How to Shoot Silo Imagery for Stock Photography

How to Shoot Silo Imagery for Stock Photography

photos by Clint Blowers


“Silo” or “cut-out” imagery is an interesting category in the sense
that its monetary value and its future as a dedicated profession for stock
photographers are debated.

Many photographers consider being able to light an object effectively
on white seamless a core skill that is learned during one’s days as an
There are basic technical challenges in this photographic
task; one must learn how to control reflections, keep backgrounds
distinct from the objects, and make a clean image.

However, most would also agree that market value has decreased for
silos- mainly due to the proliferation of digital cameras and in-house
studios at magazines and advertising agencies. Even photographers
support that silos are appropriately priced RF and at a relatively low
price point.

Regardless, silo imagery continues to be used in massive volumes
across all industries in stock purchasing. Photographers who can
achieve perfection in this category will still be able to generate a
solid revenue stream from their work – even if it means selling the same picture of an apple 500 times in one year.

To learn more about how to light a silo, see our silo lighting tutorial.

photo by Nicholas Eveleigh

‘Silo’ generally refers to any object shot in a straightforward fashion
on white seamless. There is nothing conceptual or artistic about silos
– indeed, if any conceptual elements enter the shot, it becomes ‘still
life.’ The point here is to show the object as cleanly and simply as
For example, if you shoot a coffee cup on white – that’s a
silo. If you show rings on the table and a book of matches next to it –
that’s a still life.

A typical usage for silo is when an editor ‘cuts out’ the image from
its background and inserts it into a page. One reason silos are most
often shot on white is because the typical usage is in a magazine,
where the pages are white – so the edges will match.

Other attributes of silos or cut-outs include:

  • The entire object is in focus
  • The object is not backlit – it is not a silhouette.
  • There is typically a soft shadow around the object created by lighting on the set (not Photoshopped in later)
  • The image has an inherent flexibility- it could be placed on either
    side of the page or inverted, and can typically be used at a variety of
  • There is no need for copy space – since typically the image is cut out of the background
  • There are typically no logos on the objects (although this could occasionally be appropriate)
  • Typically priced Royalty Free.

Lastly, while silos are to some degree commodities, buyers do indicate that
lighting, composition, and the quality/look of the object clearly
differentiate images amongst a set of search results.



This was a very interesting set of interviews – thanks so much to our experts, who were so generous with their time!


Annie Etheridge – Photographer, Photo Editor, and Producer
Josephine Solimene Rustin – CosmoGIRL! (Photo Editor)


Clint Blowers
Nicholas Eveleigh

“When I am looking for a silhouetted image it is usually going to be cut out and put it on the page – it is best if the entire image is in focus, and shot on a white background. Sharpness, great lighting and strong composition will set images apart for us.” – Josephine Solimene Rustin, CosmoGIRL!


  • Straight shots, in focus. Buyers are not looking for anything artistic, nor are they typically looking for more than a little depth of field. Everything should be sharp, clean and in focus.

  • Lighting is critical. Objects that are not well lit will not be purchased. Make sure the front of the object is well lit, that it is distinguished from the background, and that reflections are controlled.

  • Get the shadow right. Buyers typically want to see a tiny soft shadow. It needs to be even all around – so you will often need to light the object from a lot of different angles and light the seamless as well.

  • Shoot a perfect object. If you’re shooting a pair of scissors, make sure they are brand new and polished for fingerprints. If it is an apple, make sure the color is beautiful and there are no bruises. If you are using a retro object, like a used baseball glove or ball – the object needs to be ‘perfectly distressed’ and attractive or iconic in its wear – it should not just look used.

clintPicture 27.png
photo by Clint Blowers

  • Never do cut-outs or shadows in post-production. A buyer can identify instantaneously if an object has been silo’d in post – in other words, if you shot the object on a non-white background and ‘cut it out’ using an editing application, you will probably not get away with it. Similarly, you cannot usually reliably apply shadows to an object in post. These are cheap ways to get a silo effect and will not be sellable to quality publications.

  • Stay mainstream. The idea with silo is that you are selling ordinary, generic objects in volume. The volume comes from the fact that they are everyday objects. If a buyer needs something weird, they will probably shoot it themselves without even doing a search. Stick with generic, iconic objects.

  • Don’t crop too tightly. Typically an object is centered in the image. You can put it off-center, but make sure you leave some breathing room on all four sides around the object.

  • Do a variety of shots. One object might yield 20-30 usable shots, and with stock you never know what the buyer will want – so shoot a range. Try different angles and positioning the object in various ways. You can also try stacks of the same object: stacks of cookies, etc. But don’t mix and match various objects.

