Shooting Stock Photography

Packshot on 17/12/2012

Whether categorised as editorial, archive or creative, stock photography has, over time, become an increasingly large slice of the photographic cake. In creative stock photography in particular, the range of ideas and concepts available is as diverse as life itself – and, at times, even more vast.

With a starting point as wide-ranging as this, it can be difficult to know where to begin when it comes to producing creative stock photography. For all the time photographers might spend browsing stock images which already exist, the skill is to imagine images which aren’t there. Without going into too much detail, Mike Harrington recently took the time to outline his idea of successful stock photography – and to explain what to avoid.

First things first, a clear concept is a necessity. Look at contemporary advertising for ideas. What people are doing and wearing in television ads is often the result of a good deal of research on the part of the agencies concerned, and this can be extremely useful in judging what editors and designers are looking for in their photography. Keeping one eye on this is an excellent glimpse into current patterns of thought.

Differentiating your own work from that of other photographers can be difficult at times, but maintaining your own individual style is an excellent starting point. A common fallacy is for a photographer to assume a style with which they simply aren’t comfortable. This often shows. Even with the simplest of concepts. There are photographers who can photograph women eating salad alone. And there are photographers who cannot.

While those images are ingrained in your mind, it’s worth mentioning that subtlety is frequently the key to a successful stock photograph. Shock tactics might be ideal for charities. Sometimes. But that’s about it. If your intended target audience is to be a wide one, then avoid excessively loud photography.

Good stock photography, in essence, is the right combination of the specific and the generic. Although concepts and ideas should be well-defined and clear, the final images should accommodate a variety of purposes. Moreover – and this returns us to Women Laughing Alone With Salad – the images should be believable. Next time you have a few minutes to spare, search for the funniest and the worst stock photographs. For the most part, the worst photographs and the funniest share exactly the same qualities. Why? Because they’re outlandish. Unrealistic. Hyperbolic. Occasionally even impossible. Unbelievable. But even within the parameters of believable concepts – and why not take “women laughing alone with salad” as an example here? – the idea could be improved by taking a more toned-down approach.

The final piece of advice that Mike had to say was particularly relevant to our current recession-hit economic climate. Avoid being too flashy. Many of the most popular activities over the last few years have been relatively inexpensive compared with previous years, and this cultural shift has influenced everything from holidays to fashion. It’s difficult to imagine the current mass revival of retro culture taking place during the economic boom years of a decade ago.

If, after all this, you’re still bereft of ideas, head over to the excellent Getty website – to which Mike contributes – and see what other photographers are doing. Their online features, Curve and Rise, are informative and interesting windows to the world of creative stock photography. Take inspiration from other people.

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