Blog Home Contributor How To Shoot Commercial Stock Photography While on Vacation

Traveling to exciting places for your vacation and looking for a way to profit from your travels? Use these easy tips to build your photography portfolio while you enjoy your holiday.

Making money from photos captured whilst on holiday is a great way to offset the cost of traveling. There’s always a need for travel photography. Travel books and blogs need to be updated, travel companies need imagery for marketing campaigns, and magazines need visuals for feature articles. However, the market is flooded with travel imagery, and most of it is mediocre or restricted to editorial use. (Here is a great article which explains the difference between commercial and editorial content.)

By focusing your efforts on shooting commercial imagery instead of editorial you increase your chances of making some extra cash. Commercial images have fewer usage restrictions than editorial images, which means more freedom to the customer and more sales opportunities for you, the photographer. Commercial imagery can be more difficult to capture when traveling, mainly because of time restraints and acquiring model or property releases. While challenging, getting great commercial imagery is entirely possible with a little planning, mental focus, and a few tricks.

Do Your Research

Once you have decided on your travel destination, start your research by searching the stock agency’s collection to see what they have. What types of images and locations are popular? Where are the content gaps? Which types of subject matter or locations are successful and which ones are not? Start making notes, keeping track of the things you’d like to capture, the types of lighting scenarios you liked, things you wish to avoid, content gaps, etc.

Don’t try to replicate what has already been done. Instead, see where the needs are and what could be done better. Be very specific about what you want to shoot in your notes. For example, jotting down “Roman Colosseum” is too vague and not terribly helpful. Instead, describe the scene you’d like to capture such as “Dad carrying his daughter on his shoulders pointing to the Colosseum.” These ideas will become your shot list. You should also look at Shutterstock’s Shot List for inspiration to see what customers are looking for.

Get Organized

In order to make the most of your holiday, you must be organized. Choose the method or platform that works best for you and stick to it; pen and paper, spreadsheets, an app on your smartphone. Keep in mind, however, that if you’re traveling abroad you may not always have internet access and might not be able to access your list.

Break your itinerary down by day, location, and sites you know you’ll visit. Create a list of specific things that you want to capture at each spot. Include a thumbnail or sketch as a visual reminder. If your itinerary allows, plan on visiting these locations during the times of day when the light is the most flattering for that location. Charles Bridge in Prague, for example, is the most dramatic early in the morning or late at night.

Create a separate section in your shot list for themes, topics, or moments that you would like to capture that aren’t location specific, such as eating local food, a father sharing an ice cream cone with his daughter, or a woman reading a book on the beach. If you’re traveling with others, ask them before you leave if they are willing to sign a model release and be your model. If they say yes, really utilize their willingness to help and capture as much as you can. Be mindful of their time, however, as they’re on vacation too, not a paid photo gig.

Once you have a good idea of the places you would like to visit, you need to discover:

  • If the location or landmark is on the Known Image Restriction List
  • Is there a dress code (many churches do not allow shorts or tank tops, for example)
  • What is their bag size allowance
  • Their hours of operation
  • What is their specific photography and filming policy (NOTE: if a location only allows photography for “personal use,” that content cannot be licensed for commercial or editorial use)

Shoot Wide, Medium, and Close-Up Shots

Whenever possible, take a wide, medium, and close-up of your subject. Wide or long shots are great establishing shots. Establishing shots give the viewer a sense of place. Wide shots are tricky to capture for commercial use as they will likely include identifiable people (which requires signed model releases), logos, or modern artwork which requires a property release signed by the creator of the piece of art.

How To Shoot Commercial Stock Photography While on Vacation — Wide Shots

Wide shot of the Vltava River and St Vitus Cathedral in Prague. Photo by Heather Shimmin.

Medium shots are in between wide and close-up shots. They usually include some of the surroundings and still give the viewer a sense of place.

How To Shoot Commercial Stock Photography While on Vacation — Medium Shots

Medium shot of a subway entrance in New York. Photo by Heather Shimmin.

Close-up shots zoom in and focus on details such as a person’s face or the capital of a column, eliminating most or all of the background.

How To Shoot Commercial Stock Photography While on Vacation — Close-Up Shots

Detail of a statue’s hand. Photo by Heather Shimmin.

Photographing Strangers

One of the hardest things when shooting commercial photography is to avoid capturing recognizable people. Every recognizable person needs to sign a model release in commercial photography. You can either approach these people and ask if they’ll sign a model release (it’s best practice to ask the person before you photograph them) or you need to get creative on how to photograph them as to mask their identities. Do NOT blur out their faces later in post. It simply does not look good and has limited commercial value, if any.

How To Shoot Commercial Stock Photography While on Vacation — Tips for Photographing Strangers

Creative cropping and a shallow depth of field can hide the identities of unreleased people. Photo by Heather Shimmin.

Details and Textures

Zoom in and focus on little details, such as food or architectural elements. Be on the lookout for interesting textures such as peeling paint or corrugated metal. Macro lenses are great for this kind of thing, allowing you get just a few inches away from the object while retaining the ability to focus.

How To Shoot Commercial Stock Photography While on Vacation — Details and Textures

Close up of a pile of fish in an outdoor market. Photo by Heather Shimmin.

Different and Unusual Angles

Walk around and get a feel for the place. If everyone is taking a photo of the front, walk around to the back. Get creative and take the time to experiment. People love to see a famous landmark or location photographed in a new way.

How To Shoot Commercial Stock Photography While on Vacation — Try Unusual Angles

Reflection of the Basilica of St James in Prague. Photo by Heather Shimmin.

Pick a Theme

Picking a theme can help you stay focused. Choose a topic or theme that you can photograph for the duration of your trip, such as street food, doors, fire hydrants, or the color red. Having a theme in the front of your mind will keep you on the lookout and your camera poised and ready to go.

How To Shoot Commercial Stock Photography While on Vacation — Pick a Theme

On my trip to Belgium I focused on photographing people from above. Photo by Heather Shimmin.

Tell a Story

Rather than just taking photographs, think about the story you are telling, or the story you see unfolding before you. Images that portray concepts and ideas are much more compelling than those that don’t.

Keep Track of Your Sales

It may seem obvious, but once you’ve submitted the images from your trip, keep track of your sales. Not only will this help you see how much you’re making from each trip, it will also show you what types of images sell and which ones don’t. Understanding which images get downloaded and which ones don’t will give you insight on what to shoot (or not shoot) when you go on your next trip. You can easily keep track of the sales you make on Shutterstock by organizing your portfolio into sets. I have a separate set for each country or city I visit, so I know exactly how much I made from that trip and which images are popular. This way I know what to put on my shot list for next time and what to leave off it.

Top Image by Heather Shimmin.