Last time around we talked a bit about Content Vs Subject in photography, and we covered a few of the problems you’re sure to face if you focus too much on the subject you see in front of you, instead of the content a buyer might be able to use.
‘People’ photos are probably the best example I can give you of this…
Any stock photography book you pick up will tell you people photos sell.
“If you want to sell stock photos you need to be including people in your images every chance you get… ”
And that is totally correct, however…
You only need to take a quick look through Flickr or PhotoBucket to know that most of the ‘people’ photos in circulation aren’t going to sell in a million years!
So what’s makes some people photos great sellers and others snapshots?
What sells best are well executed images that use people to tell a story.
The people are involved in the situation and their presence there is logical and believable. They’re rarely just posing for the camera.
They’re prominent enough that the viewer gets a sense of the mood or emotion they’re experiencing.
The props make sense and add depth & meaning to the story. They are often symbols that carry an implied storyline of their own.
The background is complimentary. It adds to the story and it’s rarely cluttered or distracting.
The person is the subject, the location is a background, and the message is whatever it is they are doing, thinking or feeling.
Get the idea?
Where a lot of amateurs mess up is, they make the photo all about the background… they focus on the view or the landmark or the building etc, and just prop the person in the foreground as an after-thought. Unfortunately those images are always going to look like a holiday-snapshot, no matter how impressive the background.
A lot of pros mess up just as badly by focusing too much on the person instead, turning them into a lifeless statue, separated from the situation with no apparent reason for being there except to pose for the camera. (That’s OK for portraiture where your model is usually your client, but stock is quite different!)
By comparison the best stock photographers focus entirely on the message — the content — and combine all the elements in the scene to tell an interesting and believable story that a buyer can use.
The most powerful element of the lot is usually going to be the model’s eyes. That is where you capture emotions and reactions, and quite often how you connect the model with other objects (or people) in the scene.
The other powerful element you should always look for are symbols and props. Small items that speak volumes and help you convey your message or story. These are easier to find when you are totally clear on the purpose of the image and what the model is doing there… only then can you bring in believable props to strengthen your message.
There is no question about it… there’s a massive demand for quality people shots that’s never going to go away, but it’s the way they are photographed that will determine whether the images will ever sell or not.
Take a moment to stop and think about it next time you’ve got a person in your camera-sights. If you make sure you’re clear on what they’re doing there and what they’re experiencing… before you press the shutter… it’s a whole lot more likely that your eventual viewers will understand as well!
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