Make Your Stock Photography Workflow Better

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In this post, we share our top tips to help you improve your stock photography workflow. In particular, we cover how we edit our content in the most efficient manner. Also, we go over how we submit and sell stock photos online to make money for a living.

We submit all our content to stock photography websites ourselves. Being in control of our stock photography workflow has always been our goal. By doing so, we avoid paying fees and being dependent on various stock submitting websites.

Stock Photos Selection in Stock Photography Workflow

Our workflow begins with giving star ratings to the best RAW image files in Adobe Bridge. We shoot images in the RAW format. This format is the only lossless format that preserves the most colors straight out of the camera.

We submit our photos in batches of 500. If you do not have that many images, submit whatever number you have. This number could be 100 or 200.

Stock Photo Naming Convention

Next, we rename our photos. It is important to have a uniform naming convention to keep track of image files. We do so because we often re-edit and resubmit rejected images.

Our image file names start with at least 5 digits. Then, we give a short description of what is being depicted in a photo. For instance, you can name your very first photo as 00001-cute-cat.NEF. Having five digits allows you to keep track of at least 99,999 images.

Post-Processing Stock Photography Workflow

Adobe Camera Raw and Adobe Photoshop are our go-to photo-editing programs. We use and recommend Adobe programs for their versatile features, speed and regular updates.

Adobe Photoshop image with free trial try now button

Adobe Camera Raw

To edit a photo, we begin with Adobe Camera Raw, which has similar photo-editing tools as Adobe Lightroom. When you open up your image in Adobe Camera Raw, make sure that you are working in the ProPhoto RGB color space. Also, select 16-bit depth. Doing so will ensure that you will take full advantage of all available colors saved in your RAW photo.

ProPhoto RGB color space and 16-bits/channel depth for best stock photography editing post-processing results in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop

Next, we correct colors, adjust shadows, contrast and highlights to bring out details in Adobe Camera Raw. We also increase vibrance and saturation. If we need a certain object to stand out, we use the radial gradient tool. You can also correct for your lens vignette and distortion in the Optics tab. But, it is important to pay attention to noise in Camera Raw. Sliding shadows or exposure sliders to the extreme can exacerbate noise.

Then, we sharpen our image and reduce noise as necessary in the Detail tab. Finally, we give our image a final look and open it in Adobe Photoshop.

Adobe Photoshop

We choose ProPhoto RGB as our default working color space in Adobe Photoshop. You can do so in the Edit>Color Settings menu. Note, this is the same color space that we used in Adobe Camera Raw before.

We use Adobe Photoshop to remove logos and unwanted objects. Photoshop is also a great tool to retouch and smooth skin for portraits. Finally, we apply several filters to emphasize certain colors or create color contrast. Sometimes getting a certain color look yourself is difficult and time-consuming. For this reason, third-party plugin filters come in handy.

DxO Nik Collection Plugin

We use the DxO Nik Collection plugin, especially their Color Efex Pro filters. The three filters we often use are Foliage, Tonal Contrast and Detail Extractor. Nik collection comes with a 30-day free trial, if you’d like to give them a go.

Clouds inversion at sunrise morning dawn in Wintergreen Resort, Virginia ski resort town with colorful red sun rising above horizon with sunlight fog sky in Blue ridge mountains
Sunrise at Wintergreen Resort, Virginia

Topaz Denoise AI and Topaz Sharpen AI Plugins

We use the Topaz Denoise AI plugin to remove noise in specific areas. Unlike the noise reduction tool in Adobe Camera Raw, Topaz Denoise AI removes noise in a very targeted way.

Next, we sharpen our image using Unsharp mask in LAB mode on the lightness channel. Doing so will not create unnecessary artifacts and noise. However, sometimes the image is so blurry that it may need stronger sharpening. After testing several image sharpening plugins, we chose Topaz Sharpen AI for this task. This plugin uses a trained algorithm to sharpen images. At the same time, Topaz Sharpen AI avoids sharpening areas that can bring out noise.

