What To Shoot

Posted on 1/6/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

After reading "Licensing Images in Today's Market" a reader asked, “What are the right photos to shoot? What subject matter sells best in today’s market?”

The photos that tend to be used most frequently and earn the most money are model released people in business and family life situations. Images that illustrate business concepts such as banking, investing, communication, shopping, etc. with or without people also sell well. Nature and scenic images tend to be in lesser demand and are the areas where there is the greatest over supply. There is demand for travel images but pictures of classic, cliché locations tend to sell much better than beautiful shots of little known places off the beaten path.

These are very broad generalities, but things can change quite a bit when you get to the specifics in any of these categories. People and lifestyle pictures and not necessarily what most photographers should be shooting. Photographers should shoot what they enjoy and know something about. In choosing subject matter they should look for things where they have some expertise and/or easy access to the subject matter. If the photographer is a loner, uncomfortable in social situations, but loves to hike, camp and get off by herself then she may want to concentrate on scenic and wildlife photography even if it is not likely to be the most profitable. People with such personality traits are unlikely to produce much in the way of marketable people images no matter how hard they work at it.

If you’re a good conversationalist, enjoy directing people, have access to interesting locations, and are highly organized and business oriented then you might want to try shooting people and lifestyle pictures. The ability to find and motivate attractive models to work with you for low cost is also an important.

I recently talked to a people photographer who wanted to produce images of a theater audience. This subject matter is in high demand, but very hard to get with model releases. The photographer was able to get access to a theater and talk about 50 people in an acting group to pose for him and sign model releases - for FREE. The ability to arrange the shoot was much more important than the technical ability to take the picture.   

If you love to cook shoot food. If you love horses concentrate on photographing them. If you have access to a hospital or scientific equipment consider all the ways pictures of this subject matter might be used. If you’re good with children or have friends with a lot of young kids then consider photographing kids as a specialty.
At the recent Microstock Expo in Berlin Elnur Amikishiyev from Azerbaijan talked about how he shoots pictures of everything his family buys and all types of products on white backgrounds. He is a part-time shooter who began supplying images to iStockphoto in 2006. Check out his iStock portfolio of 4359 images to get an understanding of what he shoots. (On iStockphoto.com search for Elnur, sort by downloads to see what sells and how frequently.) Most photographers would say that shooting still lifes isolated on white would not be a lucrative activity.
Elnur’s sells his imagery through multiple microstock sites on a non-exclusive basis. He has one picture of two wedding rings that has sold more than 1,200 times through various distributors. He currently has four employees working with him in his microstock production operation.

Elnur primary job is Management Information Manager for the BP Oil Company in Baku, Azerbaijan where he is responsible for financial reporting and forecasting. He likes this job and doesn’t want to give it up. It requires that he be available whenever they need him. One of the reasons he concentrates on photographing inanimate objects is that he can do it anytime at his convenience. One of the problems in photographing people with  all that is involved in casting, finding locations, building sets, etc. is that scheduling can become a big problem. With the kind of subjects Elnur photographs scheduling is never an issue. He can photograph them at any time and break away at any time.
His images don’t sell anywhere near as well as some model released people image, but he has over 40,000 images with various microstock distributors and currently these images are generating more income for him monthly than he receives in salary from BP. Check out his web site at www.about-microstock.com.

Getting Started

Once you have figured out what subjects you would like to shoot go to iStockphoto.com and Dreamstime.com and search for similar images. Sort by downloads and see how many times that type of imagery sells. Don’t copy those images, but ask yourself what it would cost you in terms of time and financial resources to produce similar, or better, images of the same general subjects.

When you’re trying to gage the demand for a particular subject matter don’t just look at the first best selling picture. Also look at the 25th, 100th and 300th. Get a sense of how fast the demand drops off. Most subjects will have a handful of good sellers. Also check when the image was posted on the site. Some best sellers have been on the site for 7 or 8 years. You want to try to understand the number of times an image might sell in a year or two. Don’t count on being able to sell as many as the best seller has sold even if your picture happens to be “better.”

Once you have a rough idea of the relative demand for a particular subject matter, consider the total number of images available of that subject. For example on iStock the 25th best selling image of an apple has sold 1,600 times, but there are over 75,000 images of apples on the site. On the other hand, the 25th best selling image of and “air conditioner repairman” has sold only 100 times, but there are only 108 images of AC repairmen on the site. Maybe some new images of an AC repairmen will have a better chance of selling than another apple image.

Production Costs

With the above research you should be able to come up with a few subjects you would like to shoot, have an idea of which of them might be in greatest demand and the level of that demand. The next thing to consider is what will be required of you to produce such pictures. It’s usually not a simple as walking out your back door, clicking the shutter a couple times and you’re done. In the example above Elnur has managed to keep his costs of production very low and the photographer who shot the theater pictures figured out how to do it for very little investment in time and expense.

The time it takes to take pictures will probably only be about 5% to 10% of what is required to earn money. It all starts with pre-planning of what you want to shoot. You may need props and if you’re dealing with models you’ve got to be concerned with clothes. If may be necessary to scout the location of your shoot or at least travel to and from the location. Time of day may be important and weather can be an issue. Seldom do all the elements come together without a lot of pre-planning and there will always be shoots that just don’t work out.

Once you’ve got the pictures then there is the post-production. It will be necessary to transfer the image file from camera to computer, back them up, edit, retouch selected files, keyword, caption, do a quality assurance checks before delivering the images to a distributor and the actual delivery process. One of the keys to success is to develop a systematic approach to image production and uploading as distributors limit the number of images a contributor can upload in an given week. Each distributor will have slightly different requirements. Most photographers spend 4 to 5 as many hours in post production activities as they spend actually taking pictures. So one of the things to consider is will you enjoy all the time (mostly infront of a computer) that you will be spending not taking pictures. There are organizations that will handle some of the post production tasks, but they charge a fee, take a percentage of sales, or both.

How Much Can You Earn Per Image

This is a critical factor, but it is impossible to estimate future earning of any particular stock image. Earning will vary greatly depending on the subject matter of the image, the quality of the image, competition, how it is distributed and search return order just to name a few factors.

To get a broad, very general idea of possible earning, and to see how widely things can vary check out Return Per Image From Microstock.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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