Photographers in the stock photo industry have to navigate as both creatives and as business professionals in order to succeed. These nine pros offer their best tips to emerging artists.

Stock photographers are artists and business people at the same time. In addition to creating unforgettable images, they also have to understand the market. A great stock photographer has a distinct voice and perspective but is adaptable to trends. Over the last year, we’ve interviewed hundreds of Shutterstock photographers, and we’ve learned that they find inspiration everywhere from art galleries to the pages of glossy magazines.

We wanted to know the secrets of some of the best stock photographers around, so we asked nine of them to share some basic “Dos and Don’ts” for emerging artists. By far, the most popular “Do” was to be unique and stay true to yourself. A common “Don’t” was giving up or phoning it in. Read on to see what each of them said.

1. “A stock photographer should not only grow professionally but also expand his, her, or their knowledge in various fields.”

Pressmaster

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Image by Pressmaster. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/128 sec; f2.8; ISO 400. Words by Ilia Trudenov, the art director at Pressmaster.

Do grow and evolve. Development is the key to success. A stock photographer should not only grow professionally but also expand his, her, or their knowledge in various fields. Stock photography covers all aspects of life, and you should be a kind of “information sponge” to make true-to-life images that will attract clients.

Pictured: [1] Pressmaster. [2] Pressmaster.

Don’t be subjective. Subjectiveness is one of the biggest mistakes. If you personally don’t like something, it doesn’t mean others (i.e. potential customers) won’t like it as well.

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2. “I know sometimes we love to create what we’re good at, but try making something that’s totally new and unfamiliar to you.”

Odua Images

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Image by Odua Images. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon 24-70 f/2.8L lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/1600 sec; f2.8; ISO 200.

Do find your unique selling point and focus your energy on creating things that cater to your ideal group of buyers. In the end, buyers know where to look for certain photos, and you want that to be your portfolio! For example, before I started in this business, I was a graphic designer at a local publisher in Indonesia, and I was tasked with designing book covers and layouts. I needed photos of Asian people, especially Southeast Asian faces, but it was not easy, as I ended up only finding images with lots of Caucasian people. I think many fellow designers in my country had the same problem. When I started contributing stock photos, I realized that I needed to focus on Asian people. Now, when buyers are looking for lifestyle photos with Southeast Asian people, they might think of us, Odua Images. This is our selling point.

9 Experts on the Dos and Don'ts of Stock Photography — Think About Your Customers' Needs

Image by Odua Images.

Don’t try to copy your own work. In the past, when I’ve had photos sell very well, I’ve taken similar photos, hoping that they would double my sales. But in the end, buyers will only choose one of the two photos. I know sometimes we love to create what we’re good at, but try making something that’s totally new and unfamiliar to you. It might surprise you.

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3. “It’s important not to give up, even when you feel that you’ve failed. Nobody is perfect, but negative emotions are destructive.”

Evgeny Atamanenko

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Image by Evgeny Atamanenko. Gear: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II camera, EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/80 sec; f2.8; ISO 200.

Do express vivid emotions. In my opinion, this should be the top priority. There’s no doubt that the technical quality of the photo is super important; however, viewers will remember the pictures that make them empathize with the feelings of the characters. Photos that capture and evoke sincere feelings and actions are works of art.

Pictured: [1] Evgeny Atamanenko. [2] Evgeny Atamanenko.

Don’t give up. Idleness is the parent of vice. Success depends on our wish to continue developing and achieving better results. It’s important not to give up, even when you feel that you’ve failed. Nobody is perfect, but negative emotions are destructive. Photography is the type of job where you have to love what you are doing. It’s important to respect and appreciate yourself as a professional and enjoy the process.

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4. “Staying meticulous at every stage of the creation, uploading, and keywording is essential.”

Sébastien Decoret

9 Experts on the Dos and Don'ts of Stock Photography — Be Meticulous

Image by Sébastien Decoret. This image was created with Blender 3D software and finalized with Photoshop CC.

Do find your own style! Being creative is the key. Being dissimilar from other contributors will help you get spotted by customers amongst the hundreds of millions of images that can be found online. Find something that most of us don’t do.

