I was reading an excellent post by photographer Jonah Kessel, who recently was responsible for the redesign of a major newspaper in China. To summarize, the post was about whether to take the leap from doing editorial photography and also doing stock photography as well.
There’s a big difference between the two, of course. For editorial images, e.g. images that appear in articles in newspapers, magazines and similar medium, you don’t generally require model releases. For images used for commercial purposes, it is required that you have model releases to show that you have obtained the model’s permission to publish his/her images to promote a product or service. It is always the publisher who takes the risk when they decide to use an image. So it makes good business sense for them to make sure that they will not be liable.
This gives me a little more respect for stock photographers who actually setup life style shoots with all sorts of situations and peoples, although I feel like most of them are sitting at their house taking pictures of inanimate objects. However, are they actually visually representing life accurately with their models?
Or better yet — are they even trying to? Do stock agencies want a “real image” or the “idea of a real image?”
The above is a quote from Jonah’s post and something we want to highlight as it is critical to whether the images will sell or not: capturing people in real situations and not “faking” the images. In stock photography a less harsher description is not faking it but to create a situation in a photo shoot. Creating images in a controlled environment is what stock photograpy is all about. This is one aspect of stock photography that is in great demand because creative directors of most advertsing agencies want stock photographers to anticipate their requirements, get inside their heads, think ahead of their creative minds and outside the box as well. So it is not as easy as going into a market scene and shooting at every photo opportunity you can find on that day. Having said that, it does not mean that images of natural market scene or any good random shots whether indoors or outdoors will not sell as stock images as well. They do but not in such great demand as images specifically created for the advertising market.
It’s not the first time we’ve talked to a photographer voicing this to us. By far, the most common response we get from photographers that aren’t doing stock, is that they believe everything has to be “fake” and the models have to be beautiful/handsome. Obviously, there is truth in these statements. Clients that choose stock images to advertise their products or services want to create a postitive reaction. They know that using a young, attractive model to advertise their product is more likely to get a positive response than no images at all or one that will generate a negative feeling.
However, as a stock library, we want to encourage our contributors to shoot more images that look natural and candid. In every photo shoot, a photographer will never see any return in his/her investment unless the images show spontaneous, candid shots together with some shots that show the models smiling naturally into the camera. Images that show the models posing for the camera will never sell. If the photographer can capture an intimate moment or a candid expression in a photo shoot that image will sell and that is what creative directors in all advertising agencies are searching for. It is much harder to achieve this when you are shooting specifically for stock and directing a model to create that look or expression but there are stock photographers out there who are doing it and they are the ones making big bucks.
Achieving this balance between genuine and commericaly viable images for stock is probably the hardest thing for a successful stock photographer to do but with practice, information of the current market trends and a passion for lifestyle images, any serious stock photographer can succeed. I hope this will motivate you not discourage you from shooting for stock.