10 Tips for Shooting Stock Photos That Make Art Directors Happy

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]

23 Responses to “10 Tips for Shooting Stock Photos That Make Art Directors Happy”

  1. Bill, I just read you article on Black Star Rising and I appreciate all your information. Until now I have shot all those photos you indicate I should NOT be shooting. I started 30 years ago submitting to Taurus Photo in New York and have sold almost nothing. I will be taking you info to heart. Thanks


  2. Thanks, I enjoyed reading your article and I will keep those things in mind.

  3. hi there!
    i'm just about to get into the game of shooting stock photos and appreciate your entertaining and informative comments.

  4. Muy bien. Gracias. Thanks for the words of wisdom... there's some helpful advice and tips to a budding photographer there:)

  5. Thanks. As a stock photographer it is always very useful to hear the perspective from the end users side. Alex

  6. I'm late to this thread Bill but found it very useful. Just this week I was accepted as a contributor at iStock (first attempt) and have been scouring their bestsellers for what to shoot that sells...but I think I'll stick to what I do best first and see how that works out - before I get my girlfriend to put on a headset and have her try to crank out an enthusiastic smile. Cheers,Ed

  7. What sort of background should be chosen?

  8. aw, now what am I going to do with the 50 Elvis impersonators I hired?
    Seriously now, I've never tried stock photography (it has always seemed like the more boring part of photography to me), but the more I read about it, the more I feel like giving it a shot.
    I'll keep this article bookmarked, it'll help if I ever do get into this.

  9. How are you going to shoot a real band with a crowd of people etc. you would need a model release form for every recognizable face you shoot unless its for editorial.
    Lets just get realistic here, nice fantasy though.

  10. It's not very hard to shoot bands live at all. I do it all the time, since my hubby is a musician. Leave the tripod at home and get right up front. At most clubs and outdoor events it's pretty easy. The problem I run into the most with shooting bands/musicians is that many of them are paying attention to where the camera is and start hamming it up. Drives me nuts!

  11. Loved the article and will definitely take the "shoot a straight forward shot" advice to heart. I'm guilty of not doing that often enough.

  12. Nice post. I like how you mention avoiding taking shots of models that don't know how to hold a guitar. There is a selection of photos on istockphoto of a "trumpet player" that I cringe at every time I see. It's pretty obvious someone gave him a horn and said pretend like you're using this. I really hope no one has brought any of that particular set of pics because they are just so bad....

  13. thanks for this post as im trying to put together a stockphoto gallery so my web design customers that my can use and i dont to create shoddy photos. ill take these tips on board

  14. Excellent tips for shooting stock images. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Thanks! Helped a lot!

  16. I'm interested to know what you have to say about other FMCG brands using location-based services and any differences you might see outside the US.

  17. Nobody ever talks about this, I'm glad you are, it's about time.

  18. But it is certain that proximity geo-tagging software presents a danger when it is in the hands of a predatory person of whatever sexual orientation. It presents information about a potential target as well in this case a gullibe kid. At the very least, Apple should raise the download age for this app since sexual consent varies in all countries where you can download this. That speaks to social responsibility for both Apple and the creator of the app.

  19. Very insightful, thx.

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