9 Experts on the Dos and Don'ts of Stock Photography — Find Your Personal Style

Image by Sébastien Decoret.

Don’t upload an image that doesn’t feel finished. You need to be hard-working and motivated. Quality images should be uploaded weekly to keep your portfolio on the top. Staying meticulous at every stage of the creation, uploading, and keywording is essential.

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5. “It is necessary to try new things. If you do not have a studio, use a free room in your own home.”

Oksana Kuzmina

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Image by Oksana Kuzmina. Gear: _Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 135mm f/2.0 USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f2.5; ISO 250.

Do whatever it is that motivates you the most. Choose a theme, and think about the practical application of your photos. Regularly review printed publications in relevant fields to get an idea. Always be ready to catch that shot.

Pictured: [1] Oksana Kuzmina. [2] Oksana Kuzmina. [3] Oksana Kuzmina.

Don’t get stuck. It is necessary to try new things. If you do not have a studio, use a free room in your own home. If you try, you can make a beautiful stock image, even without expensive equipment.

6. “Choose your own passion, not that of your colleagues. You have to be true to yourself to be a leader.”

Romolo Tavani

9 Experts on the Dos and Don'ts of Stock Photography — Photograph Your Passions

Image by Romolo Tavani. Gear: Canon 5DRS camera, Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f14; ISO 100.

Do create images that present a new vision of reality. Buyers need to dream. They need to find new situations and new ideas to put into the market. Wake up every morning and think about what you do not as a job but as a passion. Cultivate it daily. It’s not about sacrifice but about dedication.

9 Experts on the Dos and Don'ts of Stock Photography — Create What You Enjoy

Image by Romolo Tavani.

Don’t look around to see what other authors are doing. Choose your own passion, not that of your colleagues. You have to be true to yourself to be a leader.

7. “Even if there is a theme you really like, don’t get stuck on it. It is essential to be aware of the trends and to know what sells best at any given moment.”

Luis Molinero

9 Experts on the Dos and Don'ts of Stock Photography — Keep an Eye on Trends

Image by Luis Molinero. Gear: Nikon D800 camera, 24-70mm lens. Settings: Focal length 50mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f9; ISO 100.

Do make sure you have variety in your portfolio. The key is not only doing one kind of photography (landscape, portrait, objects, etc.) but everything. The more themes and concepts you can produce, the likelier it is that consumers will find your portfolio.

Pictured: [1] Luis Molinero. [2] Luis Molinero.

Don’t get impatient. With time and hard work, you will get it. It is also important to avoid always doing the same thing. Even if there is a theme you really like, don’t get stuck on it. It is essential to be aware of the trends and to know what sells best at any given moment.

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8. “Pay attention to all the details. It is preferable to do storyboarding so as not to miss anything important.”

Konstantin Yuganov

9 Experts on the Dos and Don'ts of Stock Photography — Try Storyboarding

Image by Konstantin Yuganov. Gear: Nikon D810 camera, Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 50mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f6.3; ISO 64.

Do plan your work thoroughly. Pay attention to all the details. It is preferable to do storyboarding so as not to miss anything important. Besides doing this, it’s always great when your models show natural emotions.

9 Experts on the Dos and Don'ts of Stock Photography — Let Your Models Emote

Image by Konstantin Yuganov.

Don’t stop shooting. You should have your own work schedule and keep up with it. If something goes wrong and interrupts your plan, try to shoot something anyway. That’s better than nothing.

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9. “It’s very important for photographers to be different and have their own unique style.”

Iakov Kalinin

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Image by Iakov Kalinin. Gear: Sony A7r2 camera, FE 24-70 F4 ZA lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/800 sec; f6.3; ISO 100.

Do love your job and make photos of what you like.

Pictured: [1] Iakov Kalinin. [2] Iakov Kalinin.

Don’t be like everyone else. It’s very important for photographers to be different and have their own unique style. And this is necessary both when shooting and processing photos. We all see the world in different ways.

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Top Image by Evgeny Atamanenko.