My work flow for Stock Photography

My earlier articles on making money from your photos focused on the type of images that sell, the main sites and their pros and cons, but I realize that I have not really covered the day to day work of a stock photographer. How should you organize yourself to make this as painless as possible? Here is my own step by step guide to making life easier while making money from stock photos!

I’ll assume that you have signed up at the main stock sites – if not, the links on the left are there to help you. These are the main sites I upload to, although there are a few new ones that I have started to use and I will get to those. For now, don’t overdo the number of sites as it will give you a massive headache if you don’t have the process smoothly running!

I use Lightroom as my main tool, and so the instructions are written for that system. I also use Raw files at all times – they give you a lot more flexibility in fixing exposure issues. If you use something else, then follow along and make the necessary changes. I structure the folders on my hard drive with a folder for the year – ie 2011, then a folder for each month with the letter of the alphabet in front – eg a-January, b-February etc. This makes the sorting all logical and the first letter always makes them sort in the correct order. I put all images taken in the month into the folder for that month.

  1. Import all the images to Lightroom. I have a default import profile that automatically adds copyright information into the relevant fields in the file, but this isn’t critical. For each shoot, I use the “renaming” option and come up with a custom name and unique number. So for the Cherry blossom shots, it was cherry_blossom-1 etc. This makes the file name itself searchable on Google and there is a chance that someone may find the image from the file name alone. It also helps when you are looking at a long list of file names to have some idea what the pictures are all about. At the same time I add two or three basic keywords describing the images so that I can easily find all of them later.
  2. Look at each image in turn and decide if it is rubbish (click X to mark for deletion), or if it is worth spending time  on properly developing to make into a great image (click P for “pick” to mark with a flag).
  3. Filter your images to show all the photos marked with a flag, and then go through each one in turn to properly set the white balance and color profile and then set exposure, black point, clarity and some vibrance or saturation. I don’t apply any sharpening, although I sometimes use the noise reduction in Lightroom if I have taken the image with an ISO higher than 200.
  4. Look at each image for any trade marks or other identifiable signs. In a cityscape, this could be people’s faces, signs on hotels, advertising etc. I can sometimes make the deletion using the heal tool in Lightroom, but if I need to do any serious cloning, adding of layers to combine two different exposures – basically anything complicated – I open the image in Photoshop and make the changes there. If I go into Photoshop, I take an extra step here – I have an action recorded that flattens all layers and converts to the sRGB color profile. I always set all my color profiles to sRGB before uploading as I assume that most people are viewing the images on a browser and that works best with sRGB. Still in Photoshop, I reduce the size of the file so that the long edge is around 4000 pixels and then save as a JPEG with maximum quality. Back in Lightroom, I synchronize the folder, and in the Import screen, I right click and set the color border to Yellow and select the flag. This step is important as I want to immediately be able to spot the JPEGs from the Raw files later in the process.
  5. Take a break and then come back and look through your images with “lights out” – press L twice to focus just on the image. This run through is to make sure that the development is correct, that you cannot see any dust spots, and it also gives you a chance to make any final adjustments to the images when you compare them against each other. Sometimes I will remove the flag from a photo if I decide it doesn’t really meet the required standard.
  6. At this point, I have a collection of images from the shoot (49 in the case of the Cherry Blossom festival in DC) that I think are good enough for stock purposes – all of them flagged and easy to sort.
  7. I then start to keyword and describe them in Lightroom. I use the Yuri Arcurs keyword tool and search for images that are similar to the ones I have. I then go through the set of suggested keywords and try to be realistic about matches. This means I uncheck some of the early ones and pick some of the later, less obvious keywords, and I try to end up with about 40. I leave some room to add specific keywords describing the location if it is important to the shot. Finally, I copy the keywords into the first image, over-writing my original simple words. I then write a title that probably has 5-10 words, and then a longer description. Both the title and the description should include the important keywords if at all possible. Finally, I right click and “save metadata to file” to write the keywords into the file itself.
  8. Then click on this one image and ctrl-click on all the images that are roughly the same. Use “Sync” to synchronize the keywords, title and description to each image.
  9. Now for the boring piece! I go to the next image in the grid – if it has no keywords (ie a different type of image), I repeat this same process to gather new keywords and add title and description, and then copy to all the files that are similar to that one. If the next photo already has keywords, I check for any inappropriate keywords, amend the title and description if needed, and then save the metadata. I go image by image until I get to the end and now all my photos are properly and accurately keyworded and given appropriate titles and descriptions.
  10. I don’t keep the actual images that are being uploaded in the Lightroom catalog – mainly because it would add extra clutter, and I need them in a separate folder to make it obvious which are to be uploaded. So I have a completely different folder structure – starting off with Stock as the main folder, then year, then month as before. This structure is created outside Lightroom using normal file management tools.
  11. Back in Lightroom, look at your photos in grid view. Ctrl-click on all the Yellow images (the JPEGs) until they are all selected. Go to Export and set the folder to the appropriate stock folder for the month, and export as an original. This simply takes a file copy of the JPEG with no extra compression and places it in the new folder. This is pretty quick as no processing takes place. Then select all the uncolored images (the raw files) and here I set the Export to convert to sRGB, resize so that the long dimension is 4000 pixels (with no enlargement) and quality of the JPEG is maximum. This export takes longer, which is why I do it second. I go for a coffee!
  12. I now have all my images ready for upload in the appropriate month folder and all sized to around 4000 pixels in sRGB.
  13. For a long time, I used to use ProStockMaster, but I had issues with my new Windows 7 computer, and so I moved to direct FTP (using Filezilla). However, I am now a convert to Lightburner – a great free tool/system for stock photographers. I plan to write a more complex instruction about this site as I don’t find it very intuitive, but in principle, you FTP the images to the site. You can set up links (channels they are called) to each of the main stock sites, and then for each site, you have a series of options about how to upload the files. All of mine are the same, except for Shutterstock. The majority are set to automatically upload to the channels when I upload the originals, and to place the files in the “pending” queue on each site. This latter point is to allow me to go and set the categories and check for any duplicates or errors on each site, before I finally commit them to review. I may change that in the future, but it works for now. The difference with Shutterstock is that I resize the images for that site down to about 6M. Shutterstock pays the same regardless of size and so I try to aim significantly bigger than the minimum (4M) but not too large. Lightburner does the rest. Great!
  14. There are a few sites that they don’t cover – Zoonar, Graphic Leftovers, Cutcaster and I use Filezilla to select the files in the right folder and upload them using FTP. I don’t use Lightburner for iStockPhoto as I much prefer to get the iStock keywords correct in DeepMeta rather than work on the site.
  15. I then visit the various sites at my leisure (starting with Canstockphoto because of their fast reviews) and do whatever is necessary to get them into the review queues.
  16. That is the full process. I don’t bother with tracking images according to their acceptance or rejection – I just take it on the chin and rarely bother to upload an image. If something sells really well elsewhere I may go back and try again, but I rarely do that.

