Inside the Mind of a Stock Library Picture Editor

If you have submitted stock and had your images rejected but felt you weren’t given a satisfactory explanation or the reasons were unjust then this article is for you.

I work as an Art Director and Photo Editor for a stock library and can give you direct access into the thinking behind why we reject images and what we are looking for in photographer submissions.

Yes there are the usual things we look for which every other article will tell you, composition, nice models, good lighting etc. etc. but these are so general that they don’t really deal with the nitty gritty of what makes or breaks a photo.

We see thousands of images, so for us a well crafted photo will stand out and is ultimately what we want to see. We sell images for all price levels from microstock to rights ready at the high end so we obviously have different criteria but apart from the market the image was intended for there are many similarities in what will make us want to take a picture across the board.

Travel Photos – Many amateur photographers upload images which could be construed as a little bit “snappy”. By all means take your camera on holiday as we always need good travel photos but be careful not to get carried away. What might look great in your photo album might not be suitable for commercial sales. We can only take images which are model released so be careful not to get passers-by in the shot and focus on getting some strong scenics or landmarks which sum up the location. For example if you’re in Paris, get some iconic Parisian shots but do it in a way that doesn’t look like what you’ve seen before. Experiment with different angles and times of day, get up early and catch that gorgeous dawn sunlight shining on the Eiffel Tower. There’ll be fewer tourists about and you can enjoy the city to yourself. One other thing, I see beautiful scenic shots of beaches and lakes but there is something in the foreground which takes away from the main picture. Watch out for branches, poles, trees, etc that might look heavy or distracting in the foreground and get in the way of an otherwise great shot. Finally remember to take notes on the location each photo was taken so you can add it as your caption when you upload your image. This information is vital if you want to make your image as saleable as possible as travel companies often need to illustrate a particular location and this is where the info will come in handy when the client is searching.

Studio shots – It seems that many microstock photographers are most comfortable shooting on a white background. I would always encourage photographers to challenge themselves and try something new. Even if it’s just a nice grey or beige background, try and mix it up. Stock libraries are saturated with microstock shot on white so try and stand out from the crowd. Shooting outside is always a good option especially in summer with nice light first thing or early in the evening.

If you are shooting still life, I can’t stress enough the importance of good, clean props. Firstly start out with a strong concept. If you don’t know what your image is trying to say then it won’t sell very well. Write down the concepts you want to convey and think about what client might buy the image. If you are unsure about concepts, check out some images in a stock library and see what keywords they have used. This will give you an idea of concepts and topics. Because all the focus is on the prop then it has to be in tip-top condition and the lighting has to work well. Avoid harsh shadows and keep angles simple. Experiment with crops but if the best angle is straight on then stick with that. Try to imagine a client using your image in a magazine or as an advert and how it would work, is it worth leaving copy space for text?

If you are shooting food, I would say this is one of the trickiest subjects to shoot and I would advise you research images on food/recipe websites to get an idea of the standard you should be aiming for. Many food photographers use a food stylist to make the food look appealing but you may not have this luxury. Stick to using raw foods and ingredients which are generally easier to get right. If you are using fruit or veg, make sure they aren’t marked and are the best quality. If you shoot fruit that isn’t ripe, or worse still over-ripe it will more often than not get rejected. Lastly if you add props such as crockery or table decoration, be sure these don’t detract from your food set-up. The styling is the key thing, get it right and you’re on to a winner.

Lifestyle – I think that to take a great lifestyle shot for stock is a specialised skill and a major achievement. Many photographers who haven’t ventured into stock may scoff, but the reality is that a good saleable stock image demands not only talent but also good pre-production and planning skills. Models need to be chosen carefully. If you are using friends or family as your models then this can be great for certain “natural” looking imagery but if you want to shoot a woman working from home, it may be beneficial to use an experienced model who will look great close up. Look for good skin, nice hair (no bright colours) and smooth hands and nails. Models need to be aspirational, they are the key to making your image commercial and making you money. Remember you are selling a lifestyle with your image, make it one that a viewer would want to buy into.

Business – Again styling is key here. Remember you don’t always have to put your models in full suits. Smart casual is also a good seller and more popular at the moment with buyers. The emphasis is on nicely fitted outfits that are well ironed, look up to date with fashion and are appropriate for the environment you are using for your location. Working from home is a great topic to cover but remember if you are using your own home to make sure it’s in tip top shape and all unnecessary bits and bobs are tidied away and replaced with carefully chosen props. If you are shooting in a studio be careful that the image doesn’t appear too basic, especially if you have chosen a white background. Studio shots are good for conveying concepts but they still need to be propped well and look as natural as possible. Keep in mind your three concepts you want to get across, for example teamwork, bonding, communication and make sure that every shot is relevant and conveys clearly what you are trying to get across.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times the importance of keywords, concepts and topics. In my next article I will go in to more detail and how you can use these effectively to give your images the best chance of selling.

For now though, happy shooting! Remember all photographers started somewhere and there is plenty of time to grow and develop all the skills you need to become a great shooter.