Relevant…and risky stock photos

Careful What You Wish For

I am sure I am not the only old time stock photographer who has harbored a secret desire to have Tony Stone, the man behind the “Stone” brand and the precursor to Getty Images, come back to stock and save us all.  Well, he is back…and has joined with Vivozoom to help propel that micro stock agency to the forefront (read the article at Microstockdiaries).  Careful what you wish for!

Focus on Quality and Make Relevant Photos

When Tony was asked what advice he would give to us traditional stock shooters he replied, “Focus on quality, and before you fund a shoot examine hundreds of stock images in print and online, and then imagine real uses for your own images. Here’s your mantra: “Relevance, relevance, relevance.”  This approach will focus your shooting, reduce your costs and boost your sales.”

What Is Relevant?

So how the heck do you know what is relevant? There are several questions you need to ask to determine relevance. It is also important to remember that determining the relevance of an image is more of an art than a science.  The first question to ask is who is going to use this image? The second question is why would they use this image rather than another one? The more likely your image is to be used than another, the more relevant it is. So you have to factor in the competition. The more competition there is the less relevant the image. The more relevant the image the greater investment is warranted in creating the image.

An Art, Not a Science

Other factors to take into consideration include the projected lifespan of the image, and distribution variables; is the image better suited for commercial stock photography, blogs, imprinted merchandise or fine art prints…and do you have suitable distribution for its intended categories? Of course, as I mentioned earlier, determining the relevance of an image is as much an art as a science. A great example of the difficulties of determining an image’s relevance can be seen in an image I made of a man with a blue face and shaved head with his head on fire. After making the image I sat on it for quite some time. I just couldn’t figure out who would use it for what. Finally I sent the image in to Getty anyway. My art director/editor at the time told me she didn’t want it. What the heck, I decided, I had nothing to lose so I sent it to Corbis. They loved it! The first sale it made was for $17,000.00! It has sold many, many times since. And I almost didn’t send it in at all!

Compelling Images, Art Directors and Creativity

Sometimes, even if you can’t answer the question of who would use the image and why, if the image is compelling enough, art directors and designers can and will use their creativity to come up with uses. I am guessing, but I think that such images would be better suited to Rights Managed where infrequent uses can be offset by higher licensing fees.

Instincts, Risk, and a Lot of Cents….

Sometimes you have to go with your instincts, but if you can answer who will buy your image, and what for, you certainly have a leg up on succeeding in stock photography. If you take the time to see how much competition there is for your photos, so much the better. But don’t forget to stretch yourself, take the occasional risk, and allow room for those crazy images that don’t always make perfect sense…they may end up making a lot of cents!

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

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

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