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10 Tips to Train Your Stock Photography Eye

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Developing your stock photography eye is very much about trends and quality. Stock photography exists to serve a market. This market changes with design trends, seasons, and the economy.
Stock websites demand high quality. At least the ones worth dealing with do. Lack of quality will reflect in lack of sales.
Training your photography eye to recognise what makes a good stock photo will help you sell your images.
Here are 10 tips to help you train your stock photography eye and improve your sales.

Composition Mastery
Profit from Portraits
Profit from Portraits
Learn how to turn your photography into a profitable business with this comprehensive guide.

10. Pick Your Niche in Stock Photography Eye

Stock photography is a massive international industry. It covers every style and photographic subject you can think of. You cannot play the field or be a jack of all trades and win.
You need to develop your stock photography eye to be able to discern what works well in a limited sphere.
What do you love to photograph? What are you passionate about? And what do you do the best?
Ask yourself these questions and choose your niche based on your answers. There’s no point in producing images in a style you don’t like or are not good at.
It can be tempting to spread yourself thin. Seeing the top selling stock photos and wanting to emulate them can be fruitless. In the long term, you will be far better off doing what you do well.
If you are just starting out and don’t consider you do anything well yet, try a few niches before sticking to one.

A portrait of a male model on white background - stock photography eye
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

9. Check Out Top Selling Stock Photos

Look at the work of photographers who are successful in the stock photography industry.
Research the best stock photo websites. See who’s selling the most in the same style that you like. Study what they do and question why it’s so good and so successful.
Stock websites are designed to be searchable. Narrow down your search to what you want and then order it so you can see results based on what sells best. Some sites will also allow you to sort by what’s currently popular. This can give you a better idea of what’s trending.
If you want to develop your eye for white background food photography, study the people who do this well.
Look at the way their images are composed and lit. Make notes on the subject matter they choose to photograph. Build up a folder or notebook of your observations that you can refer back to.
Don’t copy. Too much of this happens within the stock photo industry. Rather than ripping off someone’s ideas, be inspired. Add your own creative flare and you will be rewarded for it.
Take the best of what you see and improve on it. Experiment. Try new things. You may be surprised at how well a fresh new concept can sell.

A portrait of a female model on white background - stock photography eye
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

8. Look at Design Trends

Designers buy stock photos. They don’t care if you are an amateur or a professional photographer. They care that the images you are producing fit their needs. Their buying habits have a lot to do with guiding the industry.
Being aware of current, popular design trends is a good way to help train your stock photography eye. Look at what the hottest websites, magazines and printed advertisers are using.
Most big design and advertising agencies use a lot of stock photography. When they need something exclusive or can’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll commission photos.
Find a few designers or studios whose work you like and follow them on social media.
Don’t just follow some of the big players. Seek out design influencers whose work you admire and who use photos in a style you can emulate. Often it’s from the smaller studios that the freshest ideas appear.

A humorous portrait of a male model on white background - stock photography eye
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

7. Watch More TV

Not just TV, but YouTube, movies, and music videos. Don’t limit yourself to being inspired only by still images. Design trends in video are hugely influential on the industry these days.
Particularly look for styling and how still images are used within videos. Once you start to look, you may be amazed at how often photos are incorporated into video. Often these are stock images.
Get out your notebook and pen, or your note-taking app, and write notes about what you see. Include your thoughts and ideas you have while you are watching.
What inspires you? Why do you think this is a good idea? How can you emulate what you see as a series of stock photos?
Look beyond any branding, especially in commercials. Commercial stock photography is void of branding, so you’ll need to think in generic terms.

A white dove in flight - stock photography styles
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

6. Look at Dated Images to See Why They Don’t Sell Anymore

Stock photography has been around for quite a long time now. Trends change. Images that once sold well may not be so popular anymore. Look for these photos, they may help train your eye.
Consider the subject. Look at the context. Think about the concept. One or more of these elements will most likely still be relevant and just need a revamp.
Most importantly, discern why these images are dated. Why are they not selling so well anymore?
If the subject is outdated, update it. Mobile phones, computers, tablets all change their skins frequently. No one wants a five-year-old cell phone in their new advertisement or blog post.
Are there single-use plastic shopping bags or drinking straws in a photo? These have become unpopular in the past few years and new alternatives will work better in stock photos now.
Older stock images of smart technology or traditional energy use will also be affected by current trends. Think of ways to modernise once popular images.
Keep your niche in mind and begin to research. You will be able to come up with a long list of ideas based on them.

