It’s not just a numbers game! Here are our own top contributors’ tips on refining your collection so that you, too, will get noticed.
You’ve heard it before: “Stock photography is a numbers game.” If you submit more images, you’ll show up in more searches and make more sales. That’s all true. Take a look through the portfolios of top contributors on Shutterstock and you’ll see highly diverse and varied images, covering all sorts of topics and themes.
But stock photography (and illustration) isn’t just a numbers game, and we don’t recommend uploading every single image or video you take. Shutterstock is home to hundreds of millions of images (with an additional 1,389,474 added each week), and the community just celebrated a landmark$1 billion in contributor earnings. To stand out from the crowd and attract buyers, top contributors aim for quantity, but they’re also rigorous about quality. They only submit a fraction of the images they produce.
Spend time on your footage in order to produce quality work. Video by railway fx.
“It is better to spend more time in post-production creating one perfect piece of footage than it is to make and submit ten average videos,” Moscow-based photographer and videographer Andrew Voskresensky from railway fx explains. It’s a sentiment that’s been echoed time and again by the artists we interview for the Shutterstock blog.
We asked eight Shutterstock contributors (photographers, illustrators, and videographers) from around the world how they curate their stock portfolios for maximum impact. Here are their tips.
Submit one perfect image over several average ones. Image by Lolostock.
Keep Only Your Most Technically Perfect Photos
Issues like noise, dust, chromatic aberrations, out-of-focus subjects, and over-sharpening are all cause for stock photo rejection. So, don’t waste your time trying to “fix” obvious and significant problems in post. Instead, skip the hassle and save your energy for perfecting only your best images.
“When deciding what to submit from a shoot, my typical workflow starts by flagging all the shots that are in focus,” lifestyle photographer Logan Bannatyne of Lolostock tells us. “If I can’t count the hairs on a model’s head, it’s not sharp enough!”
Start by flagging all of your photos that are in focus. Image by Roberto Vivancos.
Select Images with Commercial Appeal
Your favorite pictures won’t necessarily be your best sellers. You also need to be able to envision them in a commercial setting. Ask yourself, “Could a brand use this image to market their products or illustrate their mission?” If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track. If not, your image might be excellent but not well suited to stock.
“I recently switched to Capture One, and the first thing I do is to perform a first pass through the photos, labeling the ones I think are marketable,” London-based photographer Roberto Vivancos explains. Consider adding this extra step to your workflow to filter out any photos that won’t sell.
Envision your photo in a commercial setting. Image by Masson.
Get Rid of Similar or Duplicate Images
“With practice, we’ve learned that you have to avoid submitting images that are too similar, as they can negatively affect the portfolio as a whole,” the team at Masson Photos explains.
Variety is always a good thing, but image-buyers don’t have the time to look through pages and pages of identical images. If you can’t tell the difference between photos or illustrations (or they vary in tiny, imperceptible ways), it’s not worth your time editing and indexing them all.
Choose one or two and leave out the rest. When deciding which images to keep, think about practicality and usability. For example: Is there enough copy space for designers to use? Can the image be cropped for different formats online and in print? These slight variations can help you determine which image to choose in the case of a tie.
With similar images, choose a couple and leave the rest out. Image by Ingrid Maasik.
Take the “Thumbnail Test”
Top stock images convey a message or a story quickly and effectively, and there’s one simple way to “test” if your photo or illustration does that. “I look at the photos I intend to submit as thumbnails,” Bannatyne explains. “If a photo doesn’t ‘pop’ as a thumbnail, I won’t submit it.”
Run a Search on Shutterstock
Some topics have already been covered extensively, so take the time to ask yourself if your images add something new or different to the mix.
Submit unique images. Image by 13 Phunkod.
“If I discover that Shutterstock already has many shoots that are extremely similar to mine, and mine is not unique in some way, then I might just leave those photos out,” nature photographer Ingrid Maasik tells us. “If Shutterstock has no similar photos, that’s a special occurrence, and Imake sure to submit any work I have on the subject.”
Ask for Feedback
When in doubt, bring in an outside pair of eyes. Ask your fellow artists if you can’t decide on one image over another, and reach out to friends and colleagues in the advertising world to help determine what kinds of pictures sell in the commercial sphere. If you’re working with models, stylists, and makeup artists, bring them into the fold. They might notice attributes and flaws in your images that you would’ve missed on your own.
An extra pair of eyes can aid in selecting the right photo. Image by Lolostock.
Focus on Images You Can Keyword
Another quick “test” to try is the keyword test. When editing your images, think about what kinds of keywords you’d add to them. If it fits popular search terms on Shutterstock, or immediately sparks some great keyword ideas, it’s probably a marketable image. Go ahead and include it.
Have multiple photo options for buyers to consider. Image by Alex Linch.
Curating is important, but you don’t want to limit your earning potential by cutting out images unnecessarily.
“At the beginning of my time on Shutterstock, I chose the photos that I uploaded very carefully,” street photographer Alex Linch tells us. “I worked as a curator in a contemporary art gallery, and I was used to choosing only what I thought were the very best works when creating an exhibition. I applied that principle to stock, as well, but I discovered quickly that it was not a good decision, for several reasons.
“When you upload only one to three photos from a series of thirty to forty, they will be less visible and less likely to show up in searches. I am not talking about uploading the same frames made with continuous shooting, where you need a microscope to tell the difference. The photos should all be different, of course, but you should have multiple options for buyers to see.
“Keep in mind that you are not necessarily selling a finished artwork, since it will often be changed by the designers who buy it. They all have different tastes, so what appeals to one, might not appeal to another. When I became more relaxed about the photos I had in my portfolio — and those I deleted — I discovered that sometimes photos I didn’t like as much, or hesitated to publish in the beginning, sell much better than those I think are really good.”
View your work from the clients’ perspective. Image by Sandor Szmutko.
Take a Few Passes
You don’t have to do all your editing in one batch. Instead, break it up by running an initial pass, then going in and curating further with fresh eyes.
“I curate and edit all my photos by myself,” UK-based news photographer Sandor Szmutko tells us. “I go through all my photos straight after a shoot to delete duplicates and choose which images to keep or cut. I then do another round of editing later, during post-processing and uploading. You always need to look from the clients’ perspective and think about what will interest them.”
Follow your instincts and submit the work that makes you proud. Image by Olga Korneeva.
Trust Your Gut
Feedback from editors and buyers is invaluable, but at the end of the day, it’s also important to follow your instincts and pursue work you enjoy. Submit images that represent your style and make you proud.
For Russian illustrator Olga Korneeva, that’s usually the final test — and one of the most important steps in the curation process. “I try not to upload work that I don’t believe in or would not buy myself,” she tells us.
Top Image by Masson.
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