There are some composition tricks that apply to stock photography specifically. As more and more image use migrates to the web, the old stock photo rule of leaving room for type is becoming less significant. It is becoming replaced with approaches that enhance an image’s visibility at the thumbnail size and on web pages. Images with a square format gain maximum space in returned search results. The space allocated for each individual thumbnail is always large enough to allow for maximum width and height to accommodate all formats. If an image is a square format, the thumbs will maximize all the available space vertically and horizontally. The image will be larger than any images except for other square images. Before computer screens replaced light tables, photographers that shot 35 mm film would maximize their area on the light table by duping 35mm images up to 4x5 or would use 16mm film for duping.
If you don’t have a camera that produces a square format at full frame, compose in the camera so that if possible you can clone part of the image and expand the format to a square. But remember this suggestion is just that and a great image will prevail no matter the format.Compare the two photos of the couple against the red background. The square format is selling as well as the smaller image but I think it is due to the expressions on the models’ faces in the smaller image. The man’s expression is not as visible in the square format image.
I notice a lot of TINY people in photos. Please step up closer or get a longer lens. If the image is about a person, we don’t want to just barely make them out. Get in close and personal. It may not feel comfortable to you but a long lens will solve that problem. The rule for up-and-coming photographers is to cut the distance to the subject that you think is appropriate in half and double the length of the lens. Of course, if your point is to show the scale of something relative to a person as in the snow scene below, it’s fine and understandable to have very small figures in the images but remember if you can’t see something in a thumbnail, you might as well forget about it! Stay away from busy backgrounds as you compose images. Confusing backgrounds can prevent the viewer from seeing the subject of the image. My pet peeves in the background department:
1. Distracting wires against the sky
2. Poles or trees that appear to be coming straight out of someone’s body.
3. Backgrounds that are the same texture or color as the subject of the image. That works great for illustrating camouflage but avoid unless you are showing something hiding in plain sight.
The shot of the little girl in the flowered top captures the mischievousness of childhood. It’s a terrific shot (even an editor’s choice image and has multiple downloads) but the busy background distracts a bit from the impact, in my opinion. The child in the parka has no distracting background issues and is a super shot. But just to prove that rules are meant to be broken, the photo with the confusing background is a best seller for the photographer.
Images with a single prominent subject, simple composition that display at the largest size possible in the thumbnail version will be downloaded the most, all other things being equal.
These two shots both illustrate the strength of the square format.Compare them to the the 35mm aspect ratio images on the page and I hope you'll see how much greater impact they have. With 20 to 60 thumbnails in front of the eye, that impact can translate into multiple downloads.
What about the rule-of-thirds? Read about it here but don't think that you have to stop to divide each image into its parts to decide what to put in the frame. By the time you do that, the 'decisive moment' may have passed.