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Social Stock: Shooting for a Company’s Social Feeds

Let’s face it, the opportunities available to budding photographic hopefuls aren’t as bountiful as they once were. Traditional channels of employment, outside of weddings and portraiture, have become increasingly rare.  In the age of “citizen journalism,” capturing the world’s every move via smartphone and beaming it to social streams, it can feel like there’s little room to capitalize on your skills.

But this blog isn’t about throwing in the towel, it’s about doing what you do better than “citizen x” with an iPhone! Let’s talk about creating compelling images for a company’s social media feeds. Captivating images; shots that set quality spaces and businesses apart from the white noise of snapshots.

Shooting social stock can mean different things to different businesses. Today we’ll focus on bars and restaurants. Theses spaces can be challenging to shoot in due to their fast pace and often limited lighting, but that’s a good thing. It gives you an opportunity to leverage your skills and equipment to produce quality work. A job done well can amplify a space’s social signals, and with that comes increased engagement in their business. If your images can do that, expect to be asked back.

When shooting a space these are a few guidelines that I like to follow.

  • Don’t get in the way.

    Often times you’ll be asked to shoot during very busy times. No one wants shots of their bar/restaurant empty so in order to get your shot expect to work quickly and efficiently. If shooting around a busy bar you’ll need to keep your head on a swivel. Once bartenders or servers see you as an obstacle you’ll have made your job much more difficult.


Be prepared to work quickly as to not delay food service.


Work close but don't get in the way.
Work close but don’t get in the way.


  • Keep it candid.

    Posed shots can feel a bit too much like an advertisement. You want the feed’s viewers to easily imagine themselves in the space. Posed shots of a beautiful couple can almost feel intimidating to the audience. Your images should feel welcoming.


Candid couple


  • Focus on what makes the space special.

    This can be the decor, the staff, or maybe a unique dish or cocktail. If you’re lucky it’ll be all of those things. If nothing stands out don’t be afraid to ask staff or management. You’re there to make them look as good as possible which in turn will showcase your skills.


What makes a space unique?
What makes a space unique?


Patrons engaged.
Patrons engaged.


  • Be accommodating.

    A couple might ask for a photo or simply want to know what your up to. I’ll always oblige a photo request and let the subject know that they should follow the establishment on social media to see images from the shoot but that the social media manager will determine which images are posted. It’s not out of line to pass a business card and offer to email a shot of a couple or individual. Moments like these can lead to future work.

  • Wait your turn.

    You may very well end up with shots you like a lot and would love to share on your social streams. That’s great but unless the person cutting the check tells you otherwise I’d suggest you post an image only after the client has first shared it themselves. This isn’t as bad as it seems because the client will often post those best shots first.


This isn’t sterile product photography. Don’t be afraid to stylize an image.


  • It’ll be dark, so be prepared.

    You may shoot in bars that are comically dark and flash is very distracting to everyone in the space. I never use it on these shoots. Nothing you do should risk turning off a customer to considering a future visit. Find what light there is and exploit it. Shoot with the fastest lens you have and test the limits of the reciprocal rule. I’ll often shoot in bursts which will result in catching an acceptably sharp frame. These images are frequently shared at lower resolution and viewed on a mobile phone. Try to set aside any obsession you may have for the perfect file in your other work. If the noise gets to be too much just convert to black and white; ART!


....For the night is dark and full of liquors....
….For the night is dark and full of liquors….


Exploit available light.
Exploit available light.


  • Catch them looking.

    Most of the time you’ll be shooting patrons while trying to remain inconspicuous. That said, if you spot an interesting patron that seems to have a friendly disposition try taking an extra beat with the camera to your eye in an attempt to be noticed. It might just be a fleeting glance, so be ready when it happens.


Get caught looking.


  • Ask about a punch list.

    Your client likely has a particular list of things that they’d like to see. Make sure you know what it is and do your best to cover it. For a bar/ restaurant shoot expect something like food/drinks, details and customers.


Shoot a design element in a way that no patron ever will. Here, I laid on the floor to get the shot.
Shoot a design element in a way that no patron ever will. Here, I laid on the floor to get the shot.


A framed piece of art created by a local artist makes for a great social share.
A framed piece of art created by a local artist makes for a great social share.


  • Do your thing.

    Don’t hesitate to get creative. If a client is following you on social media and asks you to “do your thing,’ do it. Your style is likely why they hired you. Just be sure that the aesthetic of their space works in tandem with your stylistic touches.


Don't hesitate to do some of the things that make your shots stand out.
Don’t hesitate to do some of the things that make your shots stand out.


Night long exposures looking into a space can show of interior design details in a unique way.
Night-time long exposures looking into a space can show off interior and exterior design details in a unique way.


These are some examples of what has worked for me, but ultimately each space and client is unique. Knowing when to adjust your plan can be just as important as having one.

It’s not lost on me that shooting the job is one thing but landing the job is another hurdle entirely. In my next blog I’ll discuss some ways to drum up these social stock shoots.

Questions? Feel free to leave a comment or contact me via my website or social feeds.


Read Andy’s previous posts on gear, creativity and more here.

Special thanks go out to the Detroit Optimist Society and their collection of great bars and restaurants (The Peterboro, The Sugar House, Wright & Co., Cafe 78 and Honest John’s,) some of which are featured in this blog.  

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A Brief Introduction to Stock Photography

Stock images often have a concept or convey a story. This one could be “neglect.”

 What is stock photography?

