Many aspects of the stock photography business have changed over the last several years and will continue to change. Photographers will still shoot the same subjects but in many cases and depending on those subjects, they will just be shot in a new way.
Marketable stock photography is no longer the outtakes from an assignment or the result of a lackluster romp through the woods. It is now a standalone part of the photography business where photographers must work hard on concept and storytelling images. Less than stellar images have little chance of succeeding.
Here are a few things that are present in good selling images:
- Subjects that are timeless and have long lasting appeal! This could be a strong nature image that has infinite beauty and evokes emotion from viewers. Nothing in the image dates it rather it captures a magical moment in nature. These images are the ‘hero shots’ and may sell for a long time because nothing dates them and the images
story is timeless.
- Concepts. An adventure image strong on concept will be successful if it meets the communication needs of the buyer. A company planning to run an advertisement, in which the copy talks about Risk, could be illustrated with a rock climber hanging from a wall. Nature images that can apply strong concepts will also succeed. Like a tree seedling sprouting from a nurse log could illustrate many concepts.
- Newsworthy events of natural disasters, such as the great Yellowstone fires in the late 80’s or the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill made for images in demand at the time. They do well in the short term but as the news coverage evaporates so will demand. Occasional requests may still be there over time as the story is revisited or updated from time to time.
- Drama or some form of uniqueness. A good stock image could also be a spectacular moment in nature such as lightning or an animal antic. These images never age like fashions, technology, and lifestyles photographs do.
- Clear of clutter. A good outdoor stock photo of people would be devoid of logos, outdated objects that date it, out of style clothing, yet would have technical excellence and a broad appeal. Most outdoor apparel has logos so you would need to retouch those out.
- Known subjects shot in new way. How many more images of Delicate Arch shot on an average day under average lighting conditions can the market bear? Rather images of lightning around the arch or shot in a blizzard or painted with light, are much more rare andlikely to be more successful in the market.
- Stay current. There is always a demand for current city skylines for example. Most publishers will not use them if they are over 2 years old. Skylines continually evolve and change and need to be updated regularly. When shooting people make sure the clothing is current as well as eye wear and any other accessories.
- Leave room for text. An image that has enough room for a magazine header or double page spread can lead to more sales. Keep that in mind but use it carefully. A selling image needs to be a strong image first. Leaving room for text will not make a lousy image a selling one. So shoot the well composed hero shot first then look for ways to add room for copy in your composition without sacrificing the impact of the original composition.
- Special techniques can make a marketable image. In the waning days of film, cross processing was a popular technique. You saw images processed this way used everywhere from advertising to editorial. Today’s hot technique is HDR and there are a lot of images produced using the new illustrated grungy look, but we see very little if any of that technique published. Experiment and try new things and tell the world about it.
- Some ways to determine good selling photographs is to simply view what’s being published. Magazines related to outdoor and adventure subjects are superb examples of the style, technique, and even locations that markets are seeking. Adapt to what your markets are publishing. If you’ve been shooting landscapes for years and your favorite publication has begun using nature images with people in them, then the natural response is to start including people in your images.
The key to successfully creating marketable images is to research the markets carefully and understand what photo editors are looking for and adapt your skills accordingly. Your business depends on it.