Required and Recommended Kit To Get You Started in Stock Photography
When I talk about stock photography equipment, I don’t just mean the camera that you are using, although it must be of a certain standard! In fact the camera is just the start, any stock library worth its salt will look for quality in your work, and to get that, you are going to need some help.
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 shooting film, its more the quality of the lens that you should consider and perhaps a medium format camera.
For digital, I would recommend a minimum of 8 megapixels (Although you can get away with 6-6.3) and shoot with a Digital SLR , not an 8MP compact. Remember, the better the quality straight from the camera, the less work required in post-processing to get it “Up to scratch”, and compacts have smaller sensors.
The only DSLR’s capable of producing acceptable prints direct from the camera, are the Canon EOS 1Ds MKII or Mark III, or the Nikon D3 range with their full-frame, 16.7MP/23MP sensors. Although, as they come with a hefty €8,000 ($8,000) price tag, you may want to get started with something smaller.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark II for example comes in at around a quarter of those and has the same size, full frame sensor and produces some of the cleanest, crispest images I have seen.
Even the now somewhat “antiquated” cameras such as the Canon EOS 20D or the Canon EOS 350D Rebel XT, or from the Nikon camp, the Nikon D70, D70s, D200 or the more affordable 6MP Nikon D50 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 1.6x so 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 and 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;
- Dust/Blemishes/Mistakes etc
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 example of colour correction and dust removal!
Stock Photography Equipment
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, 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 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 CS has one, new tool that does this for you in an instant. If you don’t have CS, you can still do this with other software, but the process is a little longer.
NOTE: DO NOT 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!
Finally, you will need some additional pieces of software to enable you to get the file sizes up to the minimum required, (unless you have the Canon EOS 5D Mark II or similar), and to reduce any “noise” from the images. I have covered this in the 5th section.