Owning Photoshop will greatly add to your “necessary tools” when selling stock photos
Ok, the RAW processing is done and you have a JPEG image ready to be uploaded. Wait.
Take a long look at the image first and load it into Photoshop or whichever editing suite you use and ask yourself these questions:
- Is it straight?
- Is the colour correct?
- Is there any noise or grain in the image?
- Does it need cropping?
- Are there any dust spots from your sensor showing?
- Is there anything in the image that needs cloning out?
- Are there any logos or trademarks that need removing?
- Is it sharp?
- Is it interesting?
- Is the finished file size big enough for most agencies?
- Is the finished file size TOO big for any agencies?
- Is the lighting good or do you need to enhance any shaded areas?
- Are there any blown highlights that you can work on?
- Have you embedded the Title, description and keywords into the file?
A lot to think about huh? Let’s go through each in turn and my advice is to always look at your images at 100% or more when scrutinising them for abnormalities that could cause rejection…after all, the reviewers will!
Unless you are going for a particular look or funky angle for your image, there is nothing worse to me than seeing a wonky horizon or building. I tend to shoot at an angle for whatever reason (must have been dropped on my head as a kid) and often need to straighten my pics.
Buyers will be immediately put off if they see a shot like this and it may affect your future sales. You see, buyers have the ability to add you as a “favourite photographer” and the more of these you get, the more likely you are to receive constant sales.
Get it right first time and you remove the risk of alienating buyers. You will now see why I say stand back a little and leave space around your subject when shooting…
Your monitor may show the image to look great but when was the last time you calibrated it?
An agency may repeatedly reject your images for colour casts leaving you flummoxed (confused) as they look fine on your PC. Save yourself A LOT of time and heartache by getting hold of a decent screen calibrator such as the Spyder Pro series or Pantone Huey.
Digital SLR’s can often give off a red or yellow colour cast when shooting indoors under fluorescent or tungsten lighting. You need to be able to see this to be able to deal with it so calibrate your screen often.
If you still end up with colour casts, there are ways of removing them which we discuss here but you are better off sorting the problem at its source.
If you can, make sure you use the correct white balance setting when shooting by either using the camera’s own white balance adjustments and custom settings, or get hold of the Expodisc which does all the hard work for you.
Get the colour right before uploading!
If you have had to straighten your image due to a wonky horizon or walls, you will inevitably end up with some areas on the edges which need cropping. This is quickly and easily done.
Also, look at the image and ask yourself if a cropped version might be better. Is there too much information in the background and surrounding areas? Would a tighter crop enhance the look you are after? Always check the edges before uploading your final image.
A common problem and one that is sometimes overlooked by photographers. I see images online all the time with these small shaded “spheres” of ugly darkness.
They are caused by small particles of dust on your sensor that can get there when you change lenses in a dusty environment. Even though when you change lenses the shutter is closed and sensor covered, the dust may get onto the mirror or shutter blades and then find its way through when you start shooting.
Note: Your sensor isn’t actually exposed, it has a glass (low pass) filter in front of it which simply needs cleaning. The day you touch your actual sensor is the day you have serious problems.
There are a few ways of tackling this problem but the most obvious is to take care when changing lenses. Some people use changing bags when on a beach or dusty, damp environment, but I find this unnecessary, just be careful.
Secondly, you can use software to delete “constant” dust spots where a whole series of images have the same dust spots on them. Canon cameras now come with “dust delete data” in the menu and software but this still doesn’t sort the problem at the source.
As well as being careful, either take your camera to a dealer for cleaning or do it yourself with some excellent pieces of sensor cleaning kit that I use. I personally recommend:
- The Giotto Rocket Blower as a first port of call. This will blow any dust from your sensor using a powerful blast of clean air. Blast the blower a couple of times first to remove any dust from inside the blower itself and hold the camera with the sensor facing down to allow dust to fall out. Use the cameras sensor cleaning setting and make sure your batteries are fully charged. Take a test shot to see if it has done the trick.
- If you still have dust, next I recommend the Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly. This handy little tool rotates fast outside the camera to attract static which you then gently swipe across the sensor to attract any dust. You then spin the brush outside the camera to remove dust and re-charge and repeat until clean. NEVER spin the butterfly inside your camera!
- Lastly, if there is still a problem, you will need to clean the sensor using swabs and cleaning solution. Once you get the hang of this it is easy and very effective, use the instructions that come with the kits.
If you still have marks after all this, the chances are you have a scratched or damaged sensor and that can be expensive. Be super careful when cleaning your sensor yourself and you should be ok, it is not as scary as it seems.
To remove dust spots from stock images, you simply need to use the clone or healing brush…very simple.
If you haven’t seen it already, check out the 4th video on this page from the Absolute Beginners section on dust removal…
As well as cloning out dust spots, are there any other “annoyances” that degrade your otherwise beautiful image. Unless it actually enhances the photo I am after, I always remove artifacts such as litter, cracks, stains and unsightly things. Buyers mostly want crisp, clean images that are relatively simple. If you are going for the “dirty” look for a certain campaign then by all means add a few things as mentioned above.
