Questions about stock photography – and some answers!

Jason F recently commented on my Master Class in Stock Photography and added in a series of questions that he would have asked if he had been there! By the way, I screwed up on the “Pay what you want” price – I had intended the minimum price to be $0.49. I’ve fixed it now. But back to the questions. I’ve split them up to allow me to put my thoughts against each one.

1. What are some more examples of reworking your existing portfolio? I have seen that some people simply add fake lens flares, other light leaks, and color changes. Have you had success with quick and easy things like that? 
I do make a habit of looking at each sale in Microstockr Pro at the thumbnail level and I try to assess whether the thumbnail is really telling me what the image is about, and I also think about what the buyer might have licensed it for and whether I could do something different to get more sales from that image. I have recently been doing that with artificial oceans in front of city skylines as an example. I saw this image selling reasonably frequently:
I took this back in 2010 and I made a pretty “over the top” HDR conversion of it. It has earned $315 and still sells. I decided it would be easy to use the Flood plugin to enhance the water and give it more drama and so I reprocessed it to tone down the HDR and replaced the water by an artificial sea. I mentioned that in the description by the way. This is the new one:

It only went live this month and has sold 9 times on Shutterstock for $6! With the poor performance of most new images on that site, I have high hopes for it in the coming months and years! I did some of Chicago while I was at it, and those are now live as well.
Another example – I noticed that there is increasing interest in the US about Social Security and its financial issues. So why not slot a social security card into other photos? This is an example of what I mean – created in 5 minutes in photoshop:
Not a great seller yet, but at least it has sold!
2. Cropping is a sort of remix. Do you send in multiple cropped versions of photos? I love to make outrageously large panoramas that I can then crop 10+ compositions out of. I am about to go through my entire portfolio and make crop versions of anything I can. Does that sound like a decent strategy? 
Sometimes. Adobe doesn’t really like this – I have had rejections for an image cropped from an existing one. However, I do often take a panorama of an interesting scene and sometimes crop different versions from it. Each image needs to be “interesting” in its own right though.
3. Keywording seems to be the vague part of my work process. The common belief is that more is better, but I watched a KelbyOne class for Adobe Stock Contributors that made me think differently. The instructor says that he changed his mind after speaking with some people at Adobe Stock and now only recommends something like 10-25 very specific keywords.  
For example: In the course he talks about a model photo of an African American woman. He says to keyword it as “African American” NOT: “African”, “American”. Because someone searching for “American” or “African” might want something else.  
I am currently working on a large batch of “cropped” images that are from old images in my portfolio. I plan on keywording them extremely minimally and making their titles and descriptions higher quality than my usual stuff. 
This is difficult. I know that some agencies search for compound keywords like the African American example you give, but I’m not sure that all agencies search and return that phrase and so I often put in the two separate words as well. I know that means that the buyer will see inappropriate shots – but they are probably seeing lots of those anyway! So there is always a conflict between keywording to work well on one agency with the desire to do the job once and meet the needs of all agencies. I always try to get the main keyword or concept in the description though. I think most agencies (and Google obviously) search there. Two other tips – it is worth going to the Shutterstock site and type in your main keyword in the search box. SS have an auto complete function that suggests their chosen spelling of that keyword. I notice that the word “blockchain” is suggested to be “block chain” and you get different results between those two options. So really you need to make sure that the SS suggested phrase is in your list as well. Finally, iStock is a continuing pain – words that don’t match their vocabulary don’t get forwarded from StockSubmitter and so your images will often not have the main terms if they are unusual. Another reason to have those words in the description.
4. My main question is still what to shoot. I think that is probably where everyone is at! 
I’m a firm believer in closely watching what is in the news (I use Flipboard to quickly see what images are illustrating topics of interest) and try to make sure you have interesting images for both current (and what you guess may become future) items of interest. Those may not be difficult to do, and they have a chance of picking up before the media really gets hold of a story.
Hope this helps!
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19 Responses

  1. Jason Finn says:

    Thank you for answering these questions!! I hope this is helpful for others as well!

  2. Michele Jackson says:

    Interesting questions and informative replies, thank you.

  3. Angelica says:

    Thanks for the answers and tips 🙂

    But this made me wonder: “iStock is a continuing pain – words that don’t match their vocabulary don’t get forwarded from StockSubmitter and so your images will often not have the main terms if they are unusual. Another reason to have those words in the description.” Do you still send photos to iStock with StockSubmitter? Didn’t think that was possible anymore ’cause I got this email from them a while ago:

    “After careful review, we’ve concluded that the overall quality and accuracy of keywords we receive with imagery submitted using StockSubmitter does not meet the high standards we require.
    Due to this, we are no longer supporting imagery submitted using StockSubmitter, effective end of day, July 20, 2018.”

    • admin says:

      Yes, I saw that email, but I find that StockSubmitter still works. Two things to note – it takes longer for the controlled vocabulary to appear and the system doesn’t remember any choices from the previous use, so you need to choose new words for all your keywords. But you can still do this for multiple images at once and then submit them as normal.

    • Jason Finn says:

      Hi Angelica,

      IStock has actually gone from my least favorite to my most favorite! I do not submit with StockSubmitter (the only place I do not submit from there). I use upload your files after keywording, titling and describing. They then help convert the keywords for iStock and use AI to come up with more possibilites. I often copy paste new keywords into stock submitter from Qhero for the other agencies. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty awesome!!! It’s free for now and hopefully stays that way!

      I hope that helps!

