As you already know, to pass Shutterstock's (Review) initial approval process you need to submit 10 photos and hope that one will be approved (7 images had to be approved before 02Dec15) by the reviewer. I will show you one easy technique (isolated background) that will help you pass an exam on the first try. Usually this is not easy for a beginner. As a beginner you want to start earning money as soon as possible, but you may not yet have the necessary experience in photography or post processing to hit the ground running. Curiosity is another negative contributing factor - a beginner wants to know: "how will my pictures behave in this huge ocean of media?".
The reality is that using your first DSLR pictures and attempting a submission just after registration, without learning what it takes, will lead to a rejection. The advice you are about to receive will give you a better indication of which photos are likely to get accepted and how to capture them. After 6 years of working with microstocks, I have a pretty good idea on what images have a chance of being approved; images that are hard to reproduce or capture a rare moment or a unique image. As long as these types of images have decent quality they have a good chance of being approved, however, these types of images are also not easy to capture. Do you see the Aurora borealis outside your window every day? If yes then you have a good chance to shoot some kind of unique picture.
Pictures that have greater commercial value are worth submitting, because they have more chances to be sold and that is also why such images most likely will be approved on the exam. Images that offer a commercial value are often isolated on a white background. I will teach you a simple technique to shoot isolated objects without spending hundreds of dollars. This way, all you need is to learn this technique and find 10 interesting objects (phone, laptop, a toy car etc. - the object itself matters, try to imagine where the client will use it). As the result will be isolated - this object can be placed anywhere in another image easily. Same rule applies here - rare and unique objects sell better.
- Photo Camera with manual mode option.
- A white glossy floor
- Subject itself
- The paper ruler
- The sun or 1-4 speedlight flashes
Building your photo studio
As our subjects will not be very large, it is enough to have a desk placed near the window. For background we can stick white paper on the glass between our subject and the sun. If your table is white and glossy - even better. If not - find a way to get a white glossy surface for a seamless isolated background. Why we need a glossy floor is well described here: Achieving an Isolated White Background in a Home Photo Studio.
I will be using a Gloss White Self Adhesive Vinyl ($15) glued on a laminated plate.
The Sun - free light source
To isolate a background we need a light source coming from behind our object. The sun can be used.
How much light do we need?
Actually, the amount of light doesn't matter if we use a tripod. Because our object is stationary we can setup the camera shutter speed to 1 - 30 seconds and have a lot of light getting into the camera sensor. In this example I am using F8, ISO 100 and 1/5 sec shutter speed. This is enough to have an isolated background with an evening sun light diffused through drawing paper.
As we should have a lot of light from the background to isolate our object - the light tends to be less intense at the front and sides of the object. Adding folded cardboard will block the unwanted amount of light that is getting into your lens and will add some light at the front and sides of the object.
Extend depth of field
The result is well isolated, but as the lens is pretty close to the object we are seeing a very shallow depth of field. Even with aperture f8. This makes our toy car look "like a toy".
Human eyes and a regular lens gives a shallower depth of field if focused closer and vice versa. Our brains are trained to associate depth of field with an objects’ distance.
There are some techniques when a real beach or a city landscape look like toys: Beautiful Time-Laps & Tilt-Shift Singapore. Tilt shift lens is used to have a shallow depth of field even for objects that are very far from the lens.
So tilt shift gives an illusion that the object is very close and the brain associates it with something very small - a toy city.
I would like to give the opposite illusion and let the viewer think that this car is far away - like a real car. (Yes yes, it is real, do not pay attention to plastic discs and huge scratches)
To have the deep depth of field: focus to the closest car part, shoot an image, and move focus ring slightly further. Make another shoot and repeat same move 8 - 14 times until cars farthest part is in the focus. Use aperture f8 - f16 as at minimum aperture the image can get a bit blurry.
Then import all images to the lightroom, select all images, right mouse click and choose "Edit In" -> "Open as Layers in Photoshop..."
All images will be opened in Adobe Photoshop as layers, first layer will be selected. Hold SHIFT and click on the last layer to select all.
Even if all images where taken using tripod, changing focus can change object placement in the frame, so our next step is to align all layers. "Edit" -> "Auto-Align Layers..."
Now "Edit" -> "Auto-Blend layers..." and "Stack Images" option will bring focused parts from all layers.
Voila, we get this result:
One speedlight setup
The sun went down. So I will change it with one speedlight. The light setup will be identical, just one light on the background. Lets see how the result will differ.
Sunlight gives about the same look, speedlight's advantage over sunlight is color temperature control and excluding the ambient light as we use 1/160 f8 ISO 100. With these settings only direct sun can affect the lighting of the object.
Two speedlight setup
Lets move towards a more advanced setup, shall we?
Here one additional speedlight comes into a play from the right side and its light is bounced of the left placed cardboard to add light from the left side. Also a home made softbox is used. You can make a similar one if you have any boxes lying around - just cut out the larger side and replace it with drawing paper. On the opposite side, cut out a window where the speedlight will beam through. If you cover the etire inside of the box with white drawing paper then the softbox gives even more soft light.
As you can see we got more light from the right side. This is the main difference with the "One speedlight setup". With Two speedlights we have more control over the amount of light given to each part of the object.
Four speedlights setup
Ok, I think $300 is pocket money for us and we have at least four speedlights. Two of them goes to the background - the corners with only one speedlight are usually not burned enough (RGB 255 255 255). Two other speedlights are placed on the sides.
One new softbox is used, it is Flash Softbox NG-200. This model is made from thin plastic and stays straight. Also it has a front element to give a nice soft light.
Write down your results in the comments below.
You can accomplish a good image on an isolated background with only one light source, however, more light sources will give you more control and comfort. Also it is much easier to achieve some specific lighting ideas. Speedlights give you an opportunity to work at any time while the sun is on the opposite side of the world. Speedligths also give color temperature control and exclude ambient light, this gives more accurate and cleaner results. To have well lit objects using just one speedlight or the sun I was forced to make more aggressive adjustments in the Lightroom. This produced more noise and artifacts in the image.
The only thing that is not isolated is the line that has direct contact with the surface. It can be isolated in Photoshop if needed, usually I let clients make the decision if they want to leave the reflection or remove it and isolate the object completely. Luckily it does not take too much of work.
If you are looking for a way to pass the reviewer exam on any microstock - this technique is one of the best for that. Also images usually sell better if the object is isolated on the white background.
Good luck passing your examination and having frequent sales.