In a perfect world, I would be so busy shooting hired gigs that I would have little time to concern myself with unpaid jaunts into the wilderness to beef up my stock portfolio. I don’t know about yours, but my world (especially in this economy) is far from perfect. In a way, it’s not a terrible thing to have more time on my hands these days. I have been able to pursue stock shoots in locations I’ve long wanted to visit with models/product in tow.
For starters–what is stock imagery? Any time you are shooting imagery with intent to license it to some entity in the future, you are shooting stock. You might even be on a paid assignment or commercial shoot–if you’re wise, you have discussed the issue of retaining rights to the images you shoot in order to market them as stock when/where you have agreed is appropriate (some publications will stipulate that you can’t release the images to the market for x months after date of publication, etc.)
I am by no means an expert on stock photography. There are countless photogs out there who having been doing it far longer than I. That said, I have learned numerous things in the past several years that would’ve been helpful to know when I’d started this roller coaster ride of a career. Below are several things to keep in mind when shooting outdoor stock imagery–much of this applies to general stock as well. I have purposely posted images from one overnight shoot up on Mt. Timpanogos to help illustrate the tips below.
1. Have model/property releases on hand and get them signed. Without a signed model release, your options are somewhat limited as to what you can do with the images. If the individual(s) in your image is recognizable, you must have a model release for any commercial usage of that image in the future. Editorial usage does not require model releases, but it’s a good idea to have your bases covered regardless.
2. Shoot both landscape and portrait orientations–all the time. Did you just find the best shot ever in the history of man as a horizontal? Great. Fantastic. Kudos to you. Now go ahead and shoot the same shot in a vertical orientation. You never know who might need the image in a horizontal or vertical format. Sure, one may have more impact than the other, but any image has more impact than no image at all. You might miss out on a sale if you’re unable to provide an alternative orientation for the image.
3. Make sure your models are pertinent and look current. This is a general statement, but unless you have a particular client or concept in mind, you want your images to be fairly generic and usable to any number of clients ranging from commercial to editorial to…who knows. If you’re shooting active imagery, make sure your models didn’t just walk out of their Jenny Craig consult. Sorry–there’s no easier way to put it. Models must look as though they belong in the environment they’re being shot in. What does it mean to look current? It means having the latest and greatest in gear and apparel. Yes, the 80s were awesome. WERE being the key word. If you have the portfolio and guns to back your request, get in touch with the pertinent contact at gear/apparel companies and request product for shoots. Don’t be deterred if you get denied–they receive countless requests for gear. Just keep trying–it helps if you have an assignment/client for which you’re shooting and can get exposure or guaranteed publication for the company whose gear you’re requesting. As an aside, shoot images with logos both apparent and hidden. The former you can submit to the actual manufacturer for advertising/catalog use. The latter will serve as a good generic stock image.
4. Leave negative space in your images for copy/text. As photographers, we are used to filling the frame with everything that matters, and getting rid of anything else. While substantial in photographic terms, these images rarely work for advertisements and/or editorial spreads as there is little or no space for messaging. Don’t forget to leave space for cover copy on vertical shots that are worthy.
5. When you find a meaningful composition/image, work it. And then work it again. And then keep working it. Until you’ve completely exhausted your options. An example: when shooting hikers, shoot them walking left, shoot them walking right, shoot them horizontal, shoot them vertical, shoot them low, shoot them high, shoot them sharp, shoot them blurred, shoot the man in front, shoot the woman in front, shoot them single, shoot them together…I’m thinking you get the point. You want to give art directors, creative directors and photo editors a number of options so they can find the one that works just right.
6. Don’t forget that light makes the image. There is such an absurd amount of imagery floating around these days that you must provide as close to perfect an image as you can to stand out. Shoot early and late. Nuff said.
7. Previsualize. The light goes quick. Models get tired. Communication gets hampered. Have an idea of exactly what you want at that particular location. When the stars align, you’ll be ready.
Now go sell it! Shooting is the easy part–earning your money back for your valuable time and energy is the difficult part. That said, the one with the deepest and strongest portfolio most often takes the prize. Commit to giving your all on each shoot and you’ll no doubt be rewarded.