  • Research potential usages. If you have a client in mind, look through the magazine and get an understanding for how they are using silos. What angles, what kind of lighting, what size, what placement on the page? Also, do research to understand the types of objects and angles that are used again and again. You’ll want to at least cover all the typical angles before getting creative.


  • Health/Beauty/Product shots may not be worth it. If a buyer needs a picture of a specific brand or product, they will typically get a silo from a manufacturer. For beauty, they will often shoot it in-house. Also, products often date quickly and product images will have a short life. You are better off shooting generic everyday household objects and fruits/vegetables.

  • Logos are mostly bad. For the most part, if a buyer has to retouch an image to get rid of a logo, they will just buy an image without the logo. The majority of your silos should not have logos. In some cases though, you could incorporate logos – like a stack of Oreos where the logo is apparent. Some iconic silos brands could be sellable with logos.

  • Consider non-objects. Buyers sometimes need to silo out non-objects, like hands or arms making gestures – even sometimes things like trees or other objects typically found in environmental shots. Nobody recommends spending dedicated shoots on these more esoteric ‘objects’ – but if you are out shooting and see a tree that could be easily cut out of its environment and dropped into a graphical context (i.e., there is not a busy background of other trees or environmental clutter) – shoot it. If you do venture into hands and gestures – you must use a hand model.

  • Price Royalty Free. Don’t get priced out – this is for the most part an RF market.

Prevention Magazine, March ’08


  • Only do this if you can do it better! Silos are effectively a commodity market and may no longer be able to provide photographers with a sole source of income. But if you look at what’s available out there and think you can do it better – go for it, it can be a great revenue stream.

  • Figure out what to shoot. Some shooters research magazines to see what is constantly being used (i.e., stethoscopes!). If you can do it better – then go with the commonly used objects and make them outstanding. Alternately, search stock sites for various objects and shoot the gaps. PhotoShelter is not even close to saturated with silos – there are a lot of gaps to fill.

  • Find great objects. Whatever you choose to shoot, find beautiful and perfect versions to use in the shoot. They need to be new and in impeccable shape.

Good Housekeeping July ’08, and Radar Magazine, July-Aug. ’08

  • Style the objects perfectly. Many photographers hire stylists to help with silo shoots. If you are doing this on your own, make sure everything is clean. Often you cannot see flaws until you shine light on or through the object (i.e., glass). If you are working with liquids, pour them into the glass or other container using a funnel so the sides of the container don’t get splashed.

  • Make sure the background isn’t bleeding over the image. This is the #1 mistake in lighting silos – it happens when you have the background over lit – it creates a white edge around the object. One also sees a lot of silos where the top right edge is gray-ish. You need to get your ratios exactly right.

  • Learn lighting, use light meters. A lot of photographers these days rely on their cameras to tell them the light situation, but that is not enough to understand how the object is really going to look. Don’t tackle silos without really understanding the characteristics of light and being energetic about measuring and controlling the light on your set.

  • Use flexible lighting setups. You want to get as many shots as possible in as little time as possible – so try to establish a core lighting set up that can accommodate moving the object in various ways.
“Shooting silos is not for everyone.I like it because it doesn’t require travel, it’s relaxing, and I’m really interested in lighting and figuring these problems.” – Clint Blowers, Photographer

  • Don’t create overly dramatic lighting. Your object needs to match other objects on the destination page – the buyer needs to be able to just drop your object into a page – do not use dramatic lighting. This is about the object, not what time of day it is – the shadows should be soft and small.

  • Be aware of reflections. One of the main challenges of shooting silos is managing reflections. This is not something that can typically be fixed in post-production. For example, if you are shooting something black and metallic on white, you’ll have a weird white highlight reflected into the image and will need to fill it with black to make the highlights less forced. You can try retouching after the fact but you’re better off addressing it in the shot with a negative fill. You may also need to use fills to balance the white if it is washing out the color of what you are trying to shoot.

  • Be patient. You need to have the right mentality – including meticulous attention to detail, an enjoyment of lighting and problem solving, and endless patience – to shoot silo. You may need to move an object by mere millimeters to get it positioned correctly. It could take your stylist 30 minutes to style something simple. The details take more time than you might think, and require patience to get right.

photo by Nicholas Eveleigh

  • Cover your basic shots first. The same half dozen shots apply to almost every object you could shoot. Cover those first, and then move on to more creative angles.

  • Creativity pays off. There are ways to work personal perspective and imagination into silos once you have covered the basics. For example, if you’re shooting a soda can, you might get down low, underneath it, to give it a more heroic feeling. Or you could crush it, shoot it from the bottom/underneath, or get 15 of them and shoot a stack, a row, or a pyramid. Instead of shooting 1,000 haphazard angles of something, make it stand out from everyone else’s by applying some thought and imagination.

