The difference between a good stock photo and an artist photo. What are the technical and non-technical characteristics of a revenue-generating stock photo?
A good stock photo should not be an artist photo
When you start stock photography, you’re sure to photograph a lot of subjects that you like. As the years go by and you learn more and more about stock photography, you will begin to move on to the topics your customers are looking for. The fundamental difference, then, is that the artist displays his or her own taste in a photo, while the stock photographer strives to satisfy the needs of the customers.
A black and white photo may look artistic, but the stock photo companies look for colour images, what's more, images with vivid colours.
An interesting detail of a building can be very expressive in an artist photo, but stock photos are usually expected to show either the subject as a whole or a characteristic detail that expresses the whole subject itself.
A common feature of artist photos is intentional blur, grainy surfaces, and soft contours. You can't even upload a blurred, grainy (noisy), or unsharp photo to stock photo websites because they may not even pass quality control. Quality is interpreted differently by an artist and a stock photographer.
Technical characteristics of a good stock photo
Several stock photography companies specifically ask photographers not to upload black and white photos. This is because most of the customers are familiar with editing the publication (this is especially true for Alamy) and can modify and edit the purchased photo to suit their needs.
Correct (natural) white balance
A good stock photo has a natural look as it usually illustrates articles on everyday topics. The image does not appear as an artwork in itself, but illustrates the text of the related article.
Sharp (at least the subject of the image)
Blurred, intentionally out-of-focus images in the world of stock photos have no chance. Often, the small details in an image that the reader can only see when they zoom in are important.
Noise-free (low ISO)
Lower-end cameras produce noisy (grainy) images in low light or at high ISO values. This in a publication would suggest that the editor does not pay attention to quality.
Intentionally skewed composition sometimes works well (e.g. computer screen) but a tilted horizon in a photo generally means careless work, which is not allowed in a photo published in a calendar or newspaper.
A good stock photo can easily be found by the customers
Stock photographers often say that you upload great photos in vain if your customers can't find them.
Buyers use either the stock photo website's own search engine or the Google (Bing, Yandex, etc.) search engine. In both cases, it is essential that the photos be accompanied by appropriate textual content: titles (captions, descriptions) and keywords.
A good stock photo has a clearly identifiable subject
A good stock photo always has a subject. For a newspaper article, in a calendar, on a book cover, images are used to express a topic, an emotion, or to display an event, an object or a plant, an animal. If you click the shutter button just for the sake of a beautiful sight, there is little chance you will take a good stock photo.
A good stock photo has a purpose in mind
A stock photographer already knows when the shutter button is clicked, but at least guesses what the image will be used for. If you can imagine the image on the cover of a newspaper or a book, as an illustration of a botanical book, you have a chance to win your customers. Let's see where and what the stock photos are usually used for:
Use of stock photos by composition
- background image (wallpaper) - a pattern (gravel, grass, wall, etc.) or a homogeneous surface (sky, water, fabric, etc.) > websites, posters, but sometimes looks good as a wall print.
- image with copy space > book covers, posters,
- newsworthy images > newspapers, news portals,
- illustration > inside book, website, blog, or newspaper article (not the same as painted or digitally created works, illustrations).
Use of stock photos by authenticity
- image of a posing model (a person photographed in a clearly unnatural pose who normally looks into the camera) > on a professional website, in a publication,
- a moment captured in its natural environment (a situation where the person is not looking into the camera) > in a newspaper article, news magazine, travel or touristic website or publication,
- carefully set-up still life (food photo, objects before white or consciously planned background, usually well lit with artificial light) > restaurant website, menu card, thematic collection, catalog, sometimes newspaper article,
- street, natural photo of the subject (illuminated by ambient light) > newspaper article, magazine, professional book.
Use cases of commercial (general) stock photos
Because these photos cannot contain copyright protected content (logos, photos of people or buildings taken without permission, photos taken in private property), they can be used almost anywhere and for any length of time, including publications for advertising and promotional purposes.
Typical use cases and methods:
- website background image or illustration
- (professional or personal) blog background image or illustration
- social media (e.g. Facebook) post or advertisement illustration
- poster, billboard background image or illustration
- calendar illustration
- book cover image with copy space
- banknote illustration
- personal use, such as printed on objects, wall print, etc.
- any printed material background image or illustration
- logo, even in a significantly redesigned form
Use cases of editorial photos
Originally, the term 'editorial photo' had been used for only images bought by newspaper editors to illustrate their articles, but today things are changing a bit. All photos that display copyright protected content (people, buildings, logos) without model or property releases are fallen in this category. A picture taken on a street (street photo) shows people, shop fronts, buildings, for which we cannot ask for permission individually, but a newspaper article requires exactly this type of illustration.
Typical use cases and methods:
- news website or portal illustration
- magazine, newspaper illustration
- official blog illustration
- tourist / travel website or brochure illustration
The characteristics of a good stock photo can be approached from three directions:
- technical characteristics (sharpness, white balance, colours, noise, composition)
- searchability (keywords, title)
- usability (customer needs, copy space, lack of model or property releases)
Remember: in addition to high technical standards, relevant keywording, titling and perhaps most importantly - the subject of your photo should meet the needs of your customers! If you like your photos but your customers don’t need them, you’ll hardly have a lot of sales.