As a stock marketplace, in addition to our technical and quality requirements we are specifically looking for content that has real commercial demand and utility. If we don’t accept your content, it is not to say the photos are necessarily poor quality or do not have inherent or artistic value, but simply that they are not quite right for our marketplace and customers.
While there’s no guaranteed recipe for success here, here are some key factors and ingredients to consider that should help your photos and portfolio sell well.
In all of our research and experience, the one thing customers want most in a photo is authenticity. At the same time, it’s also one of the most challenging things to define, much less capture!
In most cases it’s actually easier to identify when something feels inauthentic, so watch out for red flags here like having overly posed, staged, or cliche subject matter, unnatural or forced facial expressions on your models, noticeably artificial lighting, or scenes and scenarios that you wouldn’t realistically expect to find in daily life. You should always strive to capture natural, genuine, believable content.
Use Natural Lighting
The lighting in a photo can be artificial, but the use of natural light as much as possible is preferred as it usually better reflects the reality we live in, making it easier for the audience to connect with the image. Shooting with natural light often requires more careful planning for the time of day/conditions to get the best results, but is worth it.
Be in the moment
Most importantly authentic shots need to feel like the photo was spontaneous and not staged even if, most of the time, it was. It shouldn’t feel like the image was planned to perfection, but that it was simply captured at the perfect timing, and that we are witness to that special moment.
Depth of field
While some may see shallow depth of field as more of a passing fad, it is often a hallmark of an authentic photo. Using shallow depth of field can make a photo feel more three dimensional, less flat, and mimic the way our eyes see in reality. It can also help draw our attention toward a particular area or subject which can further lend to the sense of being on location or physically present during that captured moment in time. Still, it doesn’t always make sense for every shot, so be sure to use it thoughtfully.
Real people, real expressions
Facial expressions can make or break a photo’s authenticity, and anything that feels forced or unnatural is unlikely to sell. More and more customers are looking for photos that feature real, believable people, that are true to the subject matter and scenario, rather than the traditional model look you might expect.
Try revisiting existing concepts and themes that have been overly done and staged to death with a fresh pair of eyes, and bring them back to their most simple, natural form.
One easy way to tell that a photo isn’t authentic… is if it isn’t actually a photo! We know it’s important for customers looking for actual photos to be able to easily find them, and so images that are actually static images of vector graphics or illustrations won’t be accepted on PhotoDune (you can still submit the original vector files to GraphicRiver).
Of course we understand some subjects and environments are simply difficult if not impossible to capture in real life, so we’ll be making exceptions for 3D Renders, photomanipulations, and digital composites that are highly realistic, believable, and demonstrate a clear concept and unique value.
Hopefully these pointers have given you a good sense of what makes a photo authentic, but just to help it all sink in here are a few examples.
Here’s an example of a photo that has sold pretty well in the past. It’s by no means a bad photo, but the facial expressions are not all very natural or convincing, and the overall setup with the artificial lighting, stereotypical writing on the blackboard, perfectly positioned postures, and even the color coordinated outfits make it pretty noticeable that the photo was staged. We wouldn’t realistically expect to see a scene like this in real life, and as a result it loses some of its credibility and authenticity.
Here is a similar education concept where the lighting is more natural and the facial expressions less forced and more believable. The short depth of field also helps draws our attention to the models and results in an image that the audience can easily connect with.
Here’s a similar case with a group of business people. The woman on the right has her eyes closed, and the man on the left is pointing to something on the tablet but doesn’t seem to be leading any real discussion (perhaps they’re all watching a cat video on YouTube?). As a whole the image feels staged and all of the expressions overly similar and ingenuine, as if they were all told to simply “smile”. The image has good lighting and models, but it’s lacking authenticity, and not to mention the composition could be further improved as well (awkward titled angle, disembodied hands in the lower right corner, etc)
Here’s a similar business concept, but the lighting feels more natural, the people feel engaged with each other, and you have the impression of looking in on a real meeting in a real office. There’s nice short depth of field, subtle reflections on glass, all the different aspects work well together to make an appealing and authentic image.
Here we have a camping concept. The lighting, colors, and contrast is nice, professional models are used, there’s short depth of field, but it still feels overly staged. They are all looking at an imaginary point on the horizon. It’s a decent shot, and may potentially sell, but it’s not quite the type of content customers are really after.
Here on the other hand, we have an image that actually looks like a scene you might expect while camping. Even if it was staged, it looks real, and feels like the photographer was just at the right place at the right time of day. The lighting, facial expressions and actions all feel natural and more spontaneous.
To niche, or not to niche
It can be difficult to decide what material to shoot and where to focus your efforts for the best chance of commercial success. The good news is that generally all of our research and analysis points to the fact that customers are looking for a very broad and diverse range of photos, so chances are someone out there is looking to license and use what you shoot. There’s no one single genre, style, or characteristic of a photo that is king (other than authenticity of course!), and generally customer demand is spread relatively evenly across this wide spectrum of content.
Cream of the crop
While there’s definitely broad need for all types of photos, there are still some areas and aspects that tend to float just above the rest.
- Photos on the subjects of technology, corporate, business, family, lifestyle, fashion, architecture, nature & travel, education, health & medical, and food.
- Photos that convey a particular concept or mood.
- Photos with people.
