Learn from the pros how they capture intimate and authentic vacation images for their stock portfolios, all while still enjoying their holiday.
Image by Solis Images
In the United States alone, 100 million people plan to go on a family vacation in 2019. That’s even more than last year, and that means businesses are on the lookout for the very best images to help in their marketing. From travel agencies to hotels to lifestyle magazines and everything in between, now is a great time for brands to start searching for family vacation-themed photographs.
Of course, vacation season offers some unique opportunities for photographers to make money through stock. In the past, we’ve had photographers tell us about photos that have paid for entire vacations on their own, so if you’re going on holiday yourself, take advantage of the chance to capture some candid moments with your family.
Last year, Shutterstock’s Heather Shimmin wrote a must-have guide for shooting commercial stock photography while you’re on vacation. This year, we wanted to ask a diverse group of talented photographers about the tricks, tips, and techniques they’ve used to create successful imagery of families enjoying their holidays.
These photographers hail from all over the world and have a far-reaching set of experiences, from documentary photography to high-end productions, so there’s something in here for everyone. Read on to discover some quick tips to get the most out of your vacation.
1. Scout your locations, and do your research.
Image by Branislav Novak/Newman Studio
If you’re shooting during vacation, Branislav Novak from NEWMAN Studio recommends devoting the first couple of days to scouting locations. See what they look like at different times of day, and get a feel for the area. Shutterstock contributor Dmitry Molchanov warns against trusting the picture-perfect images you find in advertisements and brochures. Make sure you’re getting an accurate representation of what your location looks like in all kinds of light—golden hour, blue hour, etc.
Image by Denis Kuvaev
In some areas, you’ll also need permits to shoot commercial photos, so keep that in mind. “Some countries don’t allow you to work without a work permit,” Molchanov cautions. “Be careful not to violate any laws or rules.” Fellow photographer FabrikaSimf agrees, adding, “Not all photos of tourist attractions can be used for commercial purposes without a signed property release.”
Image by Dmitry Molchanov
You’ll also want to avoid crowded, tourist-heavy areas for a few reasons. Firstly, as Novak points out, you don’t want to attract too much attention and make your models feel uncomfortable or put on the spot. Secondly, as Shutterstock contributor Altanaka reminds us, you won’t be able to sell any photos commercially if there are identifiable people without a model release. If you accidentally end up with a stranger’s face in your frame, and they haven’t signed a release, you’ll either have to scrap the photo or spend some extra time editing them out during post-production, and no one wants to do that.
2. Prioritize authenticity.
Image by Luciane Valles
“A beautiful, paradisiac place is a good ingredient for a commercially successful photo, but it’s not everything,” Offset Artist Luciane Valles admits. “The photographs should express some sort of feeling and be able to make people feel something when they look at them.” Here’s where authenticity comes into play. Tell a story with your photographs; tap into people’s memories of childhood vacations and inspire a sense of wanderlust for future adventures.
“The top current trends are natural looking photos with real emotions and appealing scenery,” Novak continues. “Despite all the planning and organizing of a photo shoot, try to stay as genuine as you can, and create an authentic image people can relate to.”
Image by Jacob Lund
While Molchanov has seen successful vacation photos with all sorts of subjects and themes, believability is a primary ingredient in all of them. “The main thing is that the picture does not look unnatural,” he explains. “No strained smiles and sidelong glances.”
One way to do this is to take a documentary approach, as Offset Artist Anna-Liisa Nixon does. “I shoot families, including my own, in a documentary style, without directing or posing, so my vacation photos are authentic,” she tells us. If you’re vacationing with your family, capture your days as they unfold rather than staging your shots. Real-life moments are powerful.
Image by Anna-Liisa Nixon
Valles agrees, writing, “My vacation photos seem authentic because they are a result of real family moments.” She adds, “A good way to make everyone feel natural is to connect with them, interact with your subjects, and be part of these moments too.”
Still, you don’t necessarily have to stick to pure documentary in order to create outstanding stock imagery. For example, Offset Artist Andy Smith’s vacation photos have an authentic, spontaneous vibe, even though they are carefully planned productions. “I find it’s best not to give too much direction,” he tells us. “The authentic moments usually happen when the model stops thinking about being photographed and just gets on with whatever it is they’re doing, whether that’s daydreaming or reading a book or riding a bike.” In other words, oversee the shoot and make sure everything is just as you want it, but also leave room for surprises.
