Stock Photography Equipment
A list of required, recommended and essential kit to help you shoot and sell great stock photos
Updated July 2021: The recommended equipment for starting out in stock photography is a camera with 20 megapixels or more (including your Smartphone), a high quality lens for sharp images with good colour reproduction, a stable tripod to reduce camera shake and some basic knowledge of editing with any reputable digital imaging software.
Recommended Stock Photography Equipment for Beginners
When I started shooting stock photography, I had just a 6mp Canon EOS 10D, one 35-135mm lens, a speedlight and a tripod. A purchased image from that camera has been seen on billboards in Spain and many still sell today more than 15 years later. The minimum megapixel requirement from many stock agencies is 4mp. However, to ensure more sales, we recommend going as high as possible starting from 10-12mp.
You don't need a ton of equipment to get started in stock photography! See our list of essential equipment below.
Essential Stock Photography Equipment
- 1Reliable, Good Quality Camera of 10-12mp or higher (minimum is 4mp but you want to give the best quality you can to ensure more sales).
- 2High Quality Lens of any focal length to give sharp detail and accurate colour rendition. A cheap lens won't always produce the quality needed by agencies.
- 3Good, Sturdy Tripod to ensure no camera shake when you have to lower your shutter speed in low light or for special effects.
- 4Editing Software to apply some basic adjustments such as levels and curves, brightness and "minimal" sharpening where necessary. Buyers like to do the edit.
- 5Ample Memory Cards are needed especially if you are away for a while shooting stock photography. At the very least, get a digital photo storage device to offload.
- 6Lighting may or may not be required so we recommend either a compatible speedlight or some basic, off camera LED lighting for darker times.
- 7Your Computer Monitor or editing device needs to be well calibrated to ensure that the final image output is accurate in colour and contrast to the original scene.
- 8Image Dimensions are more important than megapixels so try to keep your final photos above 2000 x 2400 pixels (4.8 Megapixels).
Check out our mini-stock photography course
Even though the stock photography industry is going through some big changes right now, there is still money to be made by shooting stock so check out our mini course on stock photography and get started today.
Watch my YouTube video below for more...
Stock Photography Equipment: The Camera
Because of the quality required for most stock libraries you are going to need a decent camera. Especially if you are shooting digital. If you are still shooting film, its more the quality of the lens that you should consider and perhaps a medium/large format camera.
For digital, I would recommend a minimum of 16 megapixels these days and shoot with a Digital SLR. Not an 16MP compact or Smartphone. Remember, the better the quality straight from the camera, the less work required in post-processing to get it "up to scratch". Compacts have smaller sensors.
There are quite a few DSLR's capable of producing acceptable prints direct from the camera these days. Many have megapixel ranges up to 50mp although they come with a hefty price tag. You may want to get started with something smaller for now.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV for example is now reasonably priced. It has a full frame sensor capable of producing some of the cleanest, crispest images I have seen. Even the now somewhat "antiquated" cameras such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark II or the Nikon D600 are capable of producing the goods.
Stock Photography Equipment: The Lenses
I would actually say that the quality of the lens that you use is the most important factor in any type of photography. For a brief explanation, see my lenses page.
Some cheaper lenses give off a phenomenon called "chromatic aberration" or "purple fringing" creating a halo effect around your subject. It is caused by cheap glass but I won't go into detail. However, this is not acceptable for stock libraries.
Don't panic though, you don't have to go out and spend thousands on the best quality glass out there. There are a lot of mid-range lenses that do a fine job. 2 lenses that I still keep in my bag from when I started, are the Canon EF 50mm 1.4 and the Canon EF 28-135mm USM (now replaced with the Canon EF 24-70mm L f2.8).
These are reasonably priced and can throw out some top quality images. Especially the 50mm 1.4! Before you buy a new set of lenses, think about what type of photography you will be doing, follow this guide:
Interiors/Landscapes/Architectural/Artistic/Groups: Wide angle lens
Bear in mind that most semi-professional DSLRs have a "crop effect" of about 1.5x/1.6x. Choose the lens accordingly. Look at 16mm, 24mm, 28mm and 35mm. You can also use zoom lenses such as a 16-35mm, 17-40mm or a 24-70mm. They do a great job but prime lenses tend to give slightly better results. If budget is an issue, go for a good zoom lens, you can cover a wide focal area for a fraction of the cost.
Portraits/People/Still life/Everyday scenes: Standard/small telephoto lens
Great lenses for these types of photography would be 50mm, 85mm, 100mm, 135mm. Any of these prime lenses are fantastic for people portraits, and I would highly recommend you have at least one in your bag. Again the zoom options for these would be 24-70mm, 28-135mm (my choice for a great walk-around lens), 28-85mm or 35-135mm.
Sports/Wildlife/Press: Telephoto lens
You are going to need to get in close for these subjects. For that you need to spend a little bit more on your stock photography equipment. Do not buy cheap telephoto lenses for stock photography. Because you are magnifying the image many times, you are also magnifying any imperfections in the glass and this will really stand out! Look at 135mm, 200mm, 300mm, 400mm and 500mm anything bigger gets very expensive. As these lenses are not cheap anyway, you should consider a quality zoom.
Remember, these lenses can last a lifetime so it is worth the cost for the long haul. Look at 70-200mm (my choice), 80-200mm, 100-400mm or the excellent (and cheap) Sigma 50-500mm. Most reviews rate this lens and it has an awesome range!
It is also worth considering a 1.4x or 2x Teleconverter but please buy a good quality one. By doing this you greatly extend your telephotos range without the need for splashing out on more glass! Bear in mind that a 1.4x converter will lose 1 stop of light and a 2x converter will lose 2 stops.
Stock Photography Equipment: The Software
Ok! You have taken your photographs with your quality lenses. Now you need to get them to a decent level for approval by the stock libraries. Some of the adjustments you will need to make are;
You need to be able to zoom deep into your photo and check for dirt. This can normally be caused by dust on your sensor. Before you go scrubbing the sensor - DON'T, I will cover this later on.
To remove any nasties, you need software with a cloning or healing tool. These incredible tools enable you to safely remove anything from the photograph that doesn’t need to be there without anyone ever knowing.
Here is a quick GIF example of colour correction and dust removal!
Sometimes, even with a tripod, you are going to take pictures that are a bit "off balance". Using a grid on your screen and the adjustment tools, you can easily and quickly straighten a photograph. This is essential for landscapes and architectural photography. In fact, a professional film photographer friend of mine has what are known as tilt/shift lenses in her bag. These are very expensive prime lenses used by architectural photographers to reduce the perspective errors when shooting buildings.
When I showed her I could do the same thing in Photoshop in about 2 minutes, she was a little depressed to say the least!
Colour and Contrast
The pictures that come straight from a Digital SLR or even a film SLR can sometimes look a little bland or dull. I like to give my shots a real punch by upping the colour saturation and contrast. I do this using the curves tool, but not too much. Many of the terms used here can be found on my Photoshop A-Z of terminology (work in progress), and the techniques are covered in the tutorials.
Go to my commercial gallery at NickStubbs.com to see some examples.
Sometimes you need to pull the detail back from the dark areas of your photographs or tone down the highlights. Photoshop CC has one, excellent tool that does this for you in an instant. If you don't have CC, you can still do this with older versions such as CS4/5/6.
NOTE: DO NOT OVER-SHARPEN YOUR PHOTOS
You should even switch the in camera sharpening off. The reason is that the end clients who buy from the stock agencies like to have the choice of how much to sharpen the image, if at all!