Like most art directors, I have a love-hate relationship with stock photography. I love it when I find what I need; I hate it when I don’t.
The stigma of using stock is pretty much a thing of the past, and maybe you’ve decided shooting for any number of stock houses is something you’re going to try. Allow me to offer a few suggestions on what creatives look for when we head to Photodisc.com. Now, none of these are absolutes — rules set in stone being the last thing a creative wants — but having a general idea of the types of things we look for may help your work sell better.
Some of these suggestions may overlap, and others may be relevant depending upon your situation. A lot also has to do with the agency, and what categories they work on. So in no particular order, here are my 10 recommendations:
1. Shoot what you know.
If you shoot great landscapes, why all of a sudden try medical research and high tech just because it’s popular? Go ahead if you want, but understand that there’s a lot of competition out there already, so your shots of lasers better really stand out. If you do want to try a category you may not have tried before, look at existing collateral in that category in the form of brochures, Web sites, posters, point-of-sale materials, etc. This will help familiarize you with current styles and trends.
2. Know your category.
This goes hand in hand with the first one. When you really understand a category (teens, automotive, cuisine, etc.), chances are you’ll be able to dig a little deeper and come up with shots and angles nobody else can see, especially if you live that category.
3. Don’t shoot just what’s popular.
Sounds contradictory to the mission at hand, which is to shoot stuff that sells. What it means, though, is don’t give me the same thing I can get from 100 other photographers, especially if you know that category like the back of your hand. That’s even more reason to push yourself.
4. Bore me.
Okay, another contradiction. Let’s say you’re shooting hands. Give me a wide range of realistic but natural positions, nothing elaborate. Simple, relaxed hands holding a coffee cup, on the phone, tapping a desk, etc. And close-up too. Please shoot close on a few shots. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found the perfect position for a hand that was part of a larger shot, but when I went to enlarge it, the hand is grainy or not really in focus.
5. Don’t bore me.
So you covered the boring shot of the engine block. Now, give me an extreme close-up and dramatic POV shot. Maybe shoot all macro B&W. It’s here where if you are shooting a category you know that I want you to really push things and explore.
6. Keep it simple.
Don’t clutter up a shot. I personally respond to things that are clean; leave an area around the subject, too. For example, for a shot of someone walking on the beach, normally you see various poses of someone shot full-figure at water’s edge but without enough sky in the pic or “space” on either side of them. I don’t mean become like David Lean and shoot everything long and epic with man as but a tiny speck in a vast landscape — just don’t always crop nature out of a scene so much. Yes, that’s what Photoshop is for, but why not save the studio some retouching time?
7. Easy on the themes.
This one goes with the last one and is subjective. Now, I can’t make you stop shooting whatever weird fantasy you have going on in your head, but when I see a CD collection on Photodisc with extreme characters, bizarre props and really outlandish color schemes, you’ve pretty much guaranteed that I’ll take a pass. Why? Because the 50 Elvis impersonators standing in a field at night with lit sparklers is just too specific a theme for me to ever use. I’d have to be looking for that from the start, and what are the odds we’d need something like that unless the piece called for it? Very low indeed.
However, this is not the same thing as shooting retro motels, diners or cars, or even a range of someone’s emotions. Say you have a particular lighting style and you’re shooting a series of laundromats. Just keep the scenes simple. Places like that already have enough character without a ballerina on a dryer.
We also don’t need you to do anything “extra” with a funky old Chevy; it’s cool as is, trust us. We want shots simple because, well, we’re going to do something with them ourselves more than likely and we just don’t need anything else messing with that. So get Elvis out of the car, please.
8. Include the entire subject in a shot.
Related to “Keep it simple,” but shoot a range of shots in terms of both angle and proximity. Just like the movies, we like the same type of coverage: wide, medium and close-up shots — all of it.
If you want to focus on the corner of a cool sign outside some Route 66 motel, fine. (Just like we dig old cars, we also like anything retro — like signs.) But back up and make sure you get a shot of the entire sign with plenty of background around it. There’s nothing like finding the perfect shot, only to see part of it missing.
And when you get the entire sign in the shot, please also remember to shoot a straight-on angle of it and not just a low POV off-center that might distort things.
9. Avoid cliches.
Like, businessmen in suits with briefcases running against each other around a track. Let me guess: the rat race?
10. Keep it real.
Have your talent save the bad acting for soap operas. Honest, genuine expressions, please. Real moments where you catch people with their guards down are far more appealing than the shiny happy people R.E.M. sang about. Speaking of bands, find a real band — there are plenty of up-and-coming bands — and shoot them in a real club. Avoid the model who doesn’t know how to even hold the guitar and waves her arm wildly like Pete Townshend. Check out band shots on Flickr for reference if you have to.
To that point, Flickr has also now become another source for art directors to grab material from. The poses, the subjects, the situations are so much more “real” than anything you tend to find on most stock sites.
[tags]stock photography, art directors, graphic designers, photo shoots, photography advice[/tags]