How To GetStock-Quality Shots

By Andrew Hudson

By Andrew Hudson Published: August 18, 2011 Updated: November 26, 2013

If you look at the sort of shots that get printed in travel magazines and expensive coffee-table books, they tend to share similar attributes. Look for pictures that you admire and try to analyze why you like them. These are some of the features I like:

Include People

Magazines in particular always like people in the shot. It gives the viewer a human connection, a sense of being there, and a sense of scale. Photographs evoke emotion and empathy comes with someone’s face. Avoid crowds and simplify the shot down to one person. The young and old are preferred subjects, with their innocent expressions and weather-worn faces respectively. People make your shots warm, friendly, and personable. Just like you are.

Simple, Clear Layout

A good shot focuses your attention on the subject by using a sparse background and a simple but interesting composition. Always remove clutter for the picture — this is a real skill. Like a musician, It’s always difficult to make things look easy. Zoom in, get close, get to eye level, find a simple backdrop, look for balance.

Bold, Solid Colors

’stock-quality’ images make great use of color. Look for solid primary colors: bright ’sports-car’ red, emerald green, lightning yellow, and ocean blue. Use a polarizer to bring out the colors. Avoid patterns — keep it simple. Bright afternoon sunlight will add warmth.

Alternatively, look for ‘color harmony’ — scenes restricted to similar tones and colors, or even a single color. This presents a calm, restful image where the eye plays with the differing shades and intensities. Look for pastels, cream, or delicate shades.


Always include some pointer about depth. A photograph is two-dimensional but we want it to appear three-dimensional. If you’re shooting a background (mountains) include a strong foreground (people). If you’re shooting people (foreground), add an out-of-focus blur behind them (by using a wide aperture — small f-number).

Use a wide-angle lens for exaggerated depth. With a 20mm to 28mm lens, get just a few feet from your subject and, with a small aperture (large f-number), include an in-focus deep background too. This exaggerated hyperfocal perspective is used in a lot of magazine shots. What impact!

Alternatively you can remove all depth by using a long, telephoto lens. This compresses or compacts the image, making your 3-D subject appear flat.

Dramatic Lighting

Photographs that win competitions are often ones that make interesting use of light. Look out for beams of light shining through clouds, trees or windows, long shadows, and the effect of side- and backlighting. Shoot in the warm golden “magic hours” of early morning and late afternoon.


“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
—Louis Pasteur.

A great shot takes time. Scout out the area, make mental notes of important features, unusual and interesting angles, and changing crowd levels. Take time to prepare the shot. Get there before the best time of day, clean your lenses, set up a tripod or mini-tripod, add a cable release, try out different filters, wait for a good foreground, and talk with people who may be in the shot so that they’re comfortable and will pose well.

Copyright 1997–2007 Andrew Hudson for PhotoSecrets / Photo Tour Books, Inc. You may reproduce this article for personal, educational, non-commercial and non-Internet use, such as in a local photo club newsletter or school project. No Internet publishing is permitted. For commercial use, please email me for permission.


Reply by Shally

October 6, 2014

Question on submitting, i had a 1.8jpeg from film saved to a cd and a camera shop used photoshop to increase the pixels to 4.5mp, does this mean i lost sharpness and its too grainy, ive viewed them both and i cannot see the difference but for selling i want it to be the best quality which is the original but its too small to upload to 3mp, or should i print it and have the shop scan it to 3mp instead? its a rare marina boats symmetrical shot in fresh snow.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

October 8, 2014

Hi Shally,

We might be confusing MP and MB here. MP is for image size; MB is for file size.

The CD scan may have been saved in PhotoCD format, which can be about 5MB in file size, but about 25MP in image size. That exceeds the 3MP minimum required by Dreamstime, so you would be OK.

Saving the file in different file formats changes the file size (MB), but not the image size (MP). For example, a 3MP image could be:

1MB JPEG (compressed, 100%, 24bit/pixel)

2.4MB PNG (lossless compressed, 24bit/pixel)

4.5MB RAW (uncompressed, 12bit/pixel)

18MB TIFF (CMYK, uncompressed, 48bit/pixel)

If the camera shop actually increased the image size (often called “upsampling”) then yes, you may have lost sharpness in that file. But the camera shop may have just saved the file in a different format, converting the 1.8 MB JPEG into a 4.5 MB something else, which would not have changed the image size (or sharpness).

For the best sharpness, go to the source. Rescan the negative if you can, or get a full-size file from the CD. Do not print a 3MB image and scan the print, as you will lose detail/sharpness.

Good luck,


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