Getting Started In Stock Photography

stock photography photo
People are popular subjects for stock photography

You won’t find many people motoring around the Intercoastal Waterway on an 80 foot motor yacht named Stock Photography, unless they happen to own the company. But, while you may not be able to spring for that 2010 80’ Azimut Cruiser on what you make from stock photography, if you can shoot at a level above most other photographers you can, over time, build a nice side income from microstock images.

Like many things in life, microstock photography is a business and you need to approach it like one if you expect to make any money. Pulling out a handful of your favorite images and sending them in is almost a guarantee of being rejected. Sending family photos with harsh, front light shadows, no matter how goofy your family may look, will almost certainly be similarly rejected. In fact, your photos can be magical and still get rejected, so don’t get depressed. Time is your ally.

Job one will visiting microstock sites and spend a lot of time reading the guidelines for submissions. All will provide exhaustive detail about what they do and do not want. Some will have specific guidelines within individual categories, a few will make suggestions about specific needs.

Every stock photo for commercial use that has an identifiable person will require a model release. If you do not have a model release, the company may still offer the image for editorial uses, but you’re still farther ahead getting a release. Some agencies don’t just want any release, they want their release. Make sure you know the requirements.

Some agencies will offer exclusive arrangements, some do not. There are advantages both ways, so do your research before accepting one.

You have the camera and the skill, now here are a few suggestions for good places to start in microstock photography.


iStockPhoto was one of the first microstock agencies and is still considered one of the more lucrative. Not surprisingly, it’s also the one more likely to reject a first submission. They also require new submitters to take a test to insure they understand the submission guidelines.


ShutterStock is popular and a steady earner because of their subscription model for customers. Customers will frequently download more images than they really need and earnings for photographers tend to pile up faster.


DreamsTime is popular with photographers because of their generous commission schedule, which can run from 50 to 80 percent for contributors. To get approved you can submit up to 10 photos.


Fotlia is a relative newcomer to the microstock business but is building a solid reputation with both photographers and commercial customers. They do have a reputation of being a low-cost provider, so this may not be your biggest earner.

Studio Lighting Series – Basic Five Point Lighting

The basic five point lighting setup adds two kickers at 45 degree angles to the subject

This is another installment of a long series of articles shot and composed with the help of professional photographer Karl Leopold at in Melbourne Beach, Florida. Karl is one of the top photographers in the area and president of the Atlantic Professional Photographers Association and graciously opened his studio up to us and lent his expertise for this series.

So far in this series we’ve covered basic three point lighting, lighting ratios, and lighting styles. Today it’s time to look at a basic five point lighting setup.

Just to review the equipment we used in this series:

The camera was a Canon 7D with a 28-135mm zoom set at my best approximation to 85mm.

We used 1/125th of a second throughout and either f/11 with a dark background or f/13 with the light background.

Our key is an Alien Bees 800 in a Fomex rectangular softbox.

Our fill is an identical Alien Bees 800 in an Octodome.

Our hair light is an Ultra 1800.

the kickers
These are the kickers set to light the white background

This time we’re going to two Alien Bees 400’s in homemade softboxes with diffusion gratings as “kickers”. We’ll have the kickers set out of frame at 45 degree angles to the subject with the power set at -2 stops from the fill, roughly the same as the hair light. The kickers and hair light were set in slave mode, only the key and fill were on PocketWizard radio triggers.

We’ll use the kickers two different ways: One to help separate the subject from the background by providing some extra back light around the shoulders. The other way we’ll use them is we turn the kickers around, away from the subject, to blow out a white background.

In the two photos the difference the kickers make is readily apparent. The hair really pops with uniform highlights and the back shoulder achieves better separation from the background. We also got a little blow back from the white jacket, which shows up in the light areas of the background pattern. It’s a subtle but significant difference. I like the photo with the kickers much better.

before and after
The kickers make a big difference separating the subject from the background

Finally we turned the kickers around and used them to blow out a white background. In the last picture it’s obvious we could have bumped the power even more, there’s still some gray in the background. Next time I’d go +2 full stops on the kickers and raise them up a little higher to really swat the background and prevent the gradient effect that’s still visible. We also lost the hair highlights, but they would have been largely lost on white background anyway.

five point lighting
This was taken with the kickers turned toward the background

Boudoir Photography Basics

Boudoir photography can be rewarding but take time to learn the business first - By Kate Sharp

One of the first areas of photography that people outside the business tend to fantasize about is boudoir photography. I’ll admit there is a certain high five quality to the first time you get paid to take pictures of scantily clad women. The novelty wears off after the first few and you’ll be surprised how quickly it turns into just another location job. Although I still have to add the scenery is better than any cubicle job!

Boudoir photography is a trend that started 10 minutes after the first camera was invented. Once they figured out the photographic process worked, they started looking for some gal willing to take her clothes off. That’s pretty much the same feeling that’s evoked when a budding photographer gets a new camera. It’s a trend that ebbs and flows in popularity and lately it’s been making a come back.

Resist the temptation to run out and start advertising yourself as a boudoir photographer until you have a lot of experience shooting portraits and a good selection of lighting gear.


Like with any other portrait, lighting will be key to getting quality results. The difficulty will be lighting the location, which will likely be outside the studio. If it’s possible, try to get photos of the room you’ll be working ahead of time, so you can adjust your lighting kit appropriately.

Also bring your own extension cords. Older homes may not have enough outlets for all your lighting gear. I use heavy duty cords, a power strip, and gaffer tape to make sure no one trips over them.