Hope this helps set up your own process. Sorry the text is so dense and boring, but I couldn’t think of relevant photos to add!



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7 Responses

  1. Nicky says:

    Thanx for the great instructions that was extremely helpful, there is alot of little tidbits of useful information that seems irrelevant but in truth are very important. The whole process can take a long time for a beginner with no help.

  2. Steven White says:

    Thanks very much for this and your other articles on the site. I have been getting into stock photography for the last couple of months and trying to perfect my workflow. One thing I cant get my head around though and im hoping you might be able to help, how do you order keywords on priority for sites like iStock, Dreamstime and Alamy? Ideally, I want to be able to set all information for the photo once, then upload to all agencies. Lightroom and other programs I have found sort them alphabetically….. any ideas?

    Many thanks,


    • admin says:

      Hi Steve
      Good question – the easy answer is that I don’t! Alamy is a totally separate case and I do use a partner to submit to that site these days. Starting now I think I would just use Zoonar and select Alamy as a partner through them. Zoonar take some of the income, but I do see more sales on Alamy through them than I do from my own direct imports to Alamy. For iStock, I use Deepmeta and sometime drag a few important keywords to the top. You need to work on iStock keywords separately anyway. Dreamstime – I don’t bother (in fact I’m not sure I knew they wanted them sorted by priority). I don’t believe there is any way to change the order in Lightroom.

  3. Artur says:

    Hi Steve,

    How are you managing categories for the images? Are you putting them on metadata or adding them onto the site?


    • admin says:

      I use stock submitter for that. It generally guesses reasonably well and I sometimes change those. No need to visit the sites if you do that.

  4. Dee says:

    This is useful but to a beginner, 7-14 went right over my head. I think I need to study Keywords more. I can’t wrap my head around all of the time and tools needed to do this for so very little.

I'm always interested in what you think - please let me know!