Is there a tin can on the road? Remove it! Are there dents in a car you are shooting? Remove them! Does one wall of an otherwise stunning building have a few cracks in it? Remove them unless they are an integral part of an historic building.
Use your common sense to decide whether an image would benefit from a little “cosmetic surgery” and just do it using the same techniques for removing dust described above.
Logos and Trademarks
A big no-no in stock and you need to be well aware of what cannot be included in images. There is nothing more frustrating than having a bunch of shots rejected because there is a tiny logo on a boat or shop way in the distance that you didn’t spot. More work!
I always do what the reviewers do, view at 100% within the editing suite and check every single inch of the shot. Look for:
- Shop names
- Telephone numbers
- Company names and logos on clothes and sunglasses
- Manufacturers names on car tyres
- Car, boat and any other private registration numbers
- Email and website addresses
- Artwork that isn’t yours
- Even look at reflections in windows and water for the slightest hint of trouble
Make it a part of your everyday workflow when processing stock images. Load at 100% and check from top to bottom and left to right for any distinguishing marks that could get your image rejected and clone it out.
Never over-sharpen an image as it will more than likely be rejected. Agencies like to think that buyers will sharpen an image to their own taste and requirements but if it already done, it is impossible to remove.
If the image is simply blurred, don’t upload it unless that blurriness is intentional and adds value to the image and what it is saying. I hate blurred shots and delete them straight away. Get your techniques right and this shouldn’t be a problem but we all make mistakes…ahem!
Don’t be afraid to add a touch of sharpening but if in doubt and the image looks good anyway, leave it alone.
Before you upload an image, ask yourself if YOU would buy it and why. Then put yourself in the mind of a buyer and think “Would I pay for this? What can I use it for?”
This is especially important at the beginning as the chances are you will be either on a trial period or reviewers will watch you at the start to check the consistency of your work.
Upload trash or boring images week after week and they will get fed up and possibly even suspend your account whilst you get some training. Upload quality week after week and you will be left alone as you have proved you can consistently produce quality and well thought out images.
Once established, you can start to upload images that are a little more “boring” shall we say, as you may have read earlier, some incredibly bland images can sell for good money!
When you have all but finished processing your image, make sure that the file size falls into the requirements of each agency. These can differ so make a point of visiting each and making a written note of what each one needs.
Images that are too small and therefore less likely to be bought are a problem. You can upsize these using techniques and features that are built in to much of the software out there but a specialised program such as Genuine Fractals is best. I use this all the time to get files up to the uncompressed 50mb requirement from Alamy. One sale from an image at Alamy using this software could cover the cost!
They say you can upsize an image to over 1000% without any loss in sharpness or detail which is also great for large prints.
On the other hand, I have had images rejected for being too big so watch out for that also. If they are too big, either alter the dimensions or save at a slightly lower quality.
As we have already learned throughout, lighting is everything and poor lighting is another big reason for rejection. Make sure you get it right when shooting and save yourself a lot of bother.
If you do need to enhance and brighten the image slightly, watch out for noise or grain being added when you pull details from shadows. This isolated or regionalised noise can be sorted without affecting or ruining the rest of the image.
Blown highlights can be a problem but sometimes an image can be quite attractive with blown highlights if done well. Shooting RAW, as we discussed earlier, can save your bacon by giving you that latitude for error.
If you load a fantastic image into Photoshop only to find it is ruined with blown highlights, sometimes not all is lost. As discussed, if you have a RAW file, the chances are you can recover some of that detail. If not, there are other workarounds…
Can you clone it detail from the rest of the image to effectively “cover up” the blown highlights. Do you have another, similar image that has the highlights well exposed and can you clone that it?
I have done these trick on a few occasions and is one reason why I always take more than one image of a scene. I sometimes make two or three exposures making sure one is metered for highlights and one is metered for shadows.
Learn how to use exposure bracketing with your camera and use a tripod to ensure all “copies” are exactly the same with just the exposures differing.
(If shooting just one JPEG and the image is simply too far gone with blown highlights, forget it, delete it, learn your lesson and move on. Don’t waste too much time “in recovery mode” but try and get it right next time).
So, if shooting RAW, you can pull two different exposures from an image, layer them and level out the dynamic range but for better and more consistent effects, you should bracket your shots.
For example, this image is a standard, single photo taken at night…
Not too bad but some highlights are a little bright and the left side of the image is too dark.
In the next series, I put the camera on a sturdy tripod and took a series of 6 images ranging from 2 stops under exposed to 2 stops overexposed…
These were then loaded into some free HDR imaging software call Picturenaut and set running which produced the following image…
The improvements are most noticeable in the darker areas on the left where now they have been opened up and the shadows lessened.
I must point out here that there are many variables you can tweak and play with when using this software so this may not be the best I can get from these images. Also, higher quality paid software may do a better job still but whichever software you use, this is still an area that requires practice.
You can also do HDR merging if you have Photoshop CS3 or higher by going to:
File – Automate – Merge to HDR
…and this gives similar results.
Once again, have a play with this technique and software…it’s free and you can have some fun picking out great, night-time subjects that would benefit from this method.
Next Page – Noise and Grain