Shooting a Perfect Stock Photo

Posted on 2/17/2010 by Ellen Boughn | Printable Version | Comments (0)

The photo below is an almost perfect stock photo. It’s not cutting edge; it’s not trendy. It’s not hip or cool. What it IS is a photo that will license again and again for years…extending its revenue stream long after its production costs have been recouped even with today’s lower fees. This is a photo with a very long tail.

I first analyzed the image for my blog on Dreamstime when it showed up as one of the best sellers two years ago this month.  I have also discussed it in my upcoming book. Initially the image seemed a very simple and easy photo to plan and take. But once I deconstructed it, I understood the amount of thought, research, experience and planning that went into the creation of this clean and versatile photo and its variations. I’m reminded of what the IT guys always say when a seemingly trivial request is made for a programming change, “Simple doesn’t mean easy.”

A 'perfect' stock photo. ©Iofoto

The image is a subject-based winner. Among the most consistently popular stock photo subjects are family related. When photos with these themes also spell “happiness/love/caring”, the image has a lead over all others. Images of families are used for financial services, vacation and hotel packages, for religious publications and a myriad of editorial uses on websites on a zillion topics.

A beach location is a great choice. Stock photo buyers often want ‘aspirational’ images that show an idealized place or situation. The beach is such a place in all societies. It is a place we vacation; go for weekend relaxation, education and fun. The exact geographical location is not identifiable. The location is non-specific geographically and yet still shows a top vacation spot: the beach.

Seasonality.  Because of wardrobe choices and the quality of the light, the photo could have been shot in spring, summer or early fall adding to the versatility of the image.

Style. Both the photographic style and the models/wardrobe/scene are relatively timeless. There is no skyline to go out of date; the clothing is non-specific and not tied to any fashion.

Palette/Wardrobe: The model’s clothing compliments the colors in the scene. Because there are blues, pinks, tans and yellows in the palette almost any color typeface could coordinate with the image. Shirts lack logos and the fabrics are all solid colors.

Casting: The models form the perfect, idealized family and yet they aren’t so beautiful as to look unauthentic. Their pose is relaxed and happy. (Just the way we all imagine the perfect family vacation.) Even the preteen girl appears to be pleased to be with her parents. (Anyone who has attempted to take a daughter of this age on a family vacation knows that IS really an idealized image.) The image depicts the vacation every family aspires to have.

Similars of popular photos can also be top sellers. ©Iofoto

Composition: Dad is at the top of a pyramid, representing a conservative (and thus good for middle of the road adverts) family relationships and the models are posed off center to leave lots of space for type. The background is clean and simple. In both photos, the photographer for Iofoto, Ron Chapple, has left ample space for insertion of a product shot, headline or copy. He has also offered the stock photo user several formats. Here we show the vertical and the image that he has prepared as a square.

Good keywording has also contributed to the success of these two images. Look up the keywords by clicking on the photos and you’ll see what I mean.

©2010 Ellen Boughn

Copyright © 2010 Ellen Boughn. 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

Ellen Boughn is a long time stock photography executive, employed at Corbis/Executive Editor, UpperCut Images/SVP, SuperStock/SVP and was the founder of the early, innovative stock agency After-Image. She is the author of Microstock Money Shots-Turning Downloads into Dollars. She posts to a blog that is concerned with the future of stock photography, has interviews with top photographers from all genres as well as information about best practices for shooting stock photos for all levels from the pro/am to the successful professional. Ellen tweets @ellenboughn and FB ellenboughn


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