The Case Against A Stock Photo Niche

Creating Images That Compete

One piece of common advice for photographers is to specialize, to find a niche’ and focus on it. Particularly in these days of image over supply you hear how important it is to shoot images that aren’t competing with the plethora of popular subjects…a favorite example being that of a person on a cell phone. I personally feel that such advice should be taken with a grain or two of salt. I believe it is important to create images that, rather than not competing, are competing successfully. If you want to have a successful (read “earn lots of money”) career in stock photography you need to shoot the popular subjects…and you need to diversify…both of which fly in the face of advice pointing one towards a “specialty”.

The Case For Specialization In Photography

Ever since I started my pro career back in the mid-seventies I have heard that I needed to specialize. I certainly believe that specialization does make it easier to get assignment work…and indeed, back when I shot assignments I did specialize. I specialized in location work; I specialized in agricultural photography, I specialized in special effects photography, I specialized in Photoshop work and on occasion I specialized in a lot of things I don’t even remember! But I do remember that I always resented the fact that I had to specialize…and one of the great “aha!” moments I had was when I realized that in shooting stock I didn’t have to narrow myself to any one subject or style.  Indeed, that was one of the main reasons I gave up assignment work for stock.

A Photo Niche and Less Revenue

While developing a niche for your stock photography may be right for you if you market your own work and can get an appropriately high licensing fee then more power to you. It will be rare to find an agency that will demand a higher price for such imagery so if you distribute through the typical agency you will simply end up with fewer sales and less revenue.

The Secret to Success

I believe the secret to success is to create images that do cater to the popular categories and subject matter…but to create images that clients will want more than the other guy’s picture. Not an easy task…but I am not promising a rose garden here. To achieve success in stock you are going to have to create truly compelling images of popular categories and subject matter and distribute them effectively. That means choosing the right model for the image (RM, RF or Micro), being prolific for the type of imagery you are doing (for me being prolific is a few hundred images a year) and choosing agencies that people actually go to and license from.

Testing The Waters

I also believe in diversifying. Having a primary style, for example, is fine, and in some cases is so strong it is hard to argue with (think Colin Anderson). But for most of us mere mortals it is important to try new things to both test the waters for finding out if there is a strong demand for new styles, and to insure that if demand changes for the style (or subject) that is our bread and butter, we won’t be left high and dry. Besides, trying new styles (or subjects) out can help keep us fresh and creative.

Business On The Go

In my recent trip to Thailand to shoot source material for my stock images I played a lot with zooming during my exposures as well as shooting long exposures of lights at night. The past two days I have given myself “permission” to play with those images the result being a series that are unlike other images I see on stock sites. While the style is an experiment, the concepts of speed, transportation, shipping and business on the go are popular ones and always in demand. Will these images sell? My gut tells me they will…but it also tells me they won’t sell a lot…so I will place these images in the Rights Managed category.  By the way, my gut is not always right…but I will find out if this is a viable style by having these images out there in circulation.

Images I Want To Create

I want to create images that compete effectively for popular categories and subjects, I want to stay fresh and creative, and I want to continually test the waters for what images the market place wants. For me, and my career in stock photography, shooting for a niche is not the way to go.

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

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

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