In the worlds of editorial and advertising, images are needed on a daily basis to visually support an ad or an article. The images you see in magazines such as Vogue or Cosmo that aren’t an actual spread, but a simple somewhat generic looking image to sit along side an article with a titled like, “Ten Things That Will Drive Him Crazy” are oftentimes stock photos. In advertising, for smaller budget clients, it is often much cheaper for art directors to scour the many sources of stock photography (websites such as GettyImages.com, CorbisImages.com or iStock.com) than to produce a full-fledged shoot. Because these images are often selected by art directors, photographers who excel in the world of stock photography often eventually move into advertising photography. The photos for these two categories are in many ways interchangeable.
One of the best starting points when starting to delve into any creative endeavor from writing to photography to graphic design is to absorb as much of that art form as possible. Some stock photographers you should check out are Yuri Arcurs, Seth Resnick, and Clint Clemens. Learn from your predecessors, and find the aesthetic that you like. Mimic your idols until you find your own visual voice.
Once you are feeling good and inspired, there are some easy, practical tips that will help you garner success in the stock photography world. Firstly, lighting is imperative on these shoots. Dull, low contrast images are simply less likely to be successful. Make sure that your focus is clear (no blur or grain) and that the lighting and colors are properly adjusted. Additionally, make sure any logos that may be in the picture are removed.
Shoot From All Angles
Another word of advice for photographers shooting stock photos is to cover all your angles—and then when you are finished maybe invent a couple, too. Art directors would rather have more to chose from, and if you give it to them on a consistent basis, your images may end up being one of the first places they check as they browse through the millions of stock images. Having as many angles as possible gives you the advantage, and will help art directors find exactly what they were looking for.
Focus on Your Specialties
Finally, and this may sound intuitive, but stick with what you are good at! If you are good at making images that pertain to a specific category within stock photography (food, street, lifestyle, portrait, etc), stay with it. Just as finding a niche within the big world of photography is important, finding one within the subdivision of stock photography is as well. Make sure to avoid visual clichés: if you’ve seen it before, why would anyone want to buy your version of it? Granted, artists are always influenced by other artists, and this does not exclude ad men or photographers, but try to put something unique into it. Don’t give another picture of a heart in the sand with waves washing it away, or of a woman sitting next to a rain-covered window looking longingly through the Venetian blinds unless you can come up with something to separate it from the other dozens of photographs of the same thing. That said, photographing a mime running over hot coals in the middle of the Sahara desert, while creative, may end up being a bit too obscure for practical use.
Always Get Model Releases
One important step for stock photographers is ensuring that you have model releases for all of your images. Although this rule doesn’t apply for news-style images, all stock photos where the person is identifiable should be accompanied by a signed release to use their image. There was a controversy regarding this in recent past where Australia Virgin Mobile used an image from Flickr without the consent of the subject or the photographer, however because the photographer has posted the image under the “creative commons” licensing, it was apparently legal. Where the company got snagged was that it did not have permission of the individual in the image. (1) This should firstly serve as a warning to be very careful when you check the “I Agree to the Terms and Conditions” box, it can ultimately lose you money. But if you are consciously selling your images for advertisements, it is important to have model releases for all of your images.
One great place to start your stock photography career is ShutterStock.com, a website that easily allows photographers to register as contributors. Just submit 10 of your best images to be evaluated by the ShutterStock site. If you meet the standards of the website, you can begin to post more images to be sold. As I mentioned earlier, you must have signed releases for all your models. Photographers can make a decent amount of money from these types of sites, especially considering that it requires very little work, and images that were created years ago can continue to generate revenue for many years.
I think the best advice that a photographer interested in stock photography (or any form of photography for that matter) can get is to shoot as much as you possibly can. You have to shoot 2-dozen bad photos to get a good one, and with stock photography once you get a few good ones, if they are truthfully quality images, you can easily be supplementing your income through low-maintenance sites like ShutterStock.
Go forth, and photograph!