Noise and focus are two of the most common rejection reasons. After we started using Topaz Denoise AI and Topaz Sharpen AI, we experienced noticeable improvement in our acceptance rates. If you can afford these two Topaz Labs plugins, they are worth every penny.

Final Product for Stock Photos

Finally, we convert our image to the sRGB color space through Edit>Convert to Profile menu in Photoshop. Then, we save a JPEG file for submission to stock photography websites. As a final product, we have three files for a particular image, which are RAW, XMP and JPEG files. 

Tracking Images in Stock Photography Workflow

We maintain a track record for each file in a separate spreadsheet. This spreadsheet may look like this and you can download it for your own use:

Tracking record spreadsheet for stock photo image files to keep track of keywords, titles, descriptions, license types and acceptance and rejections on stock photography websites

Why does it matter to maintain a track record of your stock photos? Because if you plan to resubmit rejected images, you need to know which files got rejected.

Tracking Spreadsheet Explained

The first column is the file name, which contains names for JPEG files. Next is the type of license column. This can be commercial or editorial. We added two more license types, which are illustrative editorial and model.

Several years ago, Adobe Stock began accepting illustrative editorial images. These images depict logos or brands with no recognizable people. This makes illustrative editorial a separate category from the editorial one. Designating an image as illustrative editorial makes it easy to know that you can submit it to Adobe Stock.

As for the model category, it is there to make sure we have model releases for these images. At the end of the day, images designated as model are commercial license photos. Images designated as illustrative editorial are editorial license photos.

Next is the description column. We do not create separate titles and descriptions. Most stock photo agencies have only one field for that. So our title and description are the same.

Traditional Japanese house ryokan with tatami mat floor, shoji sliding paper doors and woman in kimono and geta shoes tabi socks walking in corridor hall room
Tatami mats in Japan

We try to maintain our description for images under 150 symbols, including white spaces. For this reason, we created a restriction for the description column in Google Sheets. This restriction uses the data validation function. You can change or remove this restriction in the linked document. If you exceed the 150-symbol limit, you will see a red flag warning.

Next is the keywords column, where we aim for 50 keywords. Having relevant keywords is one of the most important success factors in stock photography. We wrote a tutorial on how to keyword and title photos for stock photography websites. There, we explain in great detail how we create keywords and titles for stock photos to maximize our sales.

Next we have columns for each stock photo agency that we submit our photos to. There, we have at least two options to choose from. These are “Accepted” or “Rejected”. This field is a must have, if you plan on resubmitting your content.

Filling Out Tracking Spreadsheet for Stock Photos

So, let’s start filling our information in the tracking spreadsheet for each image. The first task is to populate JPEG file names in the file name column. There is an easy trick to get file names in Windows and MacOS.

In Windows, go to Explorer, select files and hit copy path button in Home tab.

Copy path for files in Windows Explorer program

This will copy not only file names, but also paths that you need to remove. To do that, paste paths into Excel spreadsheet and hit Ctrl + H for “Find and Replace” function. Then, you need to paste the path into Find field and have nothing in the Replace field. Finally, hit the Replace All button and that is it.

In MacOS, it is even easier. Select your files in Finder and copy them. Open your TextEdit app in the Application folder. In the Format menu, choose Make Plain Text option. Then paste your copied media files and TextEdit will have the names of your files without paths.

Next, we go through and mark the license type for each image as appropriate. After creating titles and keywords, we paste them into our tracking spreadsheet.

Supplying Metadata to Stock Photography Websites

The next step is very crucial. It involves supplying keywords and titles to stock photography platforms. You want to avoid manually copying and pasting metadata.

We use the free Exiftool program to do this task. Exiftool embeds titles, descriptions, keywords and other metadata into many image files. The program accomplishes this task in a very fast and efficient manner. We made a comprehensive tutorial on how to embed metadata into photos with Exiftool.

