First things first – we aren’t aiming to create a “Nikon vs Canon” war here or anything. Those debates always end up going nowhere. Rather, many people genuinely wonder – What is the best camera gear for stock photography? Not brands as such, but types of camera gear – as in, Should I get a DSLR or a compact camera? Hopefully we can give some useful guidelines to aid newcomers to stock photography. Lets break it down into 3 main areas of essential equipment – 1. Camera Gear, 2. Lighting Equipment, 3. Computer Hardware & Software.
Best Camera Gear For Stock Photography
So lets talk about camera gear for stock photography first up. Think about where and what a stock photo might be used for – any ideas? Billboard, maybe? Or a flyer, business card or magazine ad? How about a website blog, or a newspaper? Possibly even an iPhone app? Yep, all of those are valid uses for a stock photo, and you probably start seeing the main point – variety is the spice of life in stock photography. If your photo can be good enough quality to be used for anything from a postage stamp to a billboard then logically you stand a better chance of it being sold than one that is too poor for the client to use in large sizes. Thus, a good DSLR will always win out over a cheap and nasty compact camera or mobile phone.
So think big, but good quality. Most modern digital cameras are producing anywhere from 12 to 40+ megapixels per image. My personal favourite current camera is my Nikon D800, which produces crystal clear 36 megapixel files. That provides a huge amount of scope to still resize or crop before submitting it to an agency and still having it in a decent size. If you are serious about getting into stock photography, then putting your money into a modern, quality DSLR camera is the obvious first decision to make. You don’t need the latest and greatest, but make sure it produces clean, crisp images at a decent resolution with low noise. Most cameras from Nikon, Canon and the like that fall into the ‘pro-sumer’ (serious amateur) range will do just fine.
“You don’t need the latest and greatest, but make sure it produces clean, crisp images at a decent resolution with low noise”
Still on the subject of the best camera gear for stock photography, we need to talk about lenses. Many people will argue that you should spend more on lenses than on your camera, and there may be some element of truth in that. However, there is no use having the latest $10,000 lens on a $400 camera body that isn’t capable of capturing all the detail the lens provides. So be reasonable. The logical approach is to match a good camera with a good lens. If you are just starting out in stock photography then you might want to try out an all purpose zoom lens that covers a range of about 28mm to 150mm. This should allow you to photography landscapes and portraits equally well.
In summary, here is what would be the simplest, best camera gear for stock photography:
- Modern DSLR of around 12 megapixels or more
- 1 or 2 good quality lenses that cover a wide range of focal lengths (24mm to 200mm or so would be perfect for 2 lenses)
- Couple of new, fast, reliable (Sandisk are great) memory cards
Best Lighting Equipment For Stock Photography
If we are discussing the best camera equipment for stock photography, we really need to mention lighting as well. You can’t take a good photo without good lighting. But the great news is the best lighting is free! Yep, 100% free, and it’s probably right behind you. Of course we mean natural light, perhaps coming in through a window which helps diffuse it a bit. If you are really strapped for cash then you could just use natural lighting alone and some reflectors to balance the shadows. Some of the best photographs of all time have been taken this way. It is especially good for natural looking portraits. On our Microstock Tools & Resources page you will find some great eBooks, including one to help you understand lighting.
“you could just use natural lighting alone and some reflectors to balance the shadows”
However, you will probably find that at least having some form of artificial lighting will be useful for you. If most of what you shoot is outdoors and on the move, then a good external flash unit that mounts on your camera will be sufficient in most cases. These are usually in the $300-$700 range, and if looked after can last a lifetime. Just make sure you get a compatible one for your camera (e.g. Nikon SB flash for a Nikon camera).
If you are really getting serious then you may want to consider a small studio setup at home or in the shed. Studio lighting takes some getting used to, and if you haven’t used it before than you may want to get some basic training on it, or at the very least watch some YouTube! 3 or 4 flash heads will allow for most studio setups that you will likely want to do. Again, you don’t need the top brand names. You can probably find some cheaper mono blocks for about $1,000 to $1,5000 for 3 or 4, complete with stands and umbrella’s etc.
In summary, here is our recommendations for basic lighting for stock photography
- Large foldable reflector that can fill in shadows for natural light or flash
- Flash unit for your camera (not the built in one, but a bigger, better one)
Computer Hardware & Software For Stock Photography
Stock photography needs to look amazing. Not necessarily fake or overdone, but flawless in technical aspects. That means each photography you submit will need at least a little tweaking in post-processing before it will be suitable. This could be contrast adjustments, cropping, saturation, or removing unwanted elements like dust spots. The way you choose to do this is similar to your choice of camera – everyone will have a personal preference. The point is though, that you need to do it, and so you will need the ability to do it on your computer.
The great news is that most modern computers (other than underpowered, cheap laptops) will be able to handle basic image processing without a problem. Here is the minimum you will want to look for if you are buying a new computer for this purpose:
- Intel i5 processor or better (i7 is great)
- 4GB RAM as a minimum – 8GB and above will do you many favours
- Solid state hard drive if possible, otherwise a fast 7,200rpm traditional drive
- Good quality screen, 22 inch or bigger if desktop, 15 inch or bigger for laptop
- Fast, accurate mouse
Of course, there are endless variations with computers, so those are just the basic requirements we would recommend if you are going to buy or build a system to start working on stock photography.
In addition, you will need software to edit your photos. The most popular is of course Adobe Photoshop, which I would highly recommend (although I do hate how much Adobe charges for the privilege of using it). A cheaper, and almost as useful option is Adobe Lightroom. Or a totally free option that is gaining popularity is GIMP.
Which microstock agencies are worth it?
Now that you have your camera gear sorted, and are well on your way to making great stock images, you just need to get on board with the major stock agencies. Take a look at our list of the best microstock agencies and read the agency reviews for contributors to find out all you need to know.