      • Angelica says:

        Hi Jason! Me too, iStock is actually my best earner 🙂 Isn’t it easier to submit all with StockSubmitter at the same time? Thanks for the Qhero keyword-tip, gonna check it out for keyword suggestions before uploading in StockSubmitter 🙂

        • Jason Finn says:


          That’s awesome! IStock is my biggest earner as well depending on the month (strange that most people say ShutterStock)! I find StockSubmitter to be bulky when I try to upload for iStock. Qhero is super fast and easy once you figure it out, so I find the inconvenience of using another platform worth the extra effort. Let me know if you have any problems or questions I could try answering. I have notifications for the comments here or you can try me on Instagram @dropthepress 🙂

          • admin says:

            I have used QHero in the past – apart from it being a different system that you need to log into and work, its advantage is that I believe it submits any keywords that don’t match into the iStock system and, as far as I know, they are then searchable. Perhaps it does need to be investigated, but I would loath to give up the simplicity of StockSubmitter for all sites.

          • Jason Finn says:

            Hmmm.. That’s even more interesting! I wonder how they are able to submit words outside the iStock system.. I find the workflow to be about the same as using StockSubmitter because you have to update batch names every 100 images on there anyway. I just upload in a background tab in my browser in Qhero. I have a 32 MB of RAM so maybe if that would slow down my computer then it could be an issue. I have like 30 tabs open at all times so it makes no difference to me!!

          • admin says:

            It would be interesting to test. Have you any images where a word was not in the controlled vocabulary? You could see if it is in the iStock database now.

          • admin says:

            I just looked for one of my recent uploads on iStock. As I thought, the specific words that didn’t match aren’t there – it was an image of the Kappa Alpha fraternity house at West Virginia University, so Kappa Alpha didn’t make it. However I put that in the description of the file and a search on “Kappa Alpha WVU” came up with my image.

          • Jason Finn says:

            Okay, so you are saying that the keyword “Kappa Alpha” was removed when submitted through StockSubmitter. But if you submitted through Qhero, then you are wondering if it would have gotten through, right?

            I’ll check some of my images that I submitted with Qhero. When I use the site. I was under the impression they convert the words to work. But if they just upload all the keywords anyway then that may even be better (assuming they are searchable).

          • Jason Finn says:

            Okay, so I checked on an image I took of a building under construction (semi detail shot of the upper half so no property release was necessary). I did no extra input on this one so this shows what gets cut:

            Here are the keywords I created using and my own brainstorming that I then put into StockSubmitter:

            (41 words total)
            construction; wood; wooden; frame; home; beam; architecture; open; top; unfinished; residential; blue; exterior; industry; development; view; site; board; housing; property; install; rafters; detail; inside; building; architectural; interior; outdoor; planks; installation; rooftop; incomplete; structure; roof; build; lumber; sky; new; plank; framework; carpentry

            Here is what Qhero uploaded for me to iStock with no input from me at all (lazy I know). I am not sure if this is the same as uploading to iStock directly:

            (21 words total)
            blue, architecture, sky, construction industry, wood – material, open, home ownership, outdoors, frame, industry, development,
            residential district, construction frame, roof, carpentry, plank, new, timber, installing, roof beam, incomplete

            So it looks like it cuts quite a bit and does not let all the keywords through. I do notice that it converts some keywords automatically, like “wood” to “wood – material”.

            I have others that I did actually work on using Qhero and selected keywords according to their AI help. For one example I began with 38 keywords from Stock Submitter and ended with 27 keywords for iStock. That was only with Qhero’s suggested keywords and the automatically converted keywords.

            That would have been really cool if it added all words and not just the iStock vocabulary, but it seems this is not the case! I guess it just comes down to what seems easier to you.

            One more tip for anyone who feels semi-advanced on the computer:

            I extract the new keywords made from Qhero and put them into StockSubmitter for each image, but it is sort of a pain. In Qhero, I unselect the image I am working on, then reselect (this sorts the keywords you have chosen), then highlight and copy all of the assigned keywords, then paste them into stock submitter. Duplicates are not a problem because StockSubmitter automatically erases them along with extra commas. The only problem is that they have “returns” between each word instead of commas.

            I made a macro that presses the up button and comma button over and over 50 times and assigned it to a keyboard shortcut to fix the “return” problem. You could do that by hand but it may not be worth the time!!! If anyone knows an easier way to convert returns to commas then that would be appreciated.

            Here is the program I use to program macros:


            You would need the pro version and there is a learning curve.

            I’ve made a ton of custom keyboard shortcuts that I use throughout my workflow using this program! It is especially useful on the editing side of things.

          • admin says:

            Wow – that bit about keyword copying from qHero is heavy stuff! I do keywording in Lightroom so that is always my starting point (although I do use the keyword tool in StockSubmitter to get the basic 30 that I start with.

            The one question I’m not sure about from your explanation is whether words that have no match get forwarded on to iStock from qHero? All your words are quite generic and so most (or all) would match the vocabulary. I was looking for a word – such as a not very popular location or city – that has no match at all. Does that get forwarded by qHero?

          • Jason Finn says:

            I think that if it is not in the vocabulary at all then it just gets cut out. My example goes from 41 to 21 keywords. So I would assume that the missing 20 keywords are partly from doubles and partly from no matches. I usually do not put locations in the keywords since I try to do that in the description field when it makes sense.

  4. Angelica says:

    Before it was possible to check more that one term for a keyword in Stocksubmitter ESP terms, but not anymore. Is this possible in Qhero?

  5. Bjorn says:

    Another great post, with very valuable information!!!
    Thank you!

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