To create this list of tips for stock photographers, we turned to some of Shutterstock’s top contributors. Read on to see what they had to say.

Top Image by Maglara.

Stock photography has been around for almost a century, but the industry truly took off about thirty years ago in the 1980s, and it’s been evolving ever since. Shutterstock was founded in 2003, and since then it’s added more than 168 million photographs to its collection. The market is growing rapidly — some estimate it will exceed 4 billion dollars annually by 2020.

Successful stock photographers learn fast and think on their feet. They do their research. They listen to editors, and they study what works and what doesn’t. They adapt. Let’s take a look at their insights.


1. “When creating a stock image, one should always imagine where, how, and by whom the image will be used.”

Elena Elisseeva

7 Stock Photographers on the Best Advice They've Ever Received — Elena Elisseeva

  • Gear: Nikon D3X camera, 70-200mm zoom lens.
  • Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; f14; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is an example of an image where the subject makes it sellable. A friend of mine was getting solar panels installed on his roof, and I asked if I could take pictures. I was able to obtain model releases from the installers, and I spent a day in my friend’s backyard observing the work and taking pictures. At some point, they offered to bring me up to the roof so I could take close-ups, and I gladly took the opportunity.

What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

I don’t remember who posted it, but I saw it on a forum for stock photographers. People were discussing what makes a sellable image, and one of the comments was something like this:

Images sell because of the following:
A. Subject
B. Subject
C. Subject
and D… Subject

I like this because sometimes we focus too much on the technical aspects of photography, and we forget that we’re creating images for someone to use. When creating a stock image, one should always imagine where, how, and by whom the image will be used. The rest — technical quality, composition, etc. — is also important, but subject comes first.

Pictured: [1] Image by Elena Elisseeva. [2] Image by Elena Elisseeva.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

Everywhere. I like traveling and experiencing new things, and I always take my camera with me. Sometimes I plan and produce a shoot with models, but many times I just shoot what surrounds me in everyday life.


2. “Lightroom saved me a lot of time, enabled me to get more consistent results, and improved the photo editing workflow.”

Andrey Popov

7 Stock Photographers on the Best Advice They've Ever Received — Andrey Popov
  • Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8 L USM lens.
  • Settings: Focal length 40mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f6.3; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This was my first outdoor shoot on location with models from an agency. All four models are from different families. We were very lucky with the weather, and the models did a fantastic job.

What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

The best advice I received from a former colleague of mine, Juan Sierra. He is also a photographer, and he told me about Lightroom and gave me some tips on how to use it. This was nine years ago, and Lightroom was not so popular and well known. I was doing photo selection in Digital Photo Professional and RAW conversion in Photoshop. Lightroom saved me a lot of time, enabled me to get more consistent results, and improved the photo editing workflow. I still use Lightroom for photo selection and basic color correction.

Pictured: [1] Image by Andrey_Popov. [2] Image by Andrey_Popov.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

Besides looking for inspiration on the Internet and on stock sites, I constantly analyze the sales of my photos and see what I can improve and shoot differently. Also anytime I go to the doctor or another appointment and am sitting in a waiting room, I will browse through magazines and look for new ideas. On airplanes, I will always check out the magazine in the back pocket. Sometimes I go to the library to browse through books and magazines, and sometimes I find interesting photo ideas by looking at outdoor advertisements.


3. “When I take an image, I always think about the creative idea, composition, and color scheme.”

Maglara

7 Stock Photographers on the Best Advice They've Ever Received — Maglara

  • Gear:  Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens.
  • Settings: Focal length 100mm; exposure 0.6 sec; f11; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I took this image for the Christmas holiday. A simple wooden car toy with a Christmas tree on top is a cute picture, and it leaves some room for the imagination. It can illustrate a lot of concepts, like vacations, travel, or creative home decoration. Here, I used a warm wooden surface and a cool background to create a winter atmosphere, and the red wheels and green tree make for a nice contrast. The negative space on the left gives some room for text.

What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

David Frost said, “Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally.” I guess this is the best advice anyone can give us in everything we do in our lives. I became passionate about photography in my early youth, and I am still in love with taking images.

My favorite category is still life photography. Taking pictures of everyday objects and making them look interesting and sometimes magical in a photo is what I love the most. When I take an image, I always think about the creative idea, composition, and color scheme.

7 Stock Photographers on the Best Advice They've Ever Received — Maglara
Image by Maglara.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are great places to meet talented photographers. But the most inspiring things for me are everyday objects. I can suddenly think of an image just by visiting a local shop or going to the flea market.


4. “Mastering complex studio light setups and working with all kinds of materials is essential.”

Sergey Novikov

7 Stock Photographers on the Best Advice They've Ever Received — Sergey Novikov

  • Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, Canon EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens.
  • Settings: Focal length 22mm; exposure 1/1000 sec; f5.6; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

While doing a shoot on a Mediterranean beach this summer, I was looking for ways of making a dynamic image that would have a chance of standing out. We tried a few things, like beach games and some active poses. We made some cool shots, but it was not enough. I saw that the kids were happier with running, and they made it competitive for themselves. We also liked the way the waves helped to add action to the picture. I came up with the idea of having the kids run at the water’s edge while splashing. After a few tries, it was a low angle with a relatively wide lens that promised the best images.