A stock photography portrait of a female model talking on the phone
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

5. Have a Consistent Style Throughout Your Portfolio

Finding your visual voice in the broad field of stock photography is not easy.
Stock photography, in particular, micro-stock or royalty-free stock, is generic. Breaking the mold and starting a new trend is extremely difficult. Possessing your own recognisable style is no mean feat.
Portfolios of stock photos demonstrating a consistent style are attractive to designers. If your stock images are a hodgepodge of styles it’s less likely to be returned to by buyers.
Begin to display a persistent look and feel to your collection of stock photos and buyers will know what to expect. Here’s how:

  • Make use of the same setups with varying subject material.
  • Take photos with the same lens.
  • Choose similar lighting configurations.
  • Post-processing your photos using dependable, homogeneous techniques will also help.
  • Use presets, either a set that you’ve downloaded or designed yourself.

Over time, the look and feel of your photographs will build a pattern buyers will appreciate when it fits their own style.

A stock photography portrait of a female model sitting on stone steps
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

4. Compose for Copy Space

Copy space, white space, or negative space in your photos is not a negative for designers. Stock photos containing space where text can be added and clearly seen sell well.
Portions of compositions that contain little or no detail are not regarded as passive backgrounds. These can be used to overlay text, graphics, and logos adding to overall design harmony.
Do not to leave large blank areas just because you think you should. Incorporation into the overall composition is vital.
Consider how you compose your photographs. Leave more space than you think may be necessary as this will give designers more scope in how they can use your images.
If you can’t find a balance, take a series of photos of the same setup. Process them in the same way and upload them all. Keyword those images with copy space accordingly.

A stock portrait of a male model on white background - stock photography eye
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

3. Follow the Website’s Editorial Guidelines

Stock websites employ editors to vet your images. If your photos are technically defective, they will not make the cut. You will be sent a rejection notice and the photos will not be put up for sale.
Each stock website has their own set of rules. Some are more strict than others. Fix issues such as focus, framing, chromatic aberration, and other faults digital images may contain.
Technology improvements mean it’s easier now to create technically robust stock photographs.
Exposing your photos well, paying attention to lighting and tone range within your photos is important. If you are overexposing or underexposing you are more likely to run into technical difficulties.
Too much post-processing of an image can also lead to problems.
Keeping the technical level of your photography higher will attract buyers. If you are sloppy in your methods you will be discouraged by poor sales.

A humorous portrait of a male model on white background - stock photography eye
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

2. Keep in Mind that Stock Photography Is About What the Buyer Wants

Much of what I have covered in this article already pertains to making not only good creative photography, but also good business. Once you start selling stock photos, you become part of the industry.
The more you can balance your creative eye with what you think will sell, the better off you will be.
To be a professional stock photographer, you will have to improve your photography in a business-like way.
I believe the biggest difference between amateur and professional photographers has little to do with photo quality. More relevant is that professional photographers must produce images for others. They must satisfy others and no just their own creative urges.
Professional photography is about making pictures that will sell. For anything to sell, there must be someone who wants to buy what you have to offer.
The more you can approach your stock photography with an attitude to please the buyer, the more images you will sell.
A close up of a coffee cup on a table - stock photography tips

1. Take a Variety of Photos to Notice Trends in What Sells and What Doesn’t

Taking more photos will increase your likelihood of success. Don’t process and upload every photo you take. Instead, analyse them. By careful review of your work, you will proceed in developing a good eye for what’s practical and what’s not.
Don’t take a whole lot of photos of the same composition with the same settings. Mix it up.
Change your camera angle. Adjust your aperture settings so you have a selection of both deep and shallow focus.
Use a slower shutter speed at times. Photograph the same landscape in the morning, day, evening blue hour and at night.
By building up a large body of work you will begin to see patterns in what sells well and what does not. This is valuable and will, in the future, save you time and make you more money.
Really working a scene or setup helps you develop new ideas.

A female traveller boarding a ttrain - stock photography style
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Conclusion: Street Photography Quotes

Follow these ten tips with your camera in your hand and your mind set on being successful as a stock photographer.
Balance the creative and business aspects, keeping in mind you are the producer of the images. It’s your expression with your camera that is unique.
Taking a professional approach means working within certain industry norms.
If you are serious about producing stock photography that sells, work hard at it. Study what’s required by the stock websites you choose to upload you photos to. Research what’s made others successful.
Add your own creative flare and take lots and lots of photographs.


Composition Mastery
Profit from Portraits
Profit from Portraits
Learn how to turn your photography into a profitable business with this comprehensive guide.

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