Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

How to edit shoots down for stock photography

In the digital world it may seem an old fashioned concept to edit images before uploading them to Alamy. It’s a manual, time consuming process at odds with technological innovation which seeks to simplify and save time. Editing images has been close to my heart from the day I started working at Tony Stone Images. As the newbie I was the one that got the huge boxes of transparencies to edit by a particular photographer! This happened to be a top selling photographer at the agency and it was the editor’s job to make ‘a silk purse from a sow’s ear’. Not that the images were bad, they were just quite repetitive and editing would bring the best out of the collection to image buyers.

Fast forward to now (and way too many years later to mention!), the inclination to edit is less popular. Which is surprising as everything in the world is ‘curated’ to within an inch of its life. The word ‘curated’ has been appropriated by a number of industries including music and food as a way to refine to different tastes. With the advent of digital cameras it’s hard to fathom how many images exist and more importantly are ‘unseen’. Will there be a day when there are many more editors and curators rather then photographers? Their job to make sense of the mass of unedited images out there and create compelling stories.

I continue to believe that the value of editing cannot be underestimated. This is whether submitting your stock to Alamy or preparing a story to send to an editor or any opportunity to show off your work – like prepping your portfolio. With this in mind here are some suggestions and tips from photographers who are consciously editing their images prior to uploading to Alamy in the areas of lifestyle, food and travel.

Exibition of 10 colour screen prints by Andy Warhol, British Museum, London
Malcolm Park editorial / Alamy Stock Photo


Logan Bannatyne admits that editing his portfolio is ‘really difficult’ which is understandably likely to be a common concern among fellow photographers. He tries to apply the “80/20 principle (that 20% of my images will make up 80% of all my sales)” and “In a shoot of 300 images I probably only upload 30-40 images max.” He adds that he will “tend to look at my old top sellers and only upload new images that are similar to those in colour, composition and content. If I’m struggling to choose from a bunch of very similar images, I upload the one I think looks best when I’m looking at all the images as thumbnails. The one that really ‘pops’.”

Photographers (particularly in the US) are increasingly adopting the visual essay, more commonly associated with the journalistic and documentary practice of the ‘photo essay’. Their websites now might include their specialist subjects and also supported by visual stories which basically are stories on different themes. It’s interesting to see this narrative form of photography is developing in addition to showcasing individual images. When you view the images they work both as a story and as individual images and reflect a good way of editing a shoot.

A beautiful young woman in a dress is standing by a piano
lolostock / Alamy Stock Photo


Here are some tips from Craig Holmes, photo agency owner of The Picture Pantry. With food I imagine there are endless possibilities so was interested to hear his advice. Craig has also kindly included some trends in food photography. As an aside on the subject of uploading black and white versions to Alamy, outside of food, we’re finding black and white is becoming more popular so for subjects like lifestyle, portraits and landscapes we’d recommend submitting a black and white version and a version with a more muted palette if it’s been shot. Clients can also convert images from colour to black and white.

  • Photograph both upright and wide images – and in both cases do another variety that includes space for a designer to add copy to the image. Although in food photography, an upright shot can often be easier to take, it is the wide shots that can be popular with companies who wish to use images on their web sites (in headers etc).
  • Gone are the days when food should be shot in extreme close up, as consumers usually want to see a little bit of background – for example, a vintage background, or a clean white table in a restaurant etc.
  • Although there is a market for food shot on a white background, it isn’t our house style, so we avoid it. Food shot with little styling will only really sell to cost conscious clients – we like working for clients who appreciate the time and skill involved in styling, shooting and editing professional food images.
  • Always shoot colour. In all of the years I have worked in this industry, I have only ever been asked for a black and white image once.
  • When styling, observe current magazines. Especially those by high end commercial organisations, such as Waitrose in the UK. They will give an idea of trends that will filter through to other food markets.

Sliced medium rare grilled Striploin steak on slate board copy space


Travel photographer Inge Johnsson also includes some very helpful tips on perfecting images in post production which is essential to having a well edited collection on Alamy. Like Logan Bannatyne commented, you really want the images to pop out – with so many images available to image buyers this is good advice.

  • Always shoot both verticals and horizontals; goes without saying.
  • The selection process among similars can be tedious; trying to find the image where all the elements come together best; sometimes there are more than one to submit, if there are significant variations; in any case, I only select images that I consider well executed in all respects: subject matter, composition, light, colors, exposure, sharpness, impact. The Lightroom ranking, color labels, and flags are helpful for sorting the images from a shoot.
  • As for editing, it really helps to have some well composed presets in Lightroom so that basic image metadata and standard image adjustments can be done quickly; after that I go in and make more targeted adjustments that are image specific.
  • I correct the perspective of most architectural images in Lightroom, unless the image has an intentional perspective distortion or if I used a tilt-shift lens when the image was captured.
  • Sometimes there are distracting elements that are best removed from an image, a person, a cigarette butt, a bottle, etc; most times this can be removed with the Lightroom Spot Removal tool but sometimes more advanced work is required in Photoshop instead.
  • I mostly darken the corners slightly with the post-crop vignette tool (highlight priority) in Lightroom so as to pull the attention of the viewer towards the subject matter
  • The Spot Removal tool in Lightroom is very effective for removing any dust spots in a sky or other solid area; “Visualize Spots” helps to quickly find the dust spots
Impressionen: Kontaktabzug - Wiedereroeffnung des "c/o Berlin" im Amerikahaus, 29. Oktober 2014, Berlin-Charlottenburg.
360b / Alamy Stock Photo

For some examples of edited series of images from these photographers check out this lightbox.


For inspiration I’d recommend checking out Stephen Poliakoff’s TV drama called Shooting the Past highlighting how powerful stories can be created from a large archive of images. Publisher Thames and Hudson have also published a fantastic book called Magnum Contact Sheets which among many things explores editing processes.

Shenzhen, China's Guangdong Province. 3rd Oct, 2016. A visitor view the exhibits during the "Magnum Contact Sheets: The Birth of Classical Photography" exhibition
Xinhua / Alamy Stock Photo

I’d like to end with this quote about editing in an article called Talking about Photography from a Director of Photography for National magazines. “I have a sweet technique I use for finding the great images from a shoot that really tends to piss-off the editors: I edit the film without reading the story. This helps me tune into which images have the most impact on me and which ones transcend subject matter and become forces in their own right. When you read the story first you react differently to images that match important plot points and wrongly ascribe more weight to them.”

I hope you find these tips useful and if you have any to share yourself, please feel free to do so with us in the comments.