It’s a massive library of photos created by a variety of photographers used for a wide range of commercial purposes including advertising, packaging, book covers, magazine articles, television commercials, web banners, annual reports, textbooks, and signage. You’ll find stock images everywhere photos are used.

These days, most stock images are licensed through a handful of agencies that provide marketing, search capability, license management, and a client base in exchange for a hefty percentage of the royalties.

What’s in it for me?

Money, for starters. Not necessarily a lot of money, but some. A lot depends on the effort you put into your stock image portfolio. The more you put into it, the more you can expect to take out. It’s important to manage your expectations. You won’t get rich quick; it can take months or years to build up a good stock portfolio.

You’ll also have the opportunity to see your work published in high profile places. You’ll get a boost knowing your work was selected by someone and put to good use. Being published can help give your portfolio a professional gloss.

Finally, if you’re looking for a way to focus your photographic efforts and need a goal to help you improve your quality, shooting for a stock agency is a route to that goal.

What about “gotchas”?

It’s not all sunshine. Many people have found that it takes a lot of work for little money. It’s not just taking photo, you must also upload and keyword everything and provide releases for many of them (more on that later). It’s time-consuming and it takes months or longer before you start to make progress.

You’ll have no control over how your images are used. There’s no mechanism that allows you to decide who does what with your work. You may find your images attached to things that are embarrassing or uncomfortable, though most agencies’ contracts stipulate use for only non-pornographic and non-defamatory purposes, and in reality the vast majority of uses are gratifying rather than mortifying.

On the other hand, you may never actually see your images in use. You’ll get a statement listing the name of the client and how much your fee is, but there is no obligation for the client or agency to help you find your image being used. You may find some images by using Google’s reverse image search or hearing from friends who spot your images in the wild, but many uses are not internet-related and many are in faraway places.

Finally, there’s photo credit: You won’t get any. The client neither knows nor cares who you are or what your other photos are like. Occasionally, for editorial use, you’ll see your name by the photo.

“Empty nests” could be used a lot of ways.

What kind of photography are stock agencies looking for?

It varies. Not all collections are just pictures of businessmen shaking hands. In general, pictures with people in them sell better than landscapes, but some of us do well with landscapes. Agencies can be divided into high tier (expensive but low volume) and low tier (cheap, subscription-based licenses, high volume.)

Take a look at the images various agencies are offering. Be unique, stand out! Though it helps seeing what’s out there to get ideas of what they are looking for.

But are my photos good enough? Is my camera good enough?

Your gear is fine. There is at least one agency that even accepts images from certain models of cell phone. Agencies care about the result, not the method.

Your photos may be good enough, and if not, it’s not that hard to get there. Remember, stock photography is not National Geographic. A lot of the time it’s your least favorite, most boring photos that sell, while the emotional masterpiece at the top of your portfolio gets ignored. It’s all about utility for the clients.

Image quality matters and you’ll have to make it a priority. First, agencies accept submissions only as jpegs. Save files in the highest quality setting possible, and save them only once. Save the largest resolution your camera can make.

Photos must be properly exposed, not be plagued by noise, be well focused on the main subject, and have decent composition. These are all covered in Stunning Digital Photography. If you read and follow Tony and Chelsea’s advice, these fundamentals won’t hold you back.

Don’t over process your work. The less a photo is processed, the more versatility it has to buyers. Buyers often have their own art departments slice and dice your photo until you hardly recognize it anyway. So keep vignetting subtle, avoid monochrome, make your HDR tone mapping undetectable, keep sharpening low, don’t watermark, and never submit spot color.

How do I get started?

Pick an agency! But research first… find one that has a fee schedule you can live with. You’ll find some links below to get you going. Be aware that the highest paying agencies often demand exclusivity. This means that if you sign up with a low-paying microstock agency and later decide you want to move up the chain a little bit, any image you have already submitted to the first agency might not be accepted by the second—particularly for the coveted “rights managed” licenses. This may not be an issue if you continue to make good new content.

It’s typical for the photographer to receive only 20% – 30% of a royalty fee. This sounds like highway robbery, but it’s better than the alternative: 100% of zero.

When you sign up with an agency, read the contract carefully before signing it. All copyright for your images remains with you; you are always the sole owner. However, some agreements limit how you can use your submitted images commercially while you’re with the agency.

This image has been used for inspirational messages in advertisements.


What else do I need to know?

When you receive royalty payments, there are tax implications that vary from country to country. You may be able to write off expenses. See an accountant.

Model releases will be required for images containing recognizable people. Even if facing away, if he or she can recognize herself (from the location or the clothing,) you’ll need a model release. Having one on file makes an image more attractive to buyers anyway. The agency will provide blank model release forms and some accept forms from smart phone apps. You’ll find it easier to get releases for pictures containing your friends and family.

Similarly, property releases will be required when shooting in homes or in places that are recognizable as private property.

Beware of trademarks. Avoid images containing them, or highly distinctive brands. If a person is wearing a branded cap, have them remove it or clone out the logo later. If holding an iPhone, make sure the screen and Apple logo don’t show or that the item is small enough to look generic. Your buyer doesn’t want to advertise for some other company, so keep everything generic.

If you shoot a bunch of photos at the same time, pick only one or two to submit. The agency will not want a bunch of “similars” that only act as filler.

If you apply and get rejected, don’t despair. It’s not uncommon to have to try a couple of times.

I’ll be happy to answer any questions I can.

Here are few stock agency websites to get you started. Note that all of them have resources like lists of what they are looking for, how to prepare a file, model releases, legal terms, etc. There is a lot to read and learn about. Good luck!





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