If you want to make an impact with stock photography, go shoot some people!
Massive subject and huge potential! People shots are the biggest earners and have enormous “saleability”.
Note: The image above is a very popular stock image by the most successful stock photographer in the world…can you spot the obvious mistakes (hint: reflections) but it still doesn’t stop it being downloaded often!
Go to any stock agency and do a search for people. See how many variations and themes there are for you to get your digital teeth stuck into?
People photos are everywhere and in modern society, we are all trying to sell something and that needs people. Whatever corporations are selling they need people to illustrate:
- Playing with
- Cooking with
- Filming with
- Photographing with
- Or just using their product…products generally need people
Even if a product is aimed at pets, the company still needs people in the shot to show that the animal is a pet owned by a person (after all, it is people that buy the product the company is selling)! Look around you, look at magazines, posters, adverts and marketing campaign, people are everywhere.
Now, knowing what to shoot and how to go about it is another thing. We will cover all aspects such as lighting, composition and camera settings later but first and foremost, you need to think about a model release.
If a photo is going to be used for editorial purposes such as a newspaper, or news story, you do not need a model release in most Western countries. In the US for example, you can include images in websites, books and magazines as editorial too (as long as the image is not used in advertising).
Obviously it is better to check first and always try to get a release to be on the safe side.
Some people may find it difficult to shoot people initially:
- What do I say
- How do I put them at ease
- How do I pose them
- How many shots do I take
- What if they get bored
- What if they don’t like me
- What if I don’t like them
- Do I pay them
- Do I give them prints or a DVD of images
If this is the case, start with friends and family. Ask them to be your guinea pigs and sit for a few shots. Again, think of a subject, theme or concept, plan it out (so they don’t get bored) and give it a go.
For example, when my wife was pregnant with our second baby, I wanted to get some shots of her for posterity and nostalgia plus I had also just got hold of some new lights and backdrops so I wanted to have a play. We did a whole series of shots using the lights and black background…
Then I noticed how the light was hitting her from an open window during times when we weren’t shooting so I positioned her and fired away. I love how the gradients of light hitting Sonia (my wife) are the opposite to the gradients of light on the wall behind.
See how the light goes strong to dull from left to right on Sonia, and dark to light, left to right on the wall behind? Natural light wins the day yet again and as I write this, this was my very latest image to be sold at Alamy for $281.
My wife and kids are now so used to being photographed they just say “Ok Nick” and assume the position! You may have noticed that they are the main subjects in many of the videos here.
I have also approached friends to act as models in exchange for family portraits, prints and a disk of images. Most are only too pleased to help and it can sometimes work out just fine! Try it yourself:
- You save money
- You get a great selection of images for your stock portfolio
- You gain experience and knowledge
- They get some free enlarged prints
- They get a disk of high res images to keep
- You all stay friends!
This image, and I don’t mind telling you, is my all time best selling shot ever.
It has sold more than 2,500 times and still sells 2 or 3 times a day, every day. I have personally seen it on a billboard in Malaga, Spain, it has been spotted in the health section of the LA Times…
…and a Russian photographer who knows me at one of the microstock sites, saw it in a Russian magazine and kindly photographed it and sent me a copy…
Now in case you want to rush out and copy this, just know that it has already been copied many times and is still “flying off the shelves”, you see, it has longevity built in. With that amount of downloads it still heads the charts in many places and will be difficult to catch (this is why it is good to start straight away with your stock, the sooner you start, the sooner your images gain popularity).
I am also a great believer in Karma and that you reap what you sow in life!
Even when it does lose its “value” I will have long moved on with new and exciting shots. I think we all have “that one shot” in us that will motivate, inspire and pave the way to shoot even more. This shot has motivated me many times when I am stuck for ideas just knowing that another one like it is just around the corner.
Important Note: Make sure that your subjects always wear unbranded clothing. No logos, names, images or artwork. You will only have to edit it out in Photoshop and that can take hours!
As you saw in our storyboard example earlier, it is relatively simple to plan and execute a simple shoot. You don’t need assistants, tons of kit and exotic locations. Just a few ideas and willing participants.
Once you really get into shooting people, you could start to hire professional models. This will really enhance your portfolio not so much because of their looks, but because they know:
- What to do
- How to pose
- How to smile
- …and all the other things that most “Joe Public” models don’t
Note: There is change on the wind. Even though it is great seeing all those beautiful people adorning every advertising hoarding going, I feel there are changes slowly happening.
Go to any stock library and do a search for “people”. How many do you see that most people would consider:
- “Not good looking”
- and so on…
There is a definite gap in the market for “normal” everyday types of people, especially in these health conscious times. I know of a few designers and advertising people that now look specifically for non-model types for their campaigns.
I rue the day when my young daughter grows up and wants to be a size 0 just like all those women in the glossy magazines. It is worth thinking about for the future…break the mould!
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