The key lighting features will be soft and warm. Soft boxes are a must and it’s good to have a selection of gels you can use to warm them up even more if necessary. I always carry half, quarter, and eighth straw gels because they’re particularly flattering for skin tones. You can also use the gold side of your reflector.


I’ve found that some clothing or lingerie can actually be more alluring than being naked, but that will be dictated by your client’s comfort zone.

I encourage people to consider professional nudes when they’re at their youngest and hottest. You’ll be glad to have those shots in a few years after kids and life take a toll on your looks. But not everyone is comfortable with that thought, so let the client find their own comfort level. Sometimes I’ve had clients decide they were comfortable enough to try it after shooting started, so be adaptable.

Any time nudity is involved I have a nudity clause in the contract, get a copy of their photo identification, and give the client greater latitude over image rights. That doesn’t apply to commercial nudes, but boudoir clients are going to want to know their picture isn’t going to be hanging in a gallery somewhere.

Working Alone

I never work alone on boudoir shoots. I’ll almost always have my wife come along and prefer the client have a friend or relative on hand as well. I tend to err on the side of paranoia, but the last situation you ever want to get yourself into is a “he said, she said” about what happened on a boudoir shoot. On the flip side, if there are too many people running around it’s going to kill the mood and make the client nervous.

It’s sometimes requires a little tact and patience to balance the needs of a location shoot with a nervous client. I’ve found it’s actually better sometimes that I leave the room if the client is nervous and let my wife talk to them for a few minutes. When I hear them start laughing, I know it’s okay to get started again.

Just don’t jump into boudoir photography without learning the business first, at least start with some reading on the subject. You and your clients will have a much better experience.

CNN Lays Off Photographers, Editors

cnn logo
CNN swings the ax on photography jobs

It may be cold comfort to photojournalists to see some editors also get the ax at CNN, but the bottom line means there are fewer jobs in photography today.

Layered in HR-groomed executive double-speak, CNN claims in an announcement issued earlier this month to take into consideration the use of “…user-generated content and social media.” Most likely that means you’ll be seeing more cell phone photos, microstock, and Twitpic photography.

The announcement also cited the availability of improved consumer cameras as one of the reasons for cutting loose their pro talent.

“Consumer and pro-sumer technologies are simpler and more accessible.”

CNN also mentioned their growing reliance on iReport, which has been criticized in the past for not paying for the photos they use.

The timing of the announcement, immediately after Employee Appreciation Week, only seems to rub in the irony of putting the “…right resources in the right places…”

As many as 12 photojournalists were let go from offices in Miami, New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. Several media editors were let go in Atlanta, apparently to be replaced by workers in other areas working remotely. Right now there is no indication if any of the replacements are outsource contract labor or employees in other offices.

Even though CNN says the review has been going on for three years, the news came as a shock to many staffers. And even though CNN discovered that, “Small cameras are now high broadcast quality.” That certainly wasn’t true three years ago.

What Makes a Photographer Professional?

professional photographers
Having a big lens does not make you a professional photographer - by sgsprzem

Nikon really irked me with their Facebook post suggesting a photographer is only as good as his equipment. That was an arrogant statement of the type one would expect from a brand name company and it’s wrong.

I remember taking golf lessons one time, certain the reason I was golfing so poorly was my clubs. Without a word the golf pro asked to borrow my clubs and then proceeded to hit one perfect shot after another. He then repeated that performance with clubs from every other bag, including the kids and left handed players. He was making a point that being a pro doesn’t depend on your equipment.

That’s also true to a certain extent in photography. The real professionals are the people who can pick up any camera, spend a few minutes familiarizing themselves with the controls, and get fantastic shots that keep getting better the longer they use the camera.

You can argue that your equipment should reach a certain standard of quality and you’d be correct. But that standard has come down in price so far lately that it’s within reach of most people with an average income. So what then separates the “Uncle Bobs” from the true pros?


Being able to capture fantastic portraits means getting people to relax and express real emotion. You don’t have all day to establish that trust and connection. One of the marks of a pro is having a knack for putting people at ease.

Establishing immediate rapport one skill you won’t get out of a book. You have to genuinely like people and be able to see anyone in a positive light. My pledge to people is that I’ll never take a shot that makes anyone look bad. Sometimes there’s a fine line between an unguarded moment and a goofy look. As tempting as it is sometimes, I’ll pass on the goofy look.

You Pay Your Dues

Not in terms of money to a professional organization, although there are good reasons to do so. I mean you put in the time. The professional photographers I know are shooting pictures all the time, whether they’re getting paid for it or not. They are driven to shoot, constantly striving to get a better shot, a better look, and honing their distinctive style.

The true professional photographers I know are both student and teacher, sometimes on the same job. In my experience the photographers who have all the answers are shooting work that looks like yesterday’s news. Perhaps technically correct, but lacking passion.

Driven To Perfection

The drive to perfection will also yield consistency. Your pictures will not only be good, but they’ll get a little better every time you go out. In any weather conditions, any location, any subject, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, you’ll be able to bring back the shot.

At a certain point your clients will have more faith in your abilities than you have in your own. That’s kind of the tipping point in professional photography. The moment you know you’ve arrived as a professional. The point your clients know they can send you anywhere and not worry they’ll get fantastic work back.

Mainly, being a professional is staying focused on your work and honing your craft over a lifetime. That’s the difference between the pros and Uncle Bob.