Image by Andy Smith
If you’re working with children especially, it’s vital to ensure that everyone feels comfortable. A child who isn’t genuinely having fun is easy to spot from a mile away. “Don’t stage situations, and don’t force smiles,” Shutterstock contributor Pikselstock agrees. “People are at their most natural when they don’t think about the camera, so catch those moments when they’re showing real emotions. These kind of pictures are the most marketable if you want to do stock photography.”
3. Plan ahead, and mind the details.
Image by Newman Studio
“Good planning is always the key to taking good stock photos, and the same goes for taking stock photos while on vacation,” Novak says. If you’re working with models and stylists, get everyone’s schedules organized and provide plenty of food and water. Even if you’re not overseeing a major shoot, make sure to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Everyone should arrive on location in plenty of time for the shoot, since you’ll want to catch the best light possible.
Image by altanaka
No detail is too small. As Altanaka points out, clothing is a crucial factor to consider while shooting for stock. You’ll need to stay away from any logos, and you’ll also want to steer clear of distracting prints. “The clothes should be similar in style, and the colors should work well together,” Altanaka explains. FabrikaSimf even brings along a collection of clothing in all different colors and without any prints, so there are lots of options.
Image by FabrikaSimf
It’s the same story with props. As FabrikaSimf explains, props like backpacks, a map, and water bottles can be great for telling a story and establishing an atmosphere in your photos. But if you’re using sunscreen or shampoo bottles, for instance, make sure they don’t have any pesky logos.
“You’ll need a wardrobe/prop stylist who understands stock,” Smith continues. “A good stylist understands current and upcoming trends and will style and prop a shoot so that the images will have a longer shelf life.” Also, he recommends avoiding any tech that will date your photos; for example, if you have a phone in the image, perhaps you can put a case on it, so the picture remains relevant even as new phone models come and go.
“Stock photography is different from everyday life in that everything should be the ideal version of itself,” FabrikaSimf adds. “Select only the best objects as your props. Instead of letting the models do their makeup themselves, think about collaborating with a makeup artist.” If you want to take it a step further, consider color harmonies: “If your shoot is on the beach, for example, then try to stick to the colors of the sea, sky, and sand.”
Beyond styling, devote some of your energy to learning the cultural nuances of the place you’re visiting. Smith advises, “Watch out for cultural sensitivities in certain parts of the world regarding photography and when it is considered okay (and not okay) to photograph people generally.”
4. Think about your buyers at all times.
Image by nd3000
Carefully consider the customers who will ultimately buy your photographs. As Smith explains, there are many different kinds of vacation photos—“adventure travel, family holiday, romantic weekend break, gap year, foodie holiday,” to name just a few—so determine exactly which market you’re targeting.
“The opportunities with travel are endless, and they’re all well-covered, so be very clear about what it is you’re going to shoot,” Smith continues. “There are so many images available to buyers, so the more you specialize and focus in on the details of your chosen concept, the more your images will stand out as appealing to a particular market.”
Image by Patrick Foto
“If the shoot is aimed at the local market, include visual cues that you are likely to find in that part of the world,” he elaborates. “Conversely, if you’ve planned a more generic travel/lifestyle shoot, make sure those visual cues are removed, so they don’t give away the location you’re shooting in.”
4. Be unique.
Image by Rawpixel.com
Nixon tells us, “Images with enough negative space for writing or a little bit of mystery about them seem to sell well.” Similarly, cliches are best avoided. If you shoot a sunset, for instance, make it original. “Stick with your own point of view,” Valles recommends. Experiment with new techniques, and find your voice. Great stock photos have wide appeal, but they’re also unique. Ask yourself, “What makes my family vacation different or special?” Maybe it’s the location, perhaps it’s the people, and maybe it’s your vantage point.
And as a final thought, don’t be afraid to seek input from others, whether it’s your professional colleagues or your own family. Collaboration is the key to success, so have the people you trust weigh in on what they think works best. They might notice things you missed or have fresh ideas you would never have thought of on your own. Pikselstock, for one, always sits down with the kids to decide which photos are for the commercial portfolio and which ones are personal family photos.
Image by Pikselstock
When you’re done, take note of which photos seem to resonate the most with buyers. Analyze them for clues about future trends. For example, what do all your best-selling photos have in common? Then apply that knowledge to your next vacation shoot. Learn from your mistakes as well as your triumphs, and have fun. More often than not, your own attitude and perspective will shine through in the final images, so don’t be afraid to get into the vacation spirit and enjoy yourself.
Top Image by Patrick Foto
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