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How to get your existing images accepted by Stock Agencies

Stock photography is a great way of making extra cash with your existing photos.

It is also a great opportunity to showcase your work whilst at the same time, have a searchable presence on Google.

I started uploading to Shutterstock during the global lockdown in 2020 and as time has progressed, in my spare time, I have built up a great presence on the Internet via Google Search.


My images have been published hundreds of times and I use this as references when meeting clients for the first time.

1 - Import images into Lightroom

Firstly, I must make it clear, I am not sponsored and do not get paid by Adobe, and in all honesty, but I do find  Lightroom to be a great tool for cataloguing images with different attributes and metadata.

It also provides a complete solution from import, to creating a library, developing and exporting the image to a suitable file type.

There are alternatives, but I find myself always coming back to Lightroom.

2 - Find and catalogue existing images with the lowest ISO

Customers and Stock Agencies want sharp and noise free images.

If the image is sharp but has even the slightest grain, it will be rejected by all agencies.

Stock agencies DO NOT want such images on their portfolios as they take up space and never get downloaded. Plus it does not give stock agencies a good reputation to list such images.

Therefore, it is good practice to start any workflow with images taken at the camera's lowest ISO.

In the example below, there are 270 images filtered in ISO range and as a result, only 92 are selected which are at ISO100.

It is extremely important from the outset, to get into a mindset where you can take emotion out and gain the discipline to not include images that are beyond repair. They will not only be rejected, be a huge waste of time in Lightroom and Photoshop, but also result in bringing in negative thoughts. Therefore, it is best to leave these images in an archive on the hard drive and when one day, you are established, spend some time on them.

3 - Fix noise and sharpness - Bring out the detail in the images

As Noise and sharpness is the primary concern, this should be the first step in any workflow.


A good recommendation is to view each image at 100% to check for sharpness and focus.

Sometimes lenses are not calibrated and can either back focus or front focus resulting in the subject being out of focus.


If at 100%,  an image is severely out of focus, then give it a 1-star rating.

If an image is very close to focus, but very slightly out of focus, give it a 3-star and leave for a later date.

Images that are completely in focus and sharp with noise corrected in Lightroom, give them a 4-star as these will be the only images worth working on at this stage for any potential uploads. 

Even images that seem noise free, and in focus, still benefit from extra noise reduction and sharpening.

An example of sharpening is as follows from Lightroom.

Screenshot 2023-03-28 at 01.07.45.jpg

It's very important to remember that reducing noise will also reduce sharpness and likewise, increasing sharpness will also increase noise. 


So to summarise, there needs to be a good balance between both sharpness and Noise. Images that are technically good, I.E Sharp with no noise, not tilting and straight, sell frequently and have high usage.

4 - Lens corrections (get rid of the purple fringing I.E Chromatic Aberrations)

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Images will be rejected if they contain Chromatic Aberrations. These are the purple fringing lines quite often seen on images where there are extreme highlights contrasted with a dark subject.


Lightroom in the developer module has a tool called, “Lens corrections” and this will automatically take away any fringing. This option also allows you to pick the make and model of the lens and by doing so, any errors produced by the lens are automatically corrected. I would recommend this with every image. 

5 - Straighten images - transform your image with perspective corrections

Your images will not be rejected if they are tilting or converging but will be a lot less appealing to potential customers.


Therefore it is very important to ensure that each image is straight and not leaning or tilting to one side. 


Lightroom has a great tool for this called ‘Transform’ in the Developer Module.

Generally, the Auto button corrects any issues but it's worth learning about each slider for any intricate work.

6 - Do any tonal adjustments - Highlights, Shadows, Clarity, Saturation etc.

It’s very rare for an image to be rejected due to tonal issues but it is good practice to ensure that shadows are not clipped and the highlights are not over blown. It's also good practice to ensure that the image remains within the histogram parameters.

