Before we get into this, I will tell you up front that stock photography is not going make a living wage for any but the most dedicated of photographers. However, with a little planning and motivation, professionals and enthusiasts alike can generate a reasonable secondary income—enough, perhaps, to fund some new equipment or to take a photographic trip somewhere. In this article, I will look at planning a travel photographic shoot to create stock images, giving you some tips on how to maximize the potential revenue from a shoot.
Planning is vital
Much of the work needed to make a stock shoot successful goes on before you ever reach your destination. Research is vital to ensure that you get the right images.
Firstly, you need to decide on a location.
To do this, you need to consider budget and potential returns. Whilst you might dream about a few weeks in Cuba, the reality is that there is already a huge amount of stock available for Cuba, and for most people it’s an expensive destination to get to. One of the best ways to research potential locations is to read travel magazines and websites. Many of these will highlight the trendy, upcoming locations for the year ahead. Look for something near to you, perhaps reachable by budget airline. Then, take a look at various stock libraries to see whether they are already overloaded with images of that place, or whether they might need some more.
A local spot is more likely to reap rewards than travelling long distance. Photo by www.theodessafiles.co.uk
Once you have narrowed it down to a potential location, research it in detail.
Again, travel websites are useful here, but also look for news about a location. For example, if a big conference is going to take place there, factor in shooting the conference venue. You are looking for all the locations that magazines, newspapers or websites may need images of.
Travel websites are a good source of information about upcoming locations
The next important thing to consider is when to go.
Check weather reports for your chosen location. There is no point in spending several days in a place if it is going to be raining constantly. It is also worth noting the sunrise and sunset times. The golden and blue hours are by far the best times of day to shoot, but in extreme northern and southern latitudes these times can be extremely late at night and very early in the morning. Temperature extremes can also limit your ability to shoot.
One very useful tool, free for computers and inexpensive for smartphones and tablets, is The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a tool that allows you to determine the angle of the sun at any time of day and for any location. Spending time studying your potential locations before you travel, using this tool, can help significantly improve your efficiency on the shoot.
The Photographer’s Ephemeris is an invaluable planning tool
Choosing accommodation is also an important factor in planning.
The comfort of the hotel is up to you (and your budget) but, again, consider the expense against the potential return. The hotel should be central to the locations that you wish to shoot. There is no point in saving money on a distant hotel if you need to spend more money on transport to and from locations, and you have to leave significantly earlier to get the good light.
What to take
Think carefully about what equipment you want to take. Taking a full kit can seriously slow you down but, conversely, you may miss some shots if you don’t bring the right equipment. It’s worth considering a super zoom over a set of professional lenses. These are more than good enough for stock work, and can save you several kilos. A carbon fiber tripod is