Here's how to edit stock photography that sells

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Editing is a crucial process in stock photography. Since you’re selling your work to the public, it's important to be meticulous about how you present your images.

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Photo by Bruno Cervera

Nobody likes to waste time editing—especially when there are hundreds (or even thousands) of photos to work on. No matter how meticulous you are as a photographer, you won't always get everything right in-camera; which is why post-processing is so essential.

For the most part, editing stock photography is similar to retouching any other images. However, some factors, such as the ones listed below, will need extra attention in order to improve quality, minimize rejection, and improve sales.

01. Light and shadows

No matter how high-tech your camera, it’s possible you will end up with photos that are too bright, too dark, have overexposed highlights and shadows, or generally look like they’ve been shot in poor lighting.

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Photo by Oleksandr Kurchev

Every photo is different and requires a unique approach. Some settings to consider to improve lighting are exposure, contrast, tone, brightness, levels, and shadows/highlights. You can also use mask features to adjust only specific parts of photos where the difference between light and shadows might be too drastic.

02. Colors

You may also get photos that appear too warm (slightly orange) or too cool (slightly blue) or look like they’ve been color graded. In stock photography, it’s crucial to keep colors neutral so that your subject looks natural, and so that clients have the chance to alter the photos themselves.

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Photo by Mister M

To correct colors in photos, you can adjust white balance, temperature, or tint. If you want to brighten or darken certain colors in the image, you can adjust hues, saturation, and luminance (HSL). Hues affect the tone of any particular color (i.e. from light blue to dark blue), saturation controls the intensity of the colors, while luminance adjusts the light produced or reflected by any particular surface in the photo.

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03. Noise

A common rejection reason among stock agencies is noise, which could make photos apprear grainy and of lesser quality. Noise can be caused by many things, like incorrect ISO and exposure settings, dust on sensors, or even sharpness adjustments.

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Photo by Vova Drozdey

Therefore, some ways to minimize noise are to use lower ISO settings, avoid long exposure, keep lenses clean, and avoid oversharpening images. You can also simply use the noise reduction tool, which lets you get rid of two types of noises: luminance and color. Luminance looks like film grain, while color noise shows up in areas that should be just one color.

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04. Composition

There will be times when you’re caught off-guard and fail to properly frame your subject or only notice when you review your photos that you’ve accidentally captured distracting elements in the background.

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Photo by Filip Mroz

Use the crop tool to improve composition. Just be wary of cropping too much otherwise your scene may look unnatural. You can also crop to vary orientation, angles, distance, or perspective, presenting buyers with more options to choose from.

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Photo by Joanna Kosinska

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Photo by Joanna Kosinska

05. Unnecessary elements

Unnecessary elements like trash in the background or stains on a model’s shirt can be distracting enough for stock agencies (and buyers) not to choose your photos. But the most important thing to watch out for is anything that might require an image release. This can be anything from the logos on your models’ clothing to storefronts or brand signage in the background. Stock agencies automatically steer clear of these submissions due to the possible legal liabilities.

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Photo by Dai Ke

While the best practice is to simply avoid any products with logos in your shoot, the inevitability of an unwanted one showing up is always present. In this case, use the spot healing or patch tool while editing to remove anything you don’t want in the photo. Just select the area you want to clean up, and make sure not to leave any blotches.

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Photo by Christopher Gower

06. Metadata

Metadata or the relevant information about your photograph embedded into the image file (such as the photo title, description, and keywords) help a lot in photos that will be used commercially.

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Typically, once you turn on metadata in Lightroom, Photoshop, or any other editing suite, a dialog box will appear. You can then fill out all the details relevant to your stock photo. Be sure to also check the submission requirements of the particular stock agency you are working with because some, such as Canva, require particular metadata in their uploads.

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Photo by Annie Spratt

Just like any other type of business, you'll want to make sure your customers are satisfied with your offerings. In the world of stock photography, the best way to do that is by editing your photos so that they meet the level of quality set by your stock agency. Remember that the more professional-level your edited work is, the more likely clients will be interested in buying your work.