How to Create Successful Stock Photos
I recently read a post on a stock photo forum from a photographer in which he commented on how his “personal work”, placed with stock agencies, far outsells the work he shoots specifically for stock. I have heard that from more than one photographer. So why is that? It may be that this photographer’s personal work is not competing with all the images that are flooding the market, images created by thousands of photographers with the intent and purpose of creating stock photos. His personal work probably stands out from competing stock images and connects with the viewers. As with most photographers I am sure he loves his personal work. I suspect he doesn’t “love” his stock photos. If you want to create successful stock photos you have to love what you are doing and you have to love your images.
Stock Photos That Look Like Stock…But Earn a Ton of Money
I know at least one photographer (besides me) who shoots stock photos that look like stock photos (or at least what we all think of “looking like stock”…and he makes a TON of money (way more than I do). You can go to iStockphoto and search by downloads, and find hundreds of images that sell like crazy…but “look like stock”. What gives? I think that “what gives” is that you have to shoot what you love. Some people love shooting stock and it gives their images that something extra special. Others try to make money in stock but without the “love” the images just don’t end up with that combination of qualities that make them successful. If you don’t love what you are doing you are much more likely to be just going through the motions…and in this insanely competitive environment that just isn’t good enough.
Connection, the Holy Grail of Photography
The holy grail for photography is connection…capturing or creating images that connect with a viewer. That connection can range from empathy to humor, from familiarity to parody. But whatever the element or elements in an image that lead to connection, it is far more likely to be accomplished by a photographer who loves what he or she is shooting. Some photographers have the ability to set up a stock shoot…and love what they are doing enough to make those “set up stock shots” work consistently. I am fortunate enough to love making business concept stock photos…and it works for me. I love my images (and spend way too much time looking at them…much to the amusement of my partner Stephanie).
Love the Images You Create
If what you love to shoot doesn’t sell, then perhaps stock isn’t for you, or at least it won’t be your primary source of income…and that is OK. Really, what joy would there be in shooting images, especially in the quantity that are needed to succeed in stock photography these days, if you were only doing it half-heartedly? Back when I did assignments my passion was in delivering what the client wanted. Eventually I reached a point where my heart just wasn’t in that anymore. What the client wanted became a burden. Shooting stock became my joy. Luckily it worked out. I still love shooting stock, I love the images I create and now, in this Internet age, I get the benefits too of having a community of shooters to enjoy the profession with…but I digress.
Shoot What You Love
Probably the most oft-given advice to young photographers is to shoot what you love…and for good reason. That “love” will show…it will lead to growth and to refinement and to creating images to the best of your ability. Shooting what you love will result in your continued growth as a photographer and artist. Loving what you shoot is the foundation of success for a photographer. Even those of us who have been shooting for decades can get lured into shooting what we think the market wants. It is good to be reminded of the importance of shooting what we love. In the case of stock shooters it is helpful to ask ourselves “What do we love to shoot…and how can we shoot that for stock?”
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