In this image, we have a boy in the middle of the action, and we have an amazing splash in the foreground, contributing to the depth of the image. Then there’s some more action and a nice summer sea in the background. I had to clean some distractions in post-processing — for instance, other people swimming. But as a result, we have many composition planes, lots of action, and also some nice, real, candid expressions.

What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

“Photography is the manipulation of light. Whether those manipulations serve artistic or technical purposes hardly matters.” This advice comes from what I consider to be one of the best books for photographers: Light Science & Magic by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, and Paul Fuqua. I could not agree more.

These words apply to any kind of photography. But it is in commercial photography in general and in stock photography in particular where the ability to master light in any form is essential. The camera is there just to register what has been “painted” with light, either with or without the control of the one who holds it. Whether it is a high-end DSLR or a cheap smartphone camera doesn’t matter — except for some technical issues, such as noise, for example. Megapixels hardly matter anymore, and even phones can shoot in RAW today. It is up to the artist to know how light works.

Although most of my images are action portraits shot outdoors, I think that it is critical to be fluent in studio photography. Mastering complex studio light setups and working with all kinds of materials is essential. When you work with people, all the technical details have to be automatic. You must be able, for instance, to pick up a random piece of gear, use it for one or two shots, and proceed further without much thinking. As much as possible, I mix studio lights and natural light. Nowadays, there is lighting equipment that is light enough and has batteries that last long enough to operate in most outdoor situations, even if you have to carry everything yourself. I could not perform any of my successful shoots without many hours of perfecting manipulations with light in the studio first.

Pictured: [1] Image by Sergey Novikov. [2] Image by Sergey Novikov. [3] Image by Sergey Novikov.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

There are unlimited sources of inspiration everywhere — everything from walking down the street to browsing social networks. I also have a document where I write down ideas and samples for mood boards. This way, when it is time to plan a new project, I have a lot of pages with ideas to go with. I don’t write much, just a few anchor words that will bring the image back to my mind when the time comes. So the question, at least for me, is not where to find inspiration but how to not let it slip away.


5. “…a good picture needs to have a unique point of view and needs to get a reaction from the viewer.”

Rafael Ben-Ari

7 Stock Photographers on the Best Advice They've Ever Received — Rafael Ben-Ari

  • Gear: Nikon 1 J5 camera, VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM lens.
  • Settings: Focal length 10mm (in 35mm: 27mm); exposure 1/40 sec; f3.5; ISO 400.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Snoring affects approximately 90 million American adults, so it’s a big issue, especially for the partner sleeping next to them! With this photo, I wanted to portray the effects of living with a person that suffers from Apnea from a different perspective.

What’s best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

The best piece of advice anyone has ever given me was that a good picture needs to have a unique point of view and needs to get a reaction from the viewer. It was advice I received from a chief photographer in a news agency back when I started my photojournalism career. I have continued to apply this approach to every photo assignment I have covered and every stock photo I have created since then.

7 Stock Photographers on the Best Advice They've Ever Received — Rafael Ben-Ari
Image by Rafael Ben-Ari (ChameleonsEye).

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

I find my photography inspiration in everyday life. I have learned to see beauty in places others do not.


6. “We try to improve, innovate, and experiment with new themes, gear, and subjects.”

Corepics VOF (Hugo de Wolf)

7 Stock Photographers on the Best Advice They've Ever Received — Corepics VOF

  • Gear: Nikon D800 camera, Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8 lens.
  • Settings: Exposure 1 sec; f6.3; ISO 800. Speedlight fired remotely.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Ever since we started to dedicate productions to shooting images for stock, mobility and transportation have been some of our favorite themes and concepts. This wasn’t the first time we attached high-end equipment to the exterior of a car, driving on a motorway, going over 100km/h (80mph). This stretch of motorway is especially awesome at night, with office buildings across the motorway, bridges, and overhead signs.

On this particular night, we were about to complete a production about running a taxi company. It involved five models and a variety of cars. This car with a large sunroof was specifically arranged to achieve such an image. When the taxi driver offered to drive our models home, we seized the opportunity.

What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

I believe that the sum of all the advice we’ve ever received is more valuable than any individual piece of advice. Whether it’s feedback from agencies, clients, buyers, or models, we’ve learned from it.

Overall, it’s the commonly used proverb “stagnation means decline” that has been the most influential to us. We try to improve, innovate, and experiment with new themes, gear, and subjects. We’re trying to integrate this idea into the way we run our business as well as into our actual productions. It helps us greatly and assists us in coming up with new ideas and different solutions.

Pictured: [1] Image by Corepics VOF (Hugo de Wolf). [2] Image by Corepics VOF (Hugo de Wolf).

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

Inspiration can be found everywhere. Even if stock photography is more about research and production, the true art lies in looking around you. Most people often forget to notice the beauty of their familiar surroundings.

Inspiration can also be found when dealing with design briefs, graphic designers, art directors, and end users. They all help us gain an understanding of what people are looking for in an image. Even as image buyers for our clients, we get inspired by the numerous types of specific uses for photographs, generating new, fresh ideas. These ideas, in turn, work as catalysts to generate more ideas.