The many ways to succeed in stock photography

I have the privilege of seeing the sales reports from a dozen stock photographers. One thing that stands out to me from looking at all those reports is that there are many ways to succeed. Each of those photographers has there own style and approach. That point is accentuated to me by the fact that a core group of about six of us often have combined our efforts in group shoots…which means there are plenty of images shot by different photographers but using the same models in the same locations. It is, in a sense, a rare opportunity to compare apples to apples.

A Studied Approach and a High RPI

One of these photographers has a very studied approach. He spends the most time casting and location scouting of any of our group. He spends more time lighting and setting up a given shot, gets fewer images per shoot, but makes a higher per-mage return (RPI) than the other photographers.

A Constant Flow of Ideas and Tight Editing

Yet another shooter has the incredible (to me anyway) ability to spring into action instantly. I recall a shoot in which he and I teamed up on a location shoot on the ridges of Marin County’s hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We drove up, parked, and began to pile out of our two vehicles. I gathered up my camera equipment and shot list, turned around, and watched in amazement as he followed a model up a trail, camera held down at near ground level as he snapped away. He just stepped out of the car and started shooting. He consistently out-shoots all the other photographers I know in terms of quantity. He is in a constant flow of ideas shooting hero shots, details, still lifes…getting it all. Interestingly enough, not only does he end up with the most images, but he also edits extremely tightly. He credits his tight editing for his high number of accepts from a given shoot. In the shoot he and I did overlooking the Pacific he had something like 80 accepts and I felt pretty good with thirty something!

Styling, Propping, Decisiveness and Consistent Sales

One of the women in our group puts a heavy emphasis on styling and propping. She tends to get fewer images out of a given shoot but her images consistently sell well. Her style can be almost campy at times, but I have learned that there is definitely an audience for it. She also shoots a lot of children and many of those images are among our top selling photos. One thing I have really learned to appreciate about her is her decisiveness and trust in her own instincts.

Everything Sells

Then there is me. I tend towards the concept images and often feel a little out-of-place shooting lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong; I always end up enjoying the shoots…no matter what I am shooting. I love getting to know the models and I love the sense of camaraderie I end up feeling with both the models and the crew. I do, however, usually get the fewest selects of any of our group, but make up the difference with my strong concept imagery. I am working hard at expanding my vision and not getting so fixated on just the concept end of things. One thing I have definitely learned from seeing the sales reports of so many photographers is that everything sells. While the concept shots tend to have the highest RPI’s, the lifestyle shoots earn the most per shoot, which seems to me to be a rather important consideration.

Play to Your Strengths…and Shoot A Lot

I haven’t covered all of our shooters here, but you get the idea. Each shooter has his or her strengths and when they play to their strengths they do well. One other important point, and I don’t think it just pertains to our little group, but it does appear that the photographers who shoot the most, earn the most. Not the most exposures per shoot, but the most consistent effort at planning, shooting and following through with submitting and uploading the images. What a surprising discovery!

About the author

John Lund  has been shooting professionally for over 30 years.  John was an early adopter of Photoshop, first using version 1.0 in 1990.  He began using digital capture in 1994.  John has been active in the stock photography world as a founding member of BLEND IMAGES, and long time contributor to Getty Images, Corbis, and, more recently SuperStock.

John has lectured on digital imaging and stock photography, has been a columnist for PICTURE and DIGITAL IMAGING magazines, and written ADOBE MASTER CLASS, PHOTOSHOP COMPOSITING WITH JOHN LUND.  John has been a frequent speaker at Photo Plus and other venues and has taught workshops at Palm Beach Workshops and Santa Fe Workshops.  His work can be seen at www.johnlund.com.

john lund

Shooting professionally for thirty+ years, using Photoshop to create stock photos for 20 years.

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