Planning a Stock Photography Shoot for Maximum Efficiency
Much like they do in the movie world, it is a good idea to storyboard a shoot if it is planned. If you are simply out and about shooting stock as you see it, carry on as you are.
For planned shoots, taking the time to create a storyboard will save you time and money, especially if you are hiring models or equipment. They can either be as in the form of a pictorial board or written version as I am using…whichever is easier. It is also an idea to create a timeline of events for the day too.
I used a storyboard when I created the Wedding Photography Blueprint DVD’s (now part of this site if you are a full access member) and it enabled me to complete the project in less time than if I hadn’t planned the whole thing and written it down. We were hiring properties, models, vans, equipment etc so time was crucial. My version of a storyboard for that project was a series of cards in order of the timeline with one main board that had the entire weekend planned out.
So what should a storyboard involve? Where do you start? It should start with the initial idea…that should be your title! Let’s use “A day at the park” as our example.
To start with, I need a park.
I wouldn’t just pick any park, I would pick one that is firstly desirable to look at (or I can at least make it look desirable) and secondly, it also depends on what kind of image you are trying to portray. Do you want “urban” style shots in a run down, inner-city park, or do you want family friendly stock images?
I will look for a park situated in such a position that I know certain features of the park will get the best light at the time of day I will be shooting taking everything into consideration including the background that I want. For example, late evening in the summer or early evening throughout the rest of the year will give a wonderful, natural glow so you need to know you can get the shots with this light.
The time of day I want to shoot is also a time when I know the park will not be too busy. I don’t want to spend my time asking for people to move, waiting for them to move away or Photo-shopping out unwanted people from the shots, although a wide aperture will usually blow out any background “undesirables”. Best to go when it is not too busy.
Next, I need people.
I will usually use my own kids as they are always at hand, they love the park and they are cheap!
If you don’t have kids, you will want to entice a happy family (preferably friends) to allow you to shoot and sell images of their kids. You can either offer money in return for a few hours “work” or you can offer to shoot them as a free family portrait session in exchange for model releases. Works a treat that one!
Whichever route you decide upon, you need to meet the kids first and get to know them a little. Familiarity goes a long way to getting the shots you want (as does bribery with sweets and money ; )
Now, what shots do you want? What will sell?
Do some research online to see what images are selling well of kids. Families and people are big sellers so get some ideas together and write them down.
Make a list of all the shots you definitely want and ensure you take them from three or four different angles…and three or four shots of each. Digital is free so fill your cards!
- Kids on swings from front
- Kids on swings from back with parents/Grandparents pushing (maybe with setting sun blowing out highlights)
- Kids on swings from side with both in view at slightly different angles
- Kids on swings from a low angle
- Camera on floor using mini tripod and timer release to shoot automatically (getting shots no-one else will attempt or think of)
- Make them laugh and smile lots
- One, two and both kids on roundabout. Low angle shots, distant shot with telephoto to blow background more. Try one standing on the roundabout looking down on kids. Slowish shutter to emphasise speed and movement.
- Kids coming down the slide. Shoot from below using a super wide angle for different effect.
- Shoot from side and top also
- Shoot kids on scooters on the skateboard park. Try some slow shutter speeds for panning and movement shots.
- Football shots?
You don’t want too many images of the same thing so take a few of each theme and pick only the best for uploading. If I was to get between 10 and 20 cracking shots from this short shoot, I would be happy.
Equipment and settings
Equipment IS important for stock and don’t let others tell you otherwise. One, half decent DSLR will go a long way and it doesn’t have to be professional or even semi-professional. A starter DSLR with upwards of 8-10 megapixels will do just fine.
Even older models such as the Nikon D90 or D700 and EOS 5D Mark I/II, EOS 50D etc are all fine especially in lower lighting situations. Remember that you will possibly need fast shutter speeds during dusk and lower light sections of the day and that will mean raising the ISO.
Most modern DSLR’s are amazing at ISO’s up to 1600 or even 3200 producing crisp, clean and detailed images so again, get the best you can afford.
If I had the choice of upgrading a half-decent DSLR or buying a new, top quality lens, the lens will win always. I have now built a reasonably good arsenal of quality glass for all my shoots including:
- Canon EF 50mm 1.4 – Amazing lens and well priced (1.8 version is excellent too)
- EF 16-35 L 2.8
- EF 24-70 L F2.8
- EF 70-200 L IS 2.8
- EF 15mm 2.8
- Sigma 105mm Macro 2.8
Notice any similarities there?
Yep, the wide aperture of F2.8 (1.4 on the 50mm) on all lenses. This ensures I make the most of any available light before needing to increase the ISO or decrease the shutter speed thereby risking the degradation of quality.
If you cannot stretch to your own brand of lens (Canon, Nikon, Olympus etc) try Sigma or Tamron. Both make excellent quality lenses (at F2.8 or better) that as near as dammit match the quality of the big boys.
Do not use a sub-standard lens when shooting stock. They can cause purple fringing, chromatic aberration, soft edges, inconsistent focussing and other things that will cause your images to be rejected. Even if you have to buy one, cheap decent lens such as the 50mm 1.4 or 1.8, do it and use that!
There is nothing more annoying, costly and time wasting that completing an entire shoot only to get back to see you have any or all of the above problems…nightmare!
In fact, if you have just bought or will buy a new lens shortly to shoot stock with, get out and practice with it before the actual shoot. Find what settings work best to get the most from your lens, F5.6 is a good place to start as it seems to be the industry norm for the sharpest images (I cannot back this up, it is just what I have found myself as well as reading post after post online).
These fast lenses (“fast” means wide aperture) will certainly help me freeze the action of movements in my shoot with a fast shutter speed and without the need to increase the ISO.
If you haven’t seen it already, check out our lenses section in the DSLR training module.
Of course, the more “things” you have to assist you in obtaining the best results possible, the better. Anything that will help your images be up there with the best and sell well is welcome in my book.
Here is a quick list of “bits and bobs” that may come in handy.
Almost essential for a variety of reasons. Night shooting, self portraits, obtaining and keeping sharp, manual focus for stationary objects and so on. Get a sturdy tripod that will hold still your camera with its heaviest lens attached and you are good to go.
Mini Tripod/Gorilla Pod
I will be using a mini tripod for a couple of shots on my park shoot as it will help me in getting close to the action without getting a wallop in the head. Again, trying different tricks to get shots that are a little “out of the ordinary” will go a long way to achieving your success.
If you don’t have one already, it is always good to have at least one speedlight available for fill in flash, back lighting or a variety of other times when you may need extra light. I may need one to fill in the shadows at some point so will take one along with me.
To go with the speedlight to diffuse the light into a more natural and aesthetic illumination.
Very handy piece of kit if you don’t want to use lighting but need a surge of natural, warm light. Reflectors come in all shapes and sizes and are easy to use. I will take my Lastolite Reflector as it has both white and gold reflective surfaces.
Useful for a multitude of uses but I will be using this with the mini tripod to enable me to fire “remote” shots at predetermined intervals which I can set up prior to shooting. I don’t need to be near the camera either (saves getting kicked in the head).
If you cannot afford any or all of this, rent it. If you are serious about becoming a successful stock photographer, don’t skimp on kit! If money is tight, as I said, rent for now or at least get one decent lens and start from there.
There is no better motivation than planning to spend your stock earnings on new kit.
Next Page – Concepts and Subjects…what sells?