Discover insight into top industry topics and trends with Shutterstock’s Shot List, and use these pro tips for succeeding in stock photography.
Throughout the past couple of years, we’ve asked hundreds of Shutterstock Contributors to tell us their secrets for creating best-selling images, and across the board, we’ve heard a similar refrain: research is the cornerstone of success in this business. Whether they’re browsing social media for trending hashtags or scouring the pages of top magazines for eye-catching ads, leading stock photographers are always dreaming up new ways to anticipate buyers’ needs.
While social media and news headlines are a great place to start, Shutterstock makes the research process easy by publishing their monthly Shot List—a stellar compilation of concepts and topics buyers crave right now. First launched in 2017, The Shot List incorporates everything from tips
and tricks to popular search terms, so if you haven’t already, be sure to check it out here. Here are our tips for taking full advantage of this invaluable resource.
1. Get organized
As soon as The Shot List comes out each month, write down some of your favorite ideas, and keep them all in a folder on your computer. You won’t be able to shoot every topic and theme, but you will be able to select the ones that resonate with your personal style.
Once you’ve decided which shoots you’d like to tackle, it’s time to put together a mood board and secure your location and models. You can start a Google Calendar for everyone involved in the shoot, or start a Slack channel so everyone can chat in one place. Here, you can also share images from your mood board so your collaborators are all on the same page.
2. Make a list of keywords
The Shot List is created based on searches from image-buyers, so it’s the perfect place to find new keywords. Instead of adding your keywords to your photos as an afterthought, think about using them to plan the shoot itself. If we take a look at the December Shot List, for example, some keywords that immediately catch our eye include natural food, coworking spaces, influencer lifestyle, social media stars, and more.
3. Do some homework
Before you tackle any concept for a stock shoot, you need to see what’s already available. Enter all your keywords into the search bar on Shutterstock, and see what comes up. The top images will give you a sense of what’s selling, so study those photos and see if you can notice any patterns or recurring motifs. How can you take these ideas, put your own personal spin on them, and make them even better?
On top of that, you’ll also want to think about what you don’t see in the search results. For example, if you’re noticing only one kind of still life shot using natural ingredients, you might want to think about shooting different compositions and perspectives to give buyers more variety. Or, maybe you notice that all the photos of social media stars have models who look the
same; use that information to create more diverse and inclusive representations of today’s influencers.
4. Make a shot list of your own
Shutterstock’s Shot List is a point of departure, and it’s up to you to personalize it based on your needs and style. Your own “shot list” should be as specific as possible, so take the time to write out different scenarios, settings, and poses you want to try out.
Some of these ideas can come directly from your research on Shutterstock. For example, maybe you saw some popular photos of a social media star taking a selfie with a phone and want to include those types of shots in your own portfolio. Or, perhaps you noticed that there weren’t that
many top-down photos of natural bath products, and that’s something you’d like to shoot for yourself.
If you’re more of a visual person, consider adding a storyboard to your written shot list. These can work wonders on set.
5. Get those forms signed
You won’t be able to license your photos for commercial use if you don’t have model releases for any recognizable people and property releases for any privately-owned locations. To avoid scrambling at the last minute, remember to get these documents done as soon as possible. Make sure the model or property owner understands what they’re signing, and if they don’t know already, explain how stock photos work.
Most people will be happy to sign a release, and you can also thank them for their time by trading free prints and files. Models need them for their portfolios, and venues need them for their own marketing materials.
6. Oversee props and wardrobe
Your models will need help choosing outfits that look good on camera, so take an active role in this part of the process. In addition to sharing pieces you like and color schemes you prefer (Pinterest is great for this), remember to avoid any logos on clothing and products. These branded details can be sneaky, and they can keep an otherwise perfect photo from being licensed commercially.
7. Give yourself more time than you think you need
Photoshoots almost always take longer than you think you will, especially when you factor in breaks between shots. When you’re on a stock shoot, you also don’t have to worry about following a traditional client brief, so you should always give yourself extra time to improvise and experiment.
You’ll want to cover everything on your shot list and storyboard, but you’ll also want to stay open to surprises. The candid, unposed images you take between your regular shots can appeal to buyers because they feel more genuine and authentic. You might even get new ideas as the day unfolds, so block out enough time to explore those possibilities as well.
8. Keep shooting (and moving)
When you’re shooting for stock, you want to give buyers as many options as possible. So, when you’re on set, take advantage of the situation. Get different angles, vantage points, and backgrounds; try out new scenarios and lighting schemes. Move around the space and look for creative ways to approach your subject.
Often, buyers will need more than just one image for their campaigns, so shoot a large set of images that go together. You’ll want to try out various image orientations for clients to use on their websites, print ads, social media, etc., and it’s also important that you give them plenty of copy space and room to crop.
9. Edit ruthlessly
Once you’re back behind your computer, you’ll have to narrow down your shots to just the very best. First, you’ll get rid of any photos that aren’t technically perfect and might be rejected. You’ll also want to filter out any photos that are too similar to one another. During this phase, remember to return to your list of keywords and add any more that apply to your images; you can start by adding them in batches and then going into each image and tailoring them individually.
10. Track your sales
After uploading your images to Shutterstock, pay close attention to how they perform. If they do well, try to pinpoint why they were so successful—and then apply those lessons to your next shoot. If they fall short of your expectations, take an objective look at why that might be the case. What do top-selling photos for this subject have that yours might lack?
Getting a feel for what kind of work sells and why will help you to select the topic(s) you want to tackle each month from The Shot List, and it’ll give you an idea of how to execute each one properly.
The Shot List is specific enough to point you in the right direction, but it also gives you plenty of freedom to make each session your own. No matter your genre or area of expertise, there’s something in there for you to shoot. Approach these assignments with the same degree of preparation and precision as you would any other creative brief, but don’t forget to give yourself room to play and try new things.
Top image by SeventyFour.
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