Building a Clip File: How to Find Inspiration in Other Photographs – Part One

One of the fastest ways to train your eye for stock photography is to look at good stock photographs that are already selling well.

Take a look at the photos I’ve included below and see what professional stock photographer Shelly Perry has to say about building a clip file of photos like this.

Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

by Shelly Perry in Portland, Oregon

A lot of good photographers I know keep what I call a “clip file.” Basically, when you see a photo you like -- in a magazine, newspaper, even in junk mail (which is great for stock shots, by the way) -- you clip it out and stick in the file. You can do the same with web files, tucking them into a folder on your computer. Once you’ve collected some shots in your folder, it becomes your go-to place for inspiration.

Take time to look at the photos and think about why they inspire you. See if there are any strong trends in the photos you personally like: Are they all landscapes, animals, food, people, studio shots…? When you find yourself drawn to a certain type of photo or subject more then others, it’s a strong indicator of the type of photographer you yourself might be.

Next, start dissecting them. See if you can identify the light source and how the light is working in the photo. Is it natural light or studio light? Is the light flat or bright? Is it flattering to the subject? Is it soft defused light or strong and directional? Do you see a lot of backlighting? What is the temperature of the light…is it warm or cool? And so on… You want to ask yourself “how did they do that?” By doing this, you begin to train your eye to watch for various lighting situations and then emulate the type of light you like best.

Then look at the overall composition. Are they generally wide-angle landscapes with everything in focus…people portraits…or perhaps tight close-up, macro shots of food? Various types of photography require very different technique, as well as equipment. Seeing what these photos have in common can help you to narrow down your scope and begin to understand where you want to go as a photographer.

Then look at the subject. How are things arranged? Does the arrangement make any one thing seem more important then the others? Is there a “flow” through the photo? Do you see the rule of thirds in action…perhaps leading lines or framing? Do the majority of the photos you like use a wide depth of field (everything in focus) or a shallow depth of field (has a point of focus with lots of softness beyond)? Again, when you can identify in your clip file the various elements that draw you in and inspire you, you can learn from what others have done and start to understand how to reproduce these types of photos for yourself.

An important distinction I want to make is that your clip file is used for inspiration. You study other images, so you can go out and make your own photos, learn, and grow…The idea is not to go out and make a copy of a photo you like. It’s important that you become your own photographer with your own style.

Here are a few examples …


As a stock photographer, you never want to copy someone else’s work. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you why I’ve added these images to my clip file and what I hope to get from them that will inspire my next photo shoot.

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