Screenshot 2023-03-29 at 14.32.19.jpg

However, saying that, sometimes the background has to be completely white or completely black and you need to work on the image with an understanding of who your potential customer is.


If you are uploading an image that a prospective customer may print and you have completely blown the highlights, then this can be a problem as printers will not drop any ink on the white areas and depending on the paper being used, under certain lights, this can be noticeable.

7 - Create a Caption / Description

Assuming that the majority of the images being uploaded contain recognisable people, artists or properties etc, then rather than spend huge amounts of time gaining model releases or removing business logos to upload as commercial images,  it makes more sense to just upload them as Editorial images.

Creating a good caption is an absolute must as it makes it easy for editors to quickly scan for relevant images.


The best suggested format is, Where, When, What and Who?

An example will be as follows;

Caption / Description : Slough, Berkshire, UK, JULY 2020 - Big Blue sign outside hospital indicating Covid-19 Testing Area against blurry background.

Screenshot 2023-04-02 at 22.57.33.jpg

It's very important to be as accurate as possible with descriptions.

In the example above, the vast majority of the image is blurry.

If the words 'against blurry background' had not been included in the caption/description, there would have been a strong chance that the image would have been rejected with the reason; 'the main subject is out of focus'.

Screenshot 2023-04-02 at 23.19.37.jpg

With Shutterstock, the contributor is given 200 characters to enter a description but it is advisable to enter this information in the caption field in Adobe Lightroom.

Taking Shutterstock as an example, the contributor is given 200 characters to enter a description and It's advisable to enter as much detail as possible straight into Lightroom. This means that when you finally export the image, it's ready to be uploaded to pretty much any stock websites without the need for any further amendments.

8 - Create a title

Titles are not required by every stock agency but the ones that do, you can’t upload without it.

A quick and easy method is to copy just the description from your caption, delete the location and date and paste it into the Title field of Lightroom

9 - Keyword each image

Good keywords are quite possibly the single most important thing when it comes to selling frequently and gaining maximum benefit. These are words that accurately describe the various elements of an image and as a result, makes it easy for a customer to find your image. 

When using Keywords to describe your image, it's important to think as a buyer.


What will they be looking for?

What will make your image an attractive proposal?

Here is an example of how to Caption and Keyword

Description/Caption - close up of a flatbread Vegan Sandwich held in a woman's hand with dark finger nails and a bite taken out of the sandwich

Keywords ; appetizer, bite, black, blur, bread, break, breakfast, cheese, cooking, cost of living, delicious, dinner, dinning, eat, expensive, feeding, finger, fingers, flat, food, fresh, google, green, half, healthy, herbivore, homemade, hungry, italian, lanyard, locket, lunch, meal, mediterranean, nails, nutrition, pixel, plate, red, restaurant, rings, rocket, rustic, salad, sandwich, sandwiches, time, tomato, varnish, vegan, vegetarian, woman

It is very important to emphasise what the main subject is. So here it's the bread, then Vegan, then its a sandwich in a woman's hand with dark finger nails and finally the bite. 

With the keywords, it's not all about the subject, but also about context and where the subject will fit. In this case, the buyer may be looking to write about Mediterranean holidays, or office workers at lunch. It maybe about nails or cost of living. It's very important to be able to place your image in a situation.

A good practice is always keyword inside apps such as Lightroom. As a rule, most professionals recommend a minimum of 50 keywords per image. However, as you build up your Catalogue of images, the keywords are stored within the App and can be used multiple times. You also have the advantage of grouping Keywords into Sets of 9 making it even easier to select the right keywords as most will start to repeat themselves

10 - Upload to various stock agencies

One of the main reasons why I keep coming back to Lightroom, is for the complete solution it provides.

It helps me to batch process my images by allowing me to synchronise global adjustments across numerous images and then to batch export them into a file type of my choice which in this instance will be jpegs.

Once the images are saved, they are ready to be uploaded. 

If you follow these principles, you will find that the rejection rate will be very minimal and you will be successful at selling your images.

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