What Sells as Microstock: Is It Dead Bodies, Homeless Men and a Bearded Guy Drinking Beer?
My idea of what stock photography is has changed over time. When I started out in this field, I saw stock photos as an element of a bigger design/project created by a graphic designer. So, I created simple photos, usually of objects, like this one of gold coins on a white background… Also, I was a little intimidated by the idea of needing a “model release” to use people in my photos, so I stuck to landscapes, cityscapes, and other subjects without people. But, as my vision for stock evolved, I wanted to use models. For ease, at first, I used myself as a model and set up a tripod with a remote control on the camera. And, I’ve really enjoyed playing various characters for stock. One of my first was a series where I play a judge. People often think of photography as just capturing what’s there. But, what gets the “wind blowing through my hair” is to make something look real that isn’t. I’ve been asked so many times, “Are you REALLY a judge?” That reassures me that my judge series is realistic. In reality, I took these pictures in my local church, not a courthouse. Besides the judge, I’ve played a pirate captain, a greedy money guy, a Viking, a preacher, a nature guy, etc. I also take photos some people might not be comfortable with. For instance, I had a friend dress up like a homeless man once. And one of my models laid down in a scene that looked like he was a dead body. (I was recently excited to see this shot used as a murder victim photo in an episode of Smallville!) It’s fun to get in costume and play-act for the camera. My style of photography, for stock, is to be a little bit “cartoonish,” with exaggerated facial expressions, so as to clearly make the point for graphic designers seeking that concept. I’m sure some stock photographers spend time trying to research the market or trying to anticipate what will sell before they shoot. But, I’ve had very bad luck doing that. Shoots I’ve done to try to capture the market and make big sales, for me, have just gone mediocre. I’ve been much more successful just coming up with ideas that I think would be fun to shoot. I find it especially fun when I have a model who buys into the ideas and contributes creativity to the process. I’ve had better luck, financially, with shots I just did “on a lark” than shoots where I tried to overthink what might be popular. Take my Viking photos, for example… I had grown my beard extra long, wanted to get a few shots before I trimmed it, and found a Viking helmet, and beer stein, and took some shots of myself. They’re kind of embarrassing because I’m fat and hairy. But, apparently, Viking shots are under-represented on iStockphoto, and mine have been very popular. I didn’t do the shoot to make money, just to catch my beard… and it turned out great. My advice is to go for what’s fun or interesting, and you’ll have as good a chance at making money as you will by going through the boring process of analyzing the market. Also, shots that are real, or capture the moment, can be very successful. I did a doctor-theme shoot where I’d gathered five models who switched off being nurse/doctor/patent. As they were taking a break, I took a snapshot of a “nurse” and “patient” actor who were at the reception desk chatting… and that real, relaxed, moment between two people, was the gem of the shoot. That one image, that was just something I took while the actors were on break, out-sold all the staged shots of the rest of the group combined. You can see it here: And here’s my dead body shot (though they bloodied it up quite a bit for TV): [Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel. Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]