On any given day, I will receive, select, edit and make available for sale, several hundred stock images that are then presented to clients on one of our stock libraries, the most prominent of which is The Picture Pantry.
At The Picture Pantry we are fortunate enough to represent some very talented photographers who have full control and understanding of the shooting and editing process. However, I have helped other stock libraries in their image selection process, and there are five main reasons that your images may not be selected for sale at any stock image library. They are:
1. Not Commercially Viable
No matter how perfectly composed your image, if it doesn't appeal to advertisers or editorial markets, then there won't be much point in making it available for sale. This is the harsh truth of image sales - there needs to be a market for an image. Take a step back from your images before you submit it to a stock library, and ask yourself if you can see it being used to advertise a product. If not, it may be best left in the family album, rather than a stock library. Image styles and trends will vary over time, so this may also mean that previously successful images will eventually lose their appeal.
2. No Sharp Focus
A simple one, but often overlooked. Inspect your images at 100% magnification in Lightroom or Photoshop, and if it isn't sharp, don't send it in. It will simply be rejected for having no point of focus, wasting your time. Continually sending in images that aren't sharp will eventually bring you to the attention of Quality Control at the stock library, meaning that every submission you make to the library will be scrutinised, leading to delays in getting images to market, and ultimately your earnings.
3. Too Much Sharpening
If your images aren't sharp enough, there can be a temptation to fiddle with the sharpening slider in Lightroom. This slider is simply a method of applying the final touch of sharpening to a RAW image, not a technique to rescue an out of focus image. An image that has had to much sharpening applied will often look worse than one that is out of focus. Image libraries will inspect every image at 100% magnification, and easily spot over sharpening.
4. Rescued Exposure
There is a trend in certain areas of photography to shoot a dark image, with a single small area of perfectly exposed subject - such as a plate of food in a semi-dark room. When done well, this style can look stunning. When done badly, it will involve a lot of post production in order to rescue the image - starting with a dark image and increasing the exposure is the worst culprit for creating digital noise in an image - displayed as a mottled effect, or even dots of red, green and blue. To combat this, applying too much noise reduction in Lightroom can make images look waxy, also meaning an image is rejected. Again, the secret is to get the exposure correct in camera (in our example, expose for the plate of food), ensuring what should be correctly exposed in the final image, is actually correctly exposed in camera, and not in post production.
5. Keyword Spam
To sell an image, every photograph will require keywords to be applied to it (Lightroom has a 'keywords' panel where they are added easily). These keywords will then hopefully match the keyword entered in a search box by a potential image buyer. This is where things can get out of control, with photographers adding huge numbers of keywords to an image, in the hope of hitting the jackpot. For an image library, this is the worst case scenario. Too many keywords will almost certainly mean that a high percentage of them are irrelevant to an image. Consider the scenario whereby an image has fifty keywords centred around a parked car. Some keywords will be relevant, such as 'car, parked, transport'. However, others, such as 'driving, summer, speeding' are not, and will simply frustrate buyers on a stock library who consistently find irrelevant images coming back from a search request. All photographers will lose out in this scenario, as the buyer will move on to a library that has more stringent controls. Recent stock library conventions have included culling keywords down to a manageable number - if you add more than 15-20, you can expect your images to pass through quality control very slowly, as each image will need to be amended manually.
Getting Stock Images Accepted
Taking all of the above matters in to consideration, it is important to primarily hone your photography skills, without feeling the need to rescue images in post production - Lightroom and Photoshop can enhance images, but nothing will make an out of focus image sharp enough to be considered saleable. Post production should be used to enhance, not rescue.
Similarly, adding 10-15 keywords to an image, with a relevant, 'non spammy' caption, can work wonders for image visibility on a stock library.
As with any area of photography, preparing images for sale has to be completed professionally. Stock photography is a world where you can sell your finest images for a regular monthly income, but it does take a certain amount of time and diligence to do well.