While these might have greater demand, they also tend to have greater existing supply and competition, so keep that in mind and always make sure you bring something new and special to the table with your photos.
Play to your strengths (and your available resources)
While it can be tempting to simply go for what’s most popular, we always recommend sticking to what you’re best at and what makes your photographs unique.
Keep in mind your strengths aren’t just your skill or experience, but your physical location, connections, relationships, and available resources as well. Take advantage of subjects or settings that you might have easier access to then most other photographers. For example if your cousin is a woodworker or your best friend’s sister owns a catering company, you might want to exploit those particular subjects in greater depth.
We all know it’s not always best to put all your eggs in one basket. But also consider that there’s more than one kind of egg out there as well. If you’re able build a broad portfolio across multiple subject areas that’s great, however there’s also lots of diversity to explore within any one specific genre. So when you’re ready to explore something new, you might try looking inward as well as outward.
For example if you’re an expert food photographer with a portfolio of all perfectly prepared and presented dishes, you might next branch out into where that food comes from and dive into agriculture and farming. Or you might work to diversify by capturing dishes and styles of cooking from different cultures all around the world. Having a diversified portfolio will usually increase your chances of success, but it’s also a good idea to make sure that diversity has real structure and purpose.
As customers needs have grown and the needs of digital projects have become larger and more complex, we’re seeing customers looking for multiple or collections of photos that are consistent and able to work well together (e.g. across multiple web banners or an entire marketing campaign). Being able to choose from a variety of related photos from the same photoshoot is an easy way to provide customers with the consistency and flexibility they need, without much additional time or effort on your part.
However customers also want to find what they’re looking for quickly, and while browsing within a photoshoot can help, having to dig through an entire session’s worth of images does not, especially if many of the images are nearly identical or of mixed quality.
We encourage you to capture and upload a selection of photos from a photoshoot, however it is very important to curate your images before they are submitted, where each one you ultimately choose offers something unique (e.g. a different emotion, pose, props, setting, perspective, and/or time of day).
Variations of the same photo that have simply been flipped, rotated, cropped, or processed differently should not be submitted. Submitting photos or variations that are too similar will be considered spamming, and your photos, upload rights, or account may be suspended.
Quite often your photos will need to be combined with text and other elements and used as part of a larger visual design, be it an advertisement, product packaging, website header, or anything else. Photos that leave enough negative space to make room for additional text (aka “copyspace”) will provide greater value and ease of use to these kinds of customers. It isn’t always necessary and won’t work for every photo, but if the subject and setting of your photo allow for it you should consider framing and composing a few shots with copyspace and designers in mind.
Similarly, while it’s a good idea to crop out and remove any distractions or unwanted elements to enhance the subject of your photo, avoid over-cropping your photos from a purely artistic point of view. When in doubt, aim on the wider side to leave enough room and/or copyspace to provide customers with the flexibility to adapt the photo to their various needs (e.g. unusually sized web banners or ad spaces). It’s pretty easy for a customer to further crop an image themselves, and nearly impossible to uncrop, so if possible it’s usually a good idea to make sure the subject is fully visible and in frame, and even with a bit of extra room to spare.
Still thinking of that designer customer, it can be helpful to consider other ways that your photo might be edited, manipulated, processed, or combined with other visual elements. It may be tempting to overlay your own text or graphics on top to flesh out a concept, but it’s always best to upload the original photo so that customers are able to easily work them into their own designs.
If you think your photo would significantly benefit from added text or graphics, and you’ve got the design chops to pull it off yourself, consider creating a customizable graphics template or mock-up based on your photo(s) and submitting it to GraphicRiver. Rather than trying to guess and create every possible combination of text, font, color scheme, and graphics possible and uploading them as dozens of static images, you can create a single ready-to-use template with editable layers and smart objects that will provide customers with unlimited options and flexibility here.
Similarly if you’ve gone through the effort of carefully isolating your subject, why not preserve that value and pass it onto the customer? Rather than compositing and flattening it over every possible background and environment you can think of (which we will not accept, as being too similar), consider submitting it as a separate isolated object, or keeping the clipping path intact within the original JPEG file itself. Or perhaps even as a composite-ready transparent element in a well thought out and highly customizable graphics template on GraphicRiver.
Trends come and go. It’s important to avoid pushing the processing too far, as what might look very trendy at the moment might not be so trendy next year or the year after. It’s okay to use color filters to give your photos a personal touch or convey a specific style or mood, but images that are processed to look more natural tend to age better and will likely find a larger audience in the long run. With the accessibility of powerful photo editing tools available these days, customers are quite easily able and often prefer to further process the images themselves to meet their specific needs.
Do not submit multiple versions of the same photo simply with different color filters applied. These would be considered too similar and potentially spamming, where your photos, upload rights, or account may be suspended.
Saturation and competition
No, we’re not talking about making your photo’s colors brighter and more vivid here, but the fact that lots of subject matter is already overproduced and oversaturated in stock photography, and that when choosing what photos to shoot and submit it’s important to consider competitive factors and what other similar photos might already be available.
Generally the more common the subject, the more selective we will be in acceptance, not to mention the more challenging it will be to catch a customer’s eye and be successful. For more saturated subject matter here, you’ll want to make sure your photo is able to stand out from the crowd. You can always search the marketplace in advance to see what types of photos may be in lower supply and less saturated, as well as take note of the immediate competition and what might make your photos unique.