What I Learned Joining A Stock Photography Site

I'm always preaching in my articles of the need to continue learning. I stand by my words. All photographers, no matter their skill level, should strive to further their knowledge. I am no exception to this rule. Often in my spare time, I will read articles by or study the work of other photographers, especially those who excel in styles of photography I struggle with.

Sometimes, however, it's surprising what teaches me the most. The other day, I got it into my head to join a stock photography site. Now, this is not something I've ever wanted to do. But money being short, I thought, "Hey, what's the big deal? I'll either sell something or I won't." So looking up a popular website, I joined.

Username. Check. Password. Check. Photo ID? (Apply brakes screeching sound.) Already stumped, I stared at the screen. They need my driver's license? I am all about being safe. You never know what's out there. Perhaps, I reasoned, this has to do with the financial end of things. They need to prevent fraud and such, and I decided to follow through and see what would happen. (This next step involved using my other computer, as I cannot scan things onto my laptop and so it was a bit of a pain.)

Browse. Select license photo. Enter. Click on the "next" button.

Here, popped up a page of fine print. No, let me take that back, not "a" page of fine print, but pages and pages of fine print, all of it numbered sequentially WITH an index to the side. My mind is now buzzing. "Do they seriously want me to read all of this?" and "Who reads the fine print anyway?"

I did glance at it, honest. There was an enormous section about what type of photographs they need. As expected, nature photography is way down the list. Then there was a section on how to take a photograph they will accept. This was more interesting reading. They even provided visual examples (which for photographers are necessary as we think in pictures).

The top line of photos had the word "Unacceptable" printed above it. Beneath these another line said, "Acceptable." It seemed very clear. It also seemed very thorough. Twenty minutes later, I am still wading through how to take an acceptable photograph. Past the repetitive comment, "use RAW," (and to be fair, that was good advice) I admit at some point, my brain zoned out. I began to reason, "I teach this stuff. Why am I reading it?" and I hit the "next" button.


The following page was the expected portion of "dos" and "don'ts." Yawn. I read it, sort of, thinking all the while that none of this applies to me. I don't need model releases because butterflies don't care. I don't need a property release. I will avoid photographing anything identifiable. Skimming along, I again hit next.

Yeah. Yeah. Remove all logos. Don't photograph money. That seems obvious. Click next. Do not photograph famous people or known sports teams. Again, I get it. I paused here briefly to think of the poor person who had to write all of this and felt sorry for them, mostly because they had to not miss anything or their job would be on the line. (This is why I am not a lawyer.)

Next. Ah! Here, I breathed a huge sigh of relief - the section on editing. This I also expected. At any stock photography site, there are definite rules about editing or not editing. (They have to make these rules for those people...and you know who you are...who continue to filter or frame their photos to death. For the sake of all of us, just stop it!) Like before, they provided pictorial examples. On one side, I see the "original image," and beside it the "not acceptable" one. This particular example had a major crop job and some blurring added. Yeah, that's bad.

Scroll. Scroll. There was more legalese at the bottom. Here, I made a decision. Again, I reasoned with myself. Past some light editing, I don't alter my original photographs, or I try not to. I believe in getting it right from the camera. Therefore, I decided that, "This doesn't apply to me," and I hit "next."


(Brakes screeching again.) I am being completely serious when I say I didn't see this coming. There on the page before me is a quiz covering everything I've just read. Well, sort of read, and I have to pass it to become a member.

How hard can it be? Yeah, it was hard. I was stumped on question one. Did I read that anywhere? Question two. I did see that, but where was it? Quickly, I succumbed to what I suspect every other photographer who joined this site succumbed to - the joy of having two different browsers. Open the fine print in one browser, have the questions in the other, and flip back and forth.

Honest, I thought I would lose my mind. I couldn't find number seven at all. An hour later, I'm thinking, "This is crap," and went back to my high school chemistry class days when I guessed at the answers (This is why I'm also not a science major.) Fingers trembling, I hit next.

Congratulations. You have passed.

Angels sang. The heavens rejoiced, and I had a sweet moment of knowing I, Suzanne Williams, passed the stock photography website's quiz. Take that, smart aleck legal person who tried to confuse me!

Three samples of my work later, I found myself thinking about the entire process, and realizing I did learn something. Amazing. Most of all, I learned how much I still do not know about photography. Oh, I understand the basic process; I know how to take a good photograph. I can speak in terminology, millimeters, focal ranges, and apertures. But when I type into their search engine two words, "woman" and "hat," and get over a thousand responses, I see how small I really am and how far I have to go.

I don't know how much of the stock photography thing I will pursue (and at that site, probably not much). In the end, I may or may not sell anything. Yet I do know that just by joining, I have a better perspective on where I am. I love my work. I love my job. I love photography. That, for me, is enough.

Then again, I did pass that silly quiz...