Stock photography 101 – tips and tricks for success
Whether you’re new to stock photography or a veteran, there is always room to improve and new things to learn. You can be a photographer, graphic artist, traditional artist using brush or pen, or any combination of the above. So, you’re asking, what are tricks and tips for success?
Before you create any kind of an image, you need to understand that the stock business is commercial oriented. Buyers want concepts that visually communicate whatever they’re trying to promote or sell. The lines can be blurred because stock is not just business people having a meeting in a conference room, stock can also be fine art, fantasy, and whimsical images. Two business people shaking hands is a strong visual concept. A fantasy scene of a tree stump with a door and window is a strong concept. A generic landscape can be a strong concept if the composition and execution is done well. Did we just say “execution?”
The easiest and most simple thing to photograph is a landscape so let’s focus on that type of a concept. Are there garbage cans and power lines in the background? Is it a cloudy or sunny day? Puffy cotton clouds generally look better than a drab, dull sky. A passing storm can be more dramatic. What time of day is it if the sun is out? The Golden Hour is usually the best time to photograph a landscape because the midday sun can be too harsh. Can you create a concept with the landscape? A sandy beach, blue ocean, and palm trees makes for a wonderful travel and vacation concept. Are there empty beer cans on the beach? Pick them up or remove them with software. Is the image better if you adjust brightness/contrast/color?
Execution is extremely important when shooting any type of photograph destined for your online portfolio. Pet owners love to photograph their sleeping dog or cat because it’s oh-so-cute. If you’re a pet blogger or a store selling pets, you might want images of pets being active, going to the vet, having fun in the park, etc. Think in terms of what they buyer might be looking for.
A simple test is to search the Dreamstime database for a common location such as the Eiffel Tower. Sort by Best Selling and you’ll see the difference between what sells and what doesn’t. The stock industry doesn’t spread sales around to make things fair. It’s sink or swim and if you’re not getting sales, it’s because you’re competition is beating you. Execution is another way of saying your work needs to better than the other guy.
When you start uploading images, think of a way to store and backup your images. There is no one way to do this but you will want to store your uploads in a way that makes sense. There may be a time where you want to retrieve images and if they were stored in a haphazard way they may be lost forever despite being saved somewhere. You may want a location on your hard drive or cloud account for works in progress. Whatever you do, save your files in a way that makes sense so they are locatable. At the very least, keep your files and images backed up.
After a shoot or outing, back up your memory cards as soon as possible. If your cards are full and another shoot comes up, it may leave you in a bind. Clean the lenses, recharge the batteries, and put everything away where it belongs. That way you will be ready for the next shoot. Sometimes a passing storm rolls by filling the sky with dramatic weather and if you’re scrambling to find the right lens and an empty memory card, the opportunity may be lost. Weather doesn’t stop to pose for you and you literally may have only minutes until the scene runs away from you.
Planning a shoot
What kind of shoot do you want to do? Are you working in a business office to create business concepts or going down to the park? The best thing to first sit down with paper and pencil and start brainstorming.
If you have access to a business office, you might want to photograph a telephone on the desk. Papers and a calculator. Perhaps an empty desk. Print out a paper that says CONTRACT on it. What else can you think of doing? Instead of photographing a desk in an office, your brainstorming should allow you to do multiple concepts and get more bang for your buck. How many different ways can you take advantage of shooting a simple desk in an office?
The same goes for shooting people or pets. You can photograph someone walking in a park but if there is a wooded area, have them put on a backpack to look like they’re camping in the wilderness. Plan everything out and get as many photographs you can from a single shoot.
Even a simple landscape can benefit from a little planning. What time of day will you be shooting? The angle of the sun may force you to shoot from certain locations. Are there any towns along the way? Any old houses in the area? Google Maps can help you identify possible opportunities in the area or region you’re going to. Take that paper and pencil and write down locations. You can also Google for images of specific locations to see if there are any photographs online that may show you other things to photograph or the best way to photograph what your primary target is going to be.
When you’re at the desired location, what can you do to shoot multiple concepts. You just got a nice shot of the beach, but what about shooting it again with a folding chair and drink cooler? Would a suitcase on the beach make for a nice travel concept? What other ideas can you come up with for the same location?
Working with models
If you’re working with a model or people, what is it that you will want to create? What are their ages? What clothes will they be wearing? Do you have costumes for them to wear? What is the location? One of the biggest mistakes photographers make when shooting people, especially when the models are young and good looking, is they focus on the eye candy. Is the hair combed properly? Are there loose strands of hair covering the face and eyes? Are shirts tucked in and collars straight? Are you too busy looking at the pretty girl and not seeing the garbage cans in the background?
Let’s say you want to photograph business people. Your model comes in wearing a suit. How do you photograph the person to create business concepts? Should the model have a big smile and giving a thumbs up sign? Or does the model unbutton his suit and shirt and try to look sexy with his chest sticking out? How well do you think the sexy businessman will sell compared to the thumbs up idea? Shooting sexy people is a legitimate thing to do, but shoot sexy people being sexy. Don’t try to do a business shoot and being too focused on the eye candy.
Sit down with that paper and pencil and plan out your shoot so you don’t resort to shooting a business suit with an open shirt and hairy chest.
Are there any items in your basement or garage that can be used for a photo shoot? Do you periodically check out the local thrift stores for costumes and various items that can be used? Your only limit for ideas is your imagination. If you want to photograph someone as a farmer, you won’t want them to be holding a rake made of plastic. An old, vintage pitch fork would work much better. Garage sales can be a great way to find items that can be used for a photo shoot. It helps to always be on the prowl to find unique items that can be used as a prop. You don’t have to stop at every yard sale every weekend but props are a great way to expand your portfolio with different concepts. An old prom dress might double as a fairy costume. Find a good location in the woods, have your model put on the prom dress, and create some nice fantasy shots. It can be fun doing something like that too, stock photos don’t always have to be about happy, smiling business people.
If you’re sitting at a table with a blank piece of paper in front of you because you can’t think of any ideas for your next shoot, then head on out to the internet and see what other people are doing. Do you have any favorite subjects? Search on anything and everything. What kind of images come up if you search on HAPPY DOGS? What about SAD CLOWNS? Do the search results produce anything that you would like to try? Let your mind wander and chase the rabbit down the hole. What about a businessman with clown makeup? Mix and match ideas.
You can also go to Dreamstime and see how the various ideas you have fare with sales. Search on BUSINESS CLOWN and then sort by best selling. Does it look like that concept might generate some sales? Can you produce an image that is better than what is already there? Discover new concepts you can try and then execute them as best you can in order to compete with similar images that are selling well.
If you are skilled with photo editing software and can create concepts using multiple images for composites, then maintain a library of standards. You may have a favorite background that can be used over and over for different concepts. Store your go-to images in a special location where you can retrieve and use them as needed. That mysterious, deep, dark woods image might make a good background for a business person lost in the wilderness, an evil wizard, your fantasy girl wearing the prom dress, or just about anything else your imagination can conjure. Keeping a library of standard images allows you to quickly churn out image after image when you have a set of images that can be used multiple times. If you don’t know how to use layers and create composites with photo editing software, then learn so you can expand your skills and your portfolio.
Not a photographer?
If you’re a graphic designer or a traditional artist, there are a few things to know and a few things you might want to try. Vector art can be very lucrative, and it would be advantageous to upload an EPS version of the file, not just the JPG. If you’re a traditional artist, consider creating 2D art electronically with Photoshop or another application that allows you to paints and draw digititally.
One thing to keep in mind when photographing or scanning physical 2D art, the paper or medium that was used may have a texture that does not scan or photograph well. You may need to experiment with the lighting to see if an overbearing texture can be minimized.
Both graphic designers and traditional artists might want to consider creating 3D objects and then utilizing those items for 2D art. 3D objects can be adjusted for different angles which allows you to use a single item multiple times. A 2D object only has one angle and view. The -A-d-o-b-e suite of products has applications where you can do this.
You may also want to look at creating artwork virtually. Do some internet searches for the Meta Quest 2. It’s primarily used as a gaming console but there are applications where you can create 3D art virtually and export to a 2D file. There are very few artists who create virtual art so the concepts that you come up with will have very little competition. It’s an exciting option to consider.