Every year as soon as the shops start to display all their Christmas wares, I start getting emails from photographers wanting to know what subjects they can start shooting to make some holiday sales. These emails have been coming thick and fast this year, so I’ve put together a short list of ideas for interested photographers.
Unfortunately it’s probably too late to expect any sales this year, but the good news is, with a little planning you can get some highly marketable images ready for next year. Around here photo-buyer interest for Christmas/Holiday subjects usually peaks back in July-September, so as always, the key is to plan ahead!
That said, here are four top holiday subjects that our photo buyers look for every year. Remember, buyers might search for subjects, but they buy the message, so most of these are all about developing a visual story line, though there are some simple icon shots you can be grabbing as well. The good news is, a lot of the shots can be taken any time of year!
1. Family Groups in a Holiday Setting
Here the key is natural but professional: natural in that your subjects aren’t just posing for the camera, but professional in that you’ve controlled the situation and created an image that’s more than just a family snapshot.
You’ll need to arrange your subjects, get them involved in your storyline and you’ll almost certainly need supplementary lighting. None of that is going to be easy, especially if you have excited kids in the frame, but if you can convince your family & friends to sit for these shots, you’re on a winner.
Your best option will usually be to keep the ‘trimmings’ and set these up after the excitement of the holidays has passed. Alternatively you can make a game of it and have a dress rehearsal before the holidays! Either way, use these holidays to study the images you see used, and make plenty of notes or even start a scrap book. Study the lighting, the compositions, the use of symbols & props.
2. Children Unwrapping Gifts
If you can capture the pure excitement of a young child unwrapping a gift; that unique mix of curiosity, anticipation and joy, then you’ll have an image that buyers will fight over.
Again you’ll need to give some thought to the set up. You’ll want bright, even lighting. Buyers never want hard shadows or moody lighting on children! You need uncluttered backgrounds that aren’t going to distract, and just a few simple props to set the season.
For a lot of people this will be far too contrived for a family holiday, so you might prefer to set it up another time if you think your models can carry it!
3. Christmas & Holiday Icons
The best guide here is to go visit your local newsagents and flick through some magazines, checking out all the icon shots ï¿½ these are a staple of almost any magazine you pick up this time of year ï¿½ those small images editors drop in here and there to set the season and make sure their readers know the publication is getting into the spirit of things.
You can add dozens of highly marketable images to your collection here that are also relatively timeless ï¿½ Christmas trees, Christmas lights, (professionally) wrapped gifts, decorations, table settings, religious icons, seasonal icons for your part of the world.
This is a great one to work on after the holidays ï¿½ or any time of year for that matter. Just put anything of interest aside for a shoot before it gets thrown away or packed up, then spend a day or two on it. Remember to keep your backgrounds plain so they can be easily cropped, and use a white table for smaller items.
4. Festive Food & Beverage
This is a tougher one if you’re not a specialist, but there are plenty of opportunities for the generalist stock photographer to add some very saleable photos to their catalogue.
If you have the experience and the skill, good strong images of traditional Christmas fare will always move, but don’t try to do it on the day. The best kept secret of food photography is that the food items in the best images are usually inedible!
If you interrupt your own Christmas dinner to try and grab these shots you’ll be seriously disappointed in the results (and probably find yourself in major trouble with the cook!)
A huge amount of manipulation goes on … of both the food and the resulting images ï¿½ so if it’s not your specialty, you’ll usually find it’s much more productive to look for lifestyle ‘food & beverage’ opportunities.
If you turn your camera on the people enjoying the food and drinks we associate with the holidays everything changes. Your main point of interest becomes the people, the food & drinks become symbols or props and you can develop a variety of storylines by focusing on different members of the party.
Plan your set-ups to include the iconic food items & decorations on the table, but focus on the interaction between the people in the frame, as they’re enjoying the meal. This is a great one to set up after the holidays ï¿½ just invite some friends around for a late holiday meal, but warn them in advance that you’re going to make them work for their supper!
When you do get behind the camera, attention to detail is the key.
Do plenty of market research: check out the magazines, the catalogues, websites, the junk mail. Anything that comes your way this time of year will usually have a few holiday images included so start a scrap book, then save your decorations and props, and set up a few shoots once things settle down.
Lighting and mood is all important. Work out exactly what you’re aiming for and make sure you use as many different light sources as necessary to achieve that result. eg. In the moody candlelit shots you often see this time of year, the candles are rarely the primary light source.
Use a variety props & symbols carefully to set the scene. Mix them up to shift the emphasis between frames. In your research you’ll see some buyers are much less subtle than others, so be sure to do the same in your own compositions.
If you want to add highly marketable holiday photos to your catalogue, you’ll need to get people into the frame in an interesting and believable way. Get them involved in the situations and never just posing for the camera.
Pay close attention to detail and make sure every face in the frame is telling your story. Make sure their faces are well lit. The lighting should be bright and even with no deep shadows or hard lines, even if you’re setting is low light!
You’ll see by now that you’re usually going to get better holiday images if you wait until after the holidays!
There is little point driving your family crazy trying to compose commercial images in the midst of the holiday celebrations, so grab your holiday shots for your personal archives, but make sure you take some time off and enjoy the holidays!
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