Alternatively, you can use the Upload CSV metadata function accepted by most stock photo websites. This method involves creating a separate spreadsheet with keywords and titles in a pre-determined format. Once you upload this spreadsheet to stock photo websites, they will recognize and populate metadata for you. Take a look at our tutorial on Upload CSV metadata function to learn more.

Another approach to embed metadata into stock photos is to use Adobe Bridge. This method is less efficient compared to Exiftool or Upload CSV. You can learn more by reading our tutorial on how to tag stock photos with Adobe Bridge.

Incorporate Programming into Stock Photography Workflow

If you know how to program, you can simplify your stock photography workflow even further. We use a basic Python programming language script. This script copies image files into separate folders for easy submission. We create folders for each stock photo platform and for each license type. The program uses information from the tracking spreadsheet to perform this task. We do this to submit images in batches by license type, which makes the process even easier.

The use of a programming script is merely an idea for more efficiency. If you do not know how to program, you can do this task manually. Or, you can upload and submit images all at once.

Uploading Stock Photos

The next task is to upload photos to stock photography websites. We currently submit our photos only to four stock photo agencies. These are Adobe Stock, Alamy, iStock and Shutterstock. We wrote a tutorial for beginner stock photographers explaining our rational for such a narrow focus. There, we also cover our stock photography earnings by each website.

We use the free Filezilla program to submit photos to Adobe Stock, Shutterstock and Alamy. For Getty Images or iStock, we use DeepMeta.

Each stock photo website will recognize metadata we embed with Exiftool. After uploading stock photos, each website will populate titles/descriptions and keywords for us. The best part of this is that we do not waste any time copying and pasting anything.

As for iStock, it requires contributors to disambiguate each keyword in DeepMeta. This means that you have to choose what each keyword means. This takes a lot of our time and, unfortunately, there is no way around it.

Getty Images IStock Deepmeta keywords disambiguation or disambiguating for stock photography

As for managing our model and property releases, we use the Easy Release app. You can sign releases digitally in the app and generate PDF or JPEG versions of releases. Also, you can connect your Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive and store releases there.

Next, we choose categories and license types and submit photos for review.

Why You Should Resubmit Your Stock Photos

After submitting our work, we wait for review. After the review is over, we mark images as accepted or rejected in our tracking spreadsheet.

We experienced high rejection rates starting around 2020-2021. Our acceptance rate plunged from 80%-90% to sometimes 50%-60%. This was especially true for Shutterstock. Our stock photography workflow remained largely the same, so this development was puzzling. We speculate that stock photo websites started relying on machine learning to review and select images. We figured that a lot of our rejections could have been due to machine error. Human error is always a possibility too.

If we deem certain images valuable, we re-edit and resubmit them for review. We recommend doing this. By re-editing and resubmitting images, we have managed to raise our cumulative acceptance rate to over 90-95%.

Data Backup in Stock Photography Workflow

We keep all our JPEG and RAW files separately. All JPEG files are stored in one folder in case we want to resubmit them. RAW files are stored in their own folder. We store all our photos on a separate USB HDD drive for immediate access. Seagate and Western Digital hard disk drives have been our go-to storage devices for years. They are relatively inexpensive and worked great for us so far.

While we have not experienced a complete failure of our USB drives, this can happen. Because our income depends on access to our content, we made the decision to use a secondary cloud data backup option. We wrote a review where we compared popular data backup service providers, such as iDrive, Carbonite, Arq Premium and Backblaze. After a long deliberation, we chose iDrive for its versatile features, strong security and phone backup options.

iDrive cloud data backup service with discount coupon code for first time subscribers

In case you decide to choose iDrive, they are offering a 90% discount for new subscribers. Your will pay $7.95/year for 5TB backup plan for your first year. But, if you need larger amount of data backup storage, iDrive offers a 25% discount for the first year. Their personal plans range from 5TB to 50TB.

Concluding Remarks

That is it for our stock photography workflow to sell photos online. There are many more hacks and shortcuts we use that go beyond this tutorial. If you have suggestions on how to improve stock photography workflow even further, please leave us a comment below. We are curious to hear what other fellow stock photographers are doing.

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