matter; don't be focused on the concept, be focused on the scene

5. Photo-editing; will you be able to fix any issues from the scene? Can you see the image on the computer before you take it and know what you'll have to do, or how to compensate to avoid having to edit out an issue?

I know a lot of this may be common sense, but the image I am using as an example, it took about 45 minutes to shoot and another two hours to edit, counting the extra time used after the initial rejection. There was no way a quick snapshot was going to get past the Reviewers with all the issues behind this image.

So... you brand new folks getting a lot of rejections, there is a lot more to stock than you may realize. You look at an image like this and say "I can do that!" Yes, you can do this, but is it that simple? When you browse the database, can you start recognizing the work that went into an image? Can you see how the light was used? Any post-processing? How it could have been done better?

Going back to the image in my example, I feel it could have been done better and barely meets DT standards. Despite this, it has earned its first sale, but only because it lacks any real competition. When we amateurs recognize opportunities like this and work on the fly without proper planning, you can't forget about the various fundamentals required for creating an acceptable STOCK image.

Being an amateur stocker doesn't mean you can't produce professional images, being an amateur really means you have to think and work harder about what you're doing. I know from experience being an amateur finds you grabbing the camera and shooting something without thinking on the fly. The image I used in this example, I avoided making past mistakes by thinking about what I was doing and taking time to work through issues. Even though the image could have been better, addressing the issues on the fly prevented it from being rejected as a substandard snapshot and it has earned its first sale.

Thanks for reading and I hope this helps people who are new to stock.

Photo credits: Wisconsinart.

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December 08, 2010


Very good advice. Thank goodness for digital! Can you imagine what it would take to produce stock images of this quality the old fashioned way?

November 23, 2010


Sometimes I take a few shots of the same thing and use them all ;) Sadly, I find that despite the extra effort on ones like this raking one, I have images that are much simpler to produce that sell much better...

 Man doing chores 

November 22, 2010


So glad to know I'm not the only one who takes dozens of shots to get one half decent image! Great blog!

November 22, 2010


very good blog, thanks for the advices! :-)

November 20, 2010


A good photo does not mean a Stock image always. But a stock image is - must be a good photo at least to be qualified.

The more photo you shoot the better results you are going to have. It is so simple. Reading and checking what others do and improving your skills and equipment is also a necessity.

A good lighting means really too much for stock photo. White is the most important colour many times , if you consider the images are being used for printing in white pages of magazines and brochures.

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