Micro-Managing Your Stock Portfolio, Part III

May 7, 2014 at 10:30 am  •  Posted in Inspiration by

I can understand why the photographer composed this Portugese light in the manner he did. However, and considering I licensed the photo from a stock agency, I have to ask:  What message or metaphor was the photographer trying to make? Is this an “I was there” picture, or is this a “working picture”?

I can understand why the photographer composed this Portugese lighthouse in the manner he did. However, and considering I licensed the photo from a stock agency, I have to ask: What message or metaphor was the photographer trying to make? Is this an “I was there” picture, or is this a “working picture”?

In the last two entries on considering a foray into stock photography (Part I, Part 2), the numbers revealed a glut of material in the marketplace. I am hoping you took the concepts of business, health and wellness, and lifestyle and further researched these topics to see how much redundancy exists. By recognizing the redundancy, you should have also been able to identify weak areas in each respective file, or complete voids that your style would complement.

Were you able to categorize and spot the difference between a rights managed executed image and a micro-stock image? You should have been able to identify the difference through the production value without having to look at the licensing model to see if it was a Royalty Free (RF) or RM (Rights Managed) image.

Interestingly, through the many decades of stock photography evolution, Paul Simon’s lyrics in “The Boxer” still sum up the categories quite nicely. Simon wrote “No, it isn’t strange after changes upon changes we are more or less the same.” The point being, in the photography perspective, the style may change with each passing trend, but the concept remains the same. A successful image concept used to sell something when Simon wrote and recorded “The Boxer” in 1968 is the same concept that would successfully sell the business concept today, close to 50 years later. Only the style changes.

If you can remember this consideration you will be well on your way to identifying a successful stock image. That image is not necessarily a pretty picture, and most often it isn’t, but is a working picture. This is one of the most difficult notions to grasp when producing stock photography—how to identify, develop and produce a working photograph.

This is the exact same file as the picture above. I have simply cropped, adjusted the colour to suggest a storm, and added a ray of light emitting from the light.  This took less than four minutes to complete, and although still not a stellar image is suggests time proven metaphors: beacon of light, ray of light, weathering the storm, power and strength, beacon of hope, and so on. To be a successful stock photographer you have to think in metaphors, and make them happen if necessary.

This is the exact same file as the picture above. I have simply cropped, adjusted the colour to suggest a storm, and added a ray of light emitting from the light. This took less than four minutes to complete, and although still not a stellar image, it suggests time-proven metaphors: beacon of light, ray of light, weathering the storm, power and strength, beacon of hope, and so on. To be a successful stock photographer you have to think in metaphors, and make them happen if necessary.

When I started producing stock images, there was no Internet. There was no instant feedback from agency editors, and there most certainly was no readily available answers on the Web. We learned by researching the old-fashioned way. Many, if not most, stock photographers had hundreds of dollars worth of magazine subscriptions. I would leaf through those magazines every month and tear out the pages where the advertisements were ¼ page or larger and store them in three-ring binders. By studying those tear pages, over time one could soon learn to identify what a working image was. How did the photographer create the image to support the copy writer’s message?

Many amateur photographers often think that by “leaving room at the top of the picture for text,” they have created a stock image. Contrary to that myth, most successful stock photographers know that if you have a stellar image, the good art director will find a way to use it. Don’t compromise the integrity in your image to facilitate lazy art directors.

Living on the East Coast, I learned how to see a landscape image as something other than a pretty picture to grace a wall calendar. As I looked at a lighthouse, for example, I would study the location to see how I could visually translate the scene to interpret the metaphors, tag lines and catch words I continuously saw in those tear sheets. I saw the lighthouse as a guiding light, safety in stormy waters, the beacon to success, the power of strength and endurance—all phrases that were used to sell things, in the past and today.

Being a successful stock photographer means so much more than just making images and giving them to a micro-stock agency. Your material must have simplicity, concept clarity and timelessness, and this can only be acquired through diligent pre-production. You must learn to create working images…and that involves work. Now get to it, and have fun.

Micro-Managing Your Stock Portfolio, Part I
Micro-Managing Your Stock Portfolio, Part II
Micro-Managing Your Stock Portfolio, Part IV
Micro-Managing Your Stock Portfolio, Part V
Micro-Managing Your Stock Portfolio, Part VI