Editing Stock Photography that Sells
Photo by Le Buzz

Editing Stock Photography that Sells

Published on May 6, 2022

Editing being key to a successful photograph is nothing new, but the notion rings even truer when it comes to stock photography. Professionals and amateurs alike pay special attention to stock photo editing, as the marketplaces that could potentially want their content always come with rules to follow.

At its core, however, editing stock photography is not different from retouching any other image. There are a few factors that need extra attention, sure, but they are still the same factors. So, if you’re serious about selling stock photography, here are a few editing tricks to help you improve image quality, increase sales, and minimize rejection.

Gonzalo Mateos

A Modern Approach to Stock Content Marketplaces 

Without delving too much into stock photography history, we’re going to play it safe by saying that quality and editing requirements have shifted immensely over the years. Camera technology has improved, resulting in fewer imperfections in images that are originally taken. And with the increase in megapixels and image quality, there’s less need for hefty post-processing. Stock photo marketplaces keep popping up left right and center, so the standards are not as tough as they used to be. But they’re still worth paying attention to.

Plus, keeping in mind that requirements may vary from one agency to another, it is important to be aware of the common things to look for in your photos. You don’t want anything hindering your acceptance rates, do you?

Common Requirements You’ll Come Across

When uploading to stock photo marketplaces, it is vital to remember that each photograph gets thoroughly checked. Large stock content marketplaces have a dedicated team of reviewers who assess all work submitted to them based on a list of parameters and standards. In some cases, if you’re lucky, this team will actually offer you feedback to help improve your work in the future. They can even provide you with a provision to resubmit once you’re done re-editing the photos. However, not every single marketplace does this, so it is better to submit already having checked off a few common editing items.

As you learn more about the standards commonly required by marketplaces, you’ll begin to see improvement in your overall editing skills. And even though the bar might not be as high as it was before, it is always best to aim for the highest quality possible. So without further ado, let’s look at some of the common reasons a content review team might reject your photos:

  • Exposure is set incorrectly
  • There is excessive noise in the photo
  • Chromatic aberration
  • Artifacting 
  • Sensor spots, dust, and similar blemishes detected
  • Poor alignment and/or cropping 
  • Incorrect white balance 
  • Copyright infringement

So what can you do to avoid making these mistakes? well, for that, you’ll have to keep reading.



Default Good Exposure

Decent exposure cannot be understated. If you go into a shoot with good exposure attained, you’re going to have a much easier time than correcting it in post. If you start editing stock photos that are poorly exposed, you’re very likely to run into a slew of other problems. Going into a shoot with bad exposure and correcting it after can result in artifacts in your final image. This, in turn, has the potential of damaging the digital integrity of your photograph, which will most likely be a reason for your photo to get rejected.

Noise Cleanup 

Most modern cameras shoot wonders in low light. Raising your ISO too high, however, can create an unacceptable amount of digital noise. This is yet another reason your photograph might not get chosen. Luckily, cleaning up that noise is often not difficult at all. With the correct balance of the noise reduction slider, you can eliminate the problem in minutes. All you need to do is zoom in 100% into your photo and thoroughly inspect the level of digital noise. You may not be able to see it clearly unless the photo is enlarged; once you notice it you should be able to reduce it significantly using the appropriate sliders.

Chromatic Aberration Removal

Also referred to as purple fringing, chromatic aberration is a fault caused by contrast in a scene. When editing stock photography, this problem cannot be overlooked, as it’s often the leading cause of rejections by stock content marketplaces. Selling photography prints also proves a difficult feat with chromatic aberration. So how do you go around removing it?

Zoom into the edges of objects in your photos, specifically the ones that have a contrast in the background. If you spot a band of color along the edge (usually magenta or green), make sure to correct it.

Removal of Sensor Spots and Other Blemishes 

Sensor spots do not look the prettiest in photos. And the best way of avoiding this is to keep your sensor clean. However, we understand that due to the circumstances of the shoot, this is not always possible. Plus, there’s dust and other blemishes that cannot always be predicted, so editing and removing these would be the best move on your part.

Using clone tools is often the best way to clean these blemishes. And again, zoom into 100% so you can see each and every spot. Work methodically over the whole photo to make sure you do not miss any. 

Image Straightening

Elements of architecture are all details that must look properly aligned if you want to get approved. Yet there are many marketplace submissions that overlook this. If you’ve taken a photo with your camera at a bit of an angle, the vertical and horizontal lines will not appear as natural. The best thing to do in this case is to take advantage of the cropping tool, so all elements in your photo appear correctly aligned.

White Balance Correction

A simple way to be on top of this step is to have your camera set to auto white balance. This produces the correct color you’re going to want while submitting to stock photo agencies. Alternatively, if the color in a photo you’ve already taken looks odd, it must be tweaked so it looks natural.

Having your camera set to save RAW files makes all aspects of post-processing easier, especially in relation to color correction. If you have photos where the color looks either too cool or too warm, use the eyedropper tool or color correction sliders to help you achieve that sought-out for natural color.


Ramiz Dedakovic

Removing Copyrighted Items

This is probably one of the most frustrating aspects when comes to stock photography. So many things out there are copyrighted, that it’s actually safer to avoid anything with a logo or branding when you’re taking your photos. However, we realize that this is not always possible, so the next best thing is to thoroughly remove any instances of copyrighted materials from your work.

If you are only uploading your images to sell under an editorial license, the requirements for photo copyright are a little different. You’ll need to check the terms and conditions for each stock photo agency before submitting, as a lot of times they vary from one to another.

There are times, though, when copyrighted material is in plain sight. Think branding on a coffee cup, an outdoor advertising banner, or logos on shoes and clothing…All these need to be removed when submitting your images.

Post-processing Editorial Stock Photos 

You might know that editorial licensing is a different ball game; what’s allowed and what’s not strikingly differs from commercial content. Selling photos online under a standard royalty-free license is not the same as selling editorial images. The most important thing to know is that you cannot generally make use of the clone tool. Any alteration to the content other than sensor spots is not allowed. You must check the rules for each stock photo agency you submit your editorial images to.

Once you have most of these tips figured out, you should be good to go. Remember, rules and regulations may vary from one agency to another, but there definitely is common ground. All you have to do is tend to your photographs carefully, and watch the sales roll in.