Monday, July 13, 2009

One Photographer's Criteria for Successful Stock Photos

Falling Piano about to hit a businessman illustrating Risk, danger and inattention

I had a minor epiphany today. I was talking with my brother and he commented that my stock photos were fun to look at. It instantly occurred to me that “fun to look at” might actually be a good standard by which to judge whether an image idea will make a successful stock photo. Certainly my favorite images to make are ones that are fun to look at.

I use File Maker Pro to keep records of all my stock sales. I took a look at my sales for the past five years and ranked them. Almost without exception my best selling images were fun to look at. They either contained a high element of humor or drama. These images are entertaining. It makes sense too. Given the choice between an image with a high entertainment value and an image that isn’t such fun to look at, it makes perfect sense that clients will choose the former.

While it is a bit unrealistic for me to only create those entertaining images, certainly that is what I am focusing on. They sell the best and I enjoy making them the most. That being said, when I set up a shoot for one of my ideas there are inevitably opportunities to create lesser images that make financial sense. For example, I have an upcoming shoot in a surgery center. I have several “main” ideas that I am eager to do. But as long as I have a surgery center at my disposal it makes sense to shoot some of the more pedestrian images that can fulfill a need in the market place. Shots of patients in the waiting room, of doctors and patients consulting and so forth. Naturally, I can and will continue to do some of those images. It just makes good business sense. However, at this point I will limit those “filler” images to ones that naturally evolve from the images I am drawn to create.

For moving a stock photo idea to a photographic reality my new criteria is that the finished image must be:

Fun To Look At
Have a message applicable to the market place
Be a quick read even at thumbnail size
Make an emotional connection
Have an unexpected Twist
Be fun for me to create

Keep in mind; these are my goals for my own work. Certainly other criteria will be more appropriate for other photographers. And my images certainly don’t need to fit all of those criteria. If an image fulfills two or three of them then the image is probably worth doing. And finally, as promised a blog or two ago, above is my falling piano image. I hope it is fun for you to look at!


mitchellktravelphoto said...

Interesting. I guess the "fun" thing is definitely not applicable to everyone, but it makes sense to analyse what sells and to find a common theme behind those images. How would you apply this to travel photography and how long do you think one needs to be selling it to gain a decent idea?

And yeah, that image is pretty nutty and definitely fun to look at (even if it is somewhat concerning) :)

John Lund said...


I do think "fun" could be one several criteria for travel stock. I do some travel stock, but not much. It might be a good blog subject...I'll work on it!

I think to look at sales for less than a year dose not reveal an accurate picture...I have had a number of pictures that haven't sold at all for the first year and then have taken off!


Sam said...

great stuff. thanks for sharing this information. reading your blog has been helpful in refining my stock photo business