Editing your photos for microstock is a little bit different than normal editing. Some microstock websites have very strict standards when it comes to image quality, and some of it can be controlled when you are working on the image at your computer. Here are some tips to consider when editing your images for microstock:
1. Look at your image up close. It’s very important that you take a really close look at your photos during the editing process. Zoom in to 100%, and sometimes even 200% and scroll around the image to look for things like artifacting, chromatic aberration, noise, sensor spots, etc. Image inspectors will do this as they check your images, so it’s important to make sure that you clean up the photo as much as possible before uploading.
2. Check your focus. Proper focus is really important with commercial stock photography. If you are photographing people or animals then you want to be sure that the focus is on the eyes. You also want to make sure that you have a clear focus point in your image, regardless of the subject. If your focus is slightly off but is not extremely blurry, sometimes it’s acceptable to down-size the photo before submitting to the microstock site.
3. Don’t over-sharpen. If you need to do any sharpening, do it selectively to areas of the image that really matter. Adding too much sharpening to your image is a surefire way to get a rejection, since over-sharpening can cause unwanted artifacts and haloing in your image.
4.Watch out for chromatic aberration (CA). Chromatic aberration, also known as “purple fringing”, is usually going to show up in areas of the photo where there is a lot of contrast. You will want to scan the edges of items in your photos and look for discolorations. It’s not always going to be purple-colored; sometimes it is cyan, or even red. If you have a small amount in your image it is usually pretty easy to eliminate (here’s a link to a video tutorial to show you how).
5. Don’t over-process. It’s okay, and expected, that you will need to do some processing (like levels, curves, HSL) to your images, but don’t push the processing too much. There is no solid rule on how much to do (or not to do) you really just need to pay attention to the image as you are making changes to be sure that you aren’t taking away too much detail. With tonal adjustments you need to be sure you aren’t clipping your whites and blacks, and with color changes (especially with the saturation slider) watch the color to see if it starts getting “neon” looking or blocky; if it is then you need to tone it down a bit.
6. Cropping is okay … but don’t over-do it. It’s important to remember that a lot of the customers of microstock sites are designers, and oftentimes they like to have some copy-space surrounding the subject of an image. If you crop too tight then it can limit the image’s use, but it doesn’t hurt to crop a little bit. Ultimately you need to find the balance between cropping so that the image looks good, and leaving enough room for a prospective designer to use in many different ways.
7. Keep it simple. Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, along with many other software applications have a lot of great plug-ins and filters that really do amazing things to images. The thing is, when you are selling microstock you want to provide a nice, neat, clean image to your customers. There are some exceptions to this, but in general you don’t want to play around with wild filters and plugins for the images that you upload to be used as microstock.
8. Noise reduction. It’s okay to use noise-reduction software on your images, but, once again, don’t push it too far. Over-using noise reduction can make the image look “mushy”. It’s best if your images are already shot at a low ISO to begin with (like ISO 100 or 200), but if not and the image is worth saving then apply the noise reduction on a separate (duplicate) layer and reduce the opacity.
9. Clone out logos. Logos and trademarked shapes are a big “no-no” with microstock photography. It’s important that if they are in the image that they are removed. It’s best to try to limit and control the appearance of them as you are taking the photo, but sometimes it’s impossible to keep them out, or you don’t notice they are there in the first place. Just be sure to check over your image and clone out as much as possible.
10. Save your JPEGs at the highest quality setting. When you are editing your images, make sure that you try to only save the JPEG one time, and always save it at the highest quality possible (level “12” in Photoshop). Re-opening and saving a JPEG over and over will compress the image and degrade the quality by introducing artifacts to the image, so do your best to only edit it one time and be done with it.
Nicole S. Young is a professional photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of several print books and eBooks, and runs her own online store for photographers, the “Nicolesy Store“.