3 Tips For Thinking Like A Professional

3 Tips For Thinking Like A Professional

Posted By Admin: 8/7/2011 5:04:08 PM.   Posted To Photographers / Photos That Sell

On average I look at about 25 new photographer applications every month and I've been doing that for almost 10 years now ...  that's about 3000 photographers and 36,000+ photos. I also spend a lot of time each month watching the new images being added to both our stock libraries. Again this amounts to thousands of images each and every year.

I can tell you, in amongst all those images there have been tens of thousands of photos that could have been great stock photos with real sales potential, if the photographer had only done their job right. The frustrating part is, in all those cases, the damage was done by a few fairly simple mistakes that could have been easily avoided.

Now I'll freely admit that I'm no master photographer ... in fact I've hardly touched my cameras since we started work on OzImages back in 1998 ... but I do know what separates an OK photo from a stock image with real sales potential. So here are three areas where any photographer can take their work to the next level with a simple change to their mind-set.


If I could only make one suggestion, this would be it. Most amateurs only really think about lighting after the sun has gone down. An even then, all they usually do is pop up the flash. Some 'outdoor' photographers might time their work for early morning or late afternoon light, but even then they tend to look at lighting as a separate element of from the image.

The pros on the other hand, consider the lighting of their subject, with every single shot.

Their focus isn't just on the light, but how the light affects their subject and whether that works for the image they're trying to capture. The pros will consider additional lighting, or shading, on every single shot. It is as much a part of their routine as removing the lens cap. 

So make it a part of your pre-shot routine to stop and ask yourself how your subject is lit.

Are the key features properly lit? Is there anything you can do to make it better?  Flash might be an option, but so might a reflector, a different camera position, turning on a light ... coming back in a few hours time.

Make the lighting of your subject your main concern and your photos will improve dramatically in both quality ... and commercial potential. Nothing kills the commercial prospects for an image as quickly as uneven lighting ... buyers take one look as deep shadows and/or washed out highlights and walk away every time.


If all you do is capture a visual representation of what's there at the time, you're taking snapshots, and they are a dime a dozen. If you want to capture images that are going to stand out from the crowd -- and sell -- you have to convey a message or a story about that subject to your viewers.

So make it a habit to study the subject in detail before you even look through the viewfinder.

Work out what it is that you want to convey to your viewers? Conversely, what might your viewer want to know about the subject? What can you capture and convey that the viewer might not know? (Some of the strongest images you'll ever see are revelations rather than simple records).

Once you're clear on the key elements of your subject, you can start thinking about the effect different perspectives, techniques and lighting might have on the final image. Then you'll find you're really creating new and unique images with real potential.

A lot of amateur images come across as indecisive. You get the feeling the photographer 'knew' there was a photo op there, but rather than dig around a bit and find it, they just kept pressing the shutter hoping to get something.

Sometimes they might get lucky, but more often than not, the end result is vague images with a subject lost in the middle-ground, lots of clutter in the background and no clear point of interest in the foreground ... and zero commercial potential.

Work out EXACTLY what it is you're trying to say before you start. Then consider your lighting and point of view. Then use your technical skills and creativity to say it.

For all the convenience of automatic-everything cameras, I sometimes wish they were somehow only available after the photographers had passed a manual photography course. Unfortunately, it is so easy and so convenient, that most photographers who start out on automatic never go back and learn how to control those settings themselves.

And that means there are a huge number of photographers out there producing images that are almost great ... but because they have absolutely no theory and only very basic technical skills, they'll never know what's holding them back and more importantly, how to correct the problems and start making great images.

I see this every week with the membership applications. Shots that could have been perfect if the photographer had only turned off the center weighted auto-focus and paid more attention to their point of interest. Shots that could have been perfect if they'd turned off the preset exposure mode, and thought about their depth-of-field.  Shots that could have been perfect if only they'd thought about the effects of shutter speed ...

The other frustration is those photographers who don't even bother to read the manual that came with their camera so they might take full advantage of the features available to them. Here are just a few problems .. and the photographer's explanations ... that I've seen just recently ...

#1. Great submission of images, but they all had a serious colour cast that even I (seriously color-blind) could spot.  "Yes, I saw something about setting white balance, but figured the factory settings would have it covered..."

#2. Fantastic subject & compositions, but grainy beyond belief ... "That's probably because I keep the ISO set to 1600 so I don't have to worry about flash using up my batteries ... "

#3. Fantastic submission ... technical & subject matter perfect for stock, except they were captured as medium jpgs ... "I didn't want to run out of space on my memory stick ... "

The last one will sound totally ridiculous to most of us, but unfortunately it's actually a very familiar story around here ... often from 'professionals'. In this case the photographer had a $2000 camera and was shooting hundreds of images every week with real stock potential, if only he'd splurged another $50 on a couple of extra memory cards.

The average point-and- shoot these days captures a better quality file than the one this guy was saving! This is an extreme example, but I regularly get a similar response when I ask people why they don't capture RAW or even TIF ... it's almost always to save buying an extra memory card.

So the final suggestion here is twofold. First of all, capture as large as possible. Buy some extra memory and use it. That should be common sense for most people.

Beyond that, if your entire photography experience is digital-auto, every chance you can, switch back off the auto-everything and learn to do it yourself.

Even better, call into the local second-hand shop and pick up an old manual film camera ... they're giving them away these days ... and put a few rolls of film through it. You'll learn more from those 100 shots than a year with your digital auto-everything! 

OK, that's just a few general ideas to get you started. Next time around we'll cover a few more specific elements we see in the best selling photos and a simple trick to make sure you get them right every time.

For now feel free to add your own suggestions below!