  • Exhaust the possibilities. Silos are not ‘one shot wonders’ – you usually end up with 5-20 usable shots at various angles or compositions. If you have the time, think through every variation possible with an object and capture it. If you’re shooting crackers, shoot one individually and at a series of angles. Shoot stacks, vertically or spread into a line. Standing on their side, propped up in back. {Note: if your object requires a lot of retouching, don’t do as many variations because of the time required in post-production.}

“The challenge with silo is how to make it look interesting – because an object is an object – you can’t change it. You can only show it in the best light and take it as far as you can without saying too much; it should just say ‘object.'” – Nicholas Eveleigh, Photographer

  • Know how to retouch. While most of your shot comes down to the quality of the object and the lighting, you do need to know how to retouch – the end result needs to be perfect.

  • Liquids + Reflective Objects are the advanced level. Unless you are a pro at lighting, steer clear of these objects. For example, with liquids, you need to light in such a way that the liquid is illuminated and not solid looking. And it’s tough to make the glass edges look perfect without making the liquid murky. Shooting liquids is among the most intensive in terms of lighting skills.

  • If you are shooting silo on assignment – ask questions. If someone commissions you to shoot a silo, you need to understand the end usage as specifically as possible. Nothing is more frustrating than submitting 30 shots of a soda can and realizing later that they wanted to see it on its side with liquid coming out, or they wanted to see inside the can.

  • Don’t suspend objects. It’s time consuming and difficult – and there’s not a lot of demand for this.

  • Have a system. Develop a lighting system that you can snap into place quickly and that will work for a range of objects – from a nickel to a chair. Every object is a little different – it can be shiny, it can be leather, it can have different accents. Keep your lighting simple and versatile to accommodate a variety of challenges.

Picture 21.png

photo by Clint Blowers


Be as specific as possible! Describe the object exactly and the composition on the page.



The list of objects one could photograph for silo is infinite – but here are some suggestions based on client demand and PSC needs.


• Cheeses
• Vegetables/Produce
• Herbs/Spices/Loose Tea (fresh/uncut)
• Bread
• Milk
• Eggs
• Fruit
• Oil
• Soy Sauce
• Sugar/Flour/Salt/Pepper
• Rice
• Tea bags
• Meat
• Desserts
• Pies (pumpkin pie!) – full pies, with slice cut out, single slice, empty pie tin
• All different kinds of beverages
• Cocktails/Alcoholic Beverages
• Coffee
• Ingredients for different diets (vegan, raw, etc.)
• Cheeseburger/Hamburger
• Pizza
• Soda cans – crushed, stacked
• Splash of water


• Alarm Clock/Wall Clock
• Telephone
• Scale
• Kitchen Utensils – whisk, pans, knives, etc.
• Empty Containers/Bowls
• Empty Box
• Blank paper pinned to wall
• Maps
• Compass


• Computer
• Keyboard
• Mouse Pad
• Blackberry/PDA
• Post-Its
• Highlighter
• Desk Lamp
• Paperclip
• Stapler/Staples
• Scissors
• Tape Dispenser
• Newspaper
• Calculator
• Envelopes
• Notebook
• Fountain Pen
• Safe
• Computer server
• File cabinet
• Desk chair
• Stock market chart
• Water cooler
• Newspaper
• Coffee Mug
• Briefcase
• Calculator
• Photocopier
• Fax machine
• Business card
• Spreadsheet
• Blank papers pinned to wall


• Tissue Box
• Band Aid
• Thermometer
• Pills
• Bottle of pills
• Vitamins
• Lab coat
• Stethoscope
• X-ray
• Cast
• Iodine
• Surgeon’s mask
• Surgeon’s tools
• Doctor’s chart
• Wheel chair
• Eye chart
• Exam table
• Syringe
• Crutches
• Prescription
• Prescription pad
• Medicine
• Blood pressure cuff

Miscellaneous Household

• Sunglasses
• Passport
• Bookmark
• Condoms
• Gum
• Toothbrush
• Slippers
• Socks
• Calendar
• Lunch box
• Paper bag/Plastic bag/Tote bag
• Stamps
• Glass of water
• Ziploc bags
• Maps
• Compass

Psychology Today, April ’08

Are you a buyer or photographer with extensive experience relevant to this category? We’d love to hear from you! Please email us with any additions to the Shotlist, Tips, or any other sections of this article.

We look forward to it!

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There are 3 comments for this article
  1. bc at 9:46 am

    Great information here, but these 2 phrases contradict each other:
    “…nor are they typically looking for more than a little depth of field. Everything should be sharp, clean and in focus.” The less depth of field you have, the less you have in focus.

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