The importance of post-processing when creating a stock photo. Why can't raw, unedited images compete?

Why is post-processing important to make stock photos that stand out from the crowd? | Wahaviblog about stock photography
Contents

    I did not edit my first stock photos

    As a beginner stock photographer, I thought a little cropping was enough to make my images look good in my portfolio. Far be it from me to lighten my images or make the colors stronger, not to mention minor retouching.

    If that's the way you feel it's right, then I have to convince you about the opposite.

    If you want to be successful in stock photography, you must switch to a customer-oriented approach. However, buyers are looking for photos that are striking, colorful, and focus only on what belongs to the subject.

    When I realized what post-processing is good for

    As I read more and more forum posts and discussions, and saw more and more photos of stock photographers much more experienced than me, I sadly realized that my photos, which I thought were good enough, looked disgraceful among the others.

    At first, I didn't even dare to look at my photos at 100% magnification, because I was afraid that they weren't sharp enough, although they looked good at screen size.

    I started to "enhance" my photos in Lightroom, including those that I have already uploaded. The difference between a raw image and a well-crafted one is amazing.

    What should you definitely change in your photos through post-processing?

    What makes a good stock photo is its brightness and color saturation. Underexposed or pale images look unattractive on search result pages.

    If your photo doesn't look good enough in thumbnail size, you definitely need to edit it.

    How you need to improve your photos to make them look more stocky:

    • Exposition, Whites The white objects should be so bright that the area does not burn out. If you are photographing the objects in a studio / photo tent, in front of a white background, lighten the background (increase whites or drag the right side of the histogram) until it becomes red (for this, activate the Show Highlight Clipping button in the upper right corner of the histogram).
    • Saturation Basically, stock agencies expect color photos, since buyers can edit black and white from color, but not the other way around. However, it really matters how colorful your image is. Within the limits of good taste, set the Saturation (and Vibrance) slider higher. In general, Saturation = 10 and Vibrance = 40-50 give quite strong colors, but they do not yet fall into the category of oversaturation (watch the histogram).
    • Highlights You can improve burnt-out areas by reducing the value of the highlights
    • Transform, Crop angle When photographing buildings, it is essential to correct vertical lines to make them appear truly vertical. This would not always look good with a wide angle of view, but the distortion of the lens can always be reduced to some extent (Transform > Vertical or Auto). When photographing cityscapes and standing water, it is necessary to correct the horizon line to be really horizontal (Crop > Angle).
    • Shadows In the case of a contrasting image (strong sunlight + shadow), it can be useful to increase the slider value of the shadows a little. It is also recommended to avoid overdoing here, because excessively reducing the contrast creates an unnatural effect. In general, it is enough if there are no burnt out (black) parts in the image, so dark, shadowy image elements also contain details.
    • White balance If you have set the white balance on your camera to automatic, then in most cases no subsequent adjustment is necessary. However, in the case of low light, you have to change the automatic values. If there is a gray object or asphalt in the picture, you can set the correct values by clicking on the white balance selector icon. If there is no gray, it is up to you to decide what the correct setting will be (predefined factory options often give false results).
    • Retouching (Spot removal or in Photoshop: healing brush tool, content-aware fill) You can often save an otherwise good photo from being deleted if you retouch the distracting elements. If you are averse to retouching, then consider that your images will be used and viewed by people who do not know what the captured sight looks like in reality, but the incongruous elements look strange or even spoil the harmony.
    • Noise reduction If you take photos with a higher ISO value because of the low light, small spots may appear in your photo, this is called image noise. If the image noise is not too strong, the photo can be saved by reducing the noise.
    • Lens correction Lightroom (and other image editing software) has the ability to recognize the lens used when a photo was taken and apply preset corrections to your photos. Basically, two types of corrections can be applied manually: eliminating chromatic aberration (purple outlines or halo), and reducing distortion and vignetting (darkening towards the corners) caused by the lens. It is worth setting both options as default.

    What should you not change in your photos?

    • Sharpening Don't, or only sharpen a little. If a photo is basically blurry, shaken, then it is better to get rid of it.
    • Noise reduction You can use it minimally, but don't try to create a stock photo from a basically noisy image.

    The basic principle is that a sharp, well-captured photo should be used to create a stock photo that can be sold with post-processing, but it is not worth spending time on an improperly composed image that was exposed with the wrong settings.

    Summary

    If you take a look at the offer of any stock photo agency, you will probably notice that most of the photos try to stand out from the crowd even as small thumbnails. Photographers achieve this with well-applied post-processing.

    What "comes out of the camera" is not suitable for sale as a stock photo. The competition and the bar is also high.

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    Post Author

    Viktor Wallon-Hárs (wahavi)

    Photography has always been part of our family life. I have memories of my father dealing with those old glass slides, preparing them for our projector.

    Later I took photos during summer holidays and school trips.

    Now, in the era of stock photography, I dug myself into it to learn the basics and also the secrets how to earn more and more money doing what I love.