Photo Tripping America

Shooting Stock Photos Suggestions #1

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Once you understand the camera settings that most stock agencies require, you can jump into shooting images specifically created for those agencies. Today we’ll cover a few suggestions on what types of photos are popular with stock photography companies so that you can get more practice in “shooting stock.”



Stock photo agencies come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing is consistent throughout the industry: the best selling stock images are those that involve people doing something.


If you’re like me and come from a background in landscape photography, the last thing you want in your picture is a person diverting attention from the true star of your image…the landscape! It took me years (and honestly, I still fight the desire) to incorporate people in front of my lens. But look at it from an image buyer’s perspective. Chances are that they are purchasing pictures to complement their website or brochure text, or for advertising purposes. Unless the buyer is the National Park Service, it stands to reason that most purchasers need people in their images to showcase a product or service (and even the Park Service likes a few images of hikers on their terrain!).


Incorporating people into locations you shoot will always sell better than a photographer who shoots a picture of the same location without people.  And here’s one big reason why:  You took the time and effort to get a model release signed, meaning the person or people in your shot signed a form saying it was okay to photograph them, giving you permission to sell the image. Now a perspective buyer of your picture has that peace of mind, knowing he or she can use the image for more than just an “editorial” shot.  Editorial images are ones that can only be used for non-promotional or non-commercial information. Here’s a more thorough description, with examples, of what constitutes an editorial image.


The opposite of “editorial” is a “commercial or creative” image.  This is a picture that can be used to advertise or sell something.  In most cases, creative images (ones that have a model release if recognizable people are in them) are much more useful to buyers, so most likely they will be much more profitable to you, the photographer.


Think of it this way:  editorial images tell us the news of today – like the images you see on the front page of the paper showcasing a picture of the bank in your hometown that was robbed yesterday.  Creative images are the ones you see on billboards telling you to purchase this service or that item.  If a person in the image can recognize himself, then you will need a signed model release from him to sell the image as a commercial one.  And commercial images have many more uses than editorial ones.


So let’s say you have a photo shoot at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.  The location is perfect for gorgeous scenic photographs, but put some hikers in the foreground and it becomes more enticing for buyers to use – they want their customers to picture themselves in the scene climbing up the rock trail to their final destination…that fragile arch overlooking a background of wind and water erosion in the Colorado Basin. My suggestion to you is shoot all the scenic landscapes you’d like, but try to get people in a few of the shots as well.  Maybe someone who is traveling with you would make the perfect model. Or maybe you’ll have to approach another tourist to sign that model release and “pose” for the perfect shot.  Most people are more than willing to help, and I always send a copy of the final image to their email address as a thank you. Your bank account will eventually become much more robust with people pictures!


Below are a few other examples of how adding people to your shots can add dollars to your pocket, quite literally!


Let’s say the buyer for the images below is the United States Mint. They want to promote more use of their MONEY. Which of the images below gets more of a response (it could be positive OR negative) from you?


ChangeThe picture on the left is a literal picture of money, which can be useful to some buyers. However, the image below can represent all kinds of concepts like spending money, giving a gift, taking away savings or retirement, passing it on to the next generation, etc. – because there is something happening in the photo between people. Exchanging MoneyGranted, there are also more twenty dollar bills in the right image, (which would probably excite anyone living on a budget!), but either way, I think you can see the difference. The picture above is not a bad picture, but it has limited usefulness, and remember – the name of the game is creating images that meet a variety of needs in the market place. You will sell that kind of image over and over again.  And by the way, you will NOT need a model release for the image of the two hands exchanging money, because they aren’t necessarily recognizable.


Here’s another example of shooting “money” without ever showing currency at all, but note that it does involve a person (again, not recognizable, so no model release is required):

Female Torso with Empty Pockets


A few things to keep in mind when using models in your photography:

  • Use a variety of age groups, ethnicities, sizes and shapes. Again, the word “variety” should be emblazened upon your brain by now.
  • Make sure clothing, props and backgrounds don’t have logos or distinguishing brands visible. Otherwise, you will be spending a lot of time in Photoshop taking them out of your images because stock agencies will not accept “creative images” with brands in them unless you can get a property release from the companies (good luck with that!).
  • Always, always, always have your models sign a Model Release when working with you. Most stock agencies require a new one every time you shoot with the same model, and honestly, the existence of a model release is what separates casual photographers and professional ones. No one will take the chance on your images of people without a model release, as it puts them in a precarious legal position.


I’ll bet you can guess what your homework will be.  See how many different situations you can capture people “doing” something!  After you’ve shot at least 10, you’ll be ready to move on the Shooting Stock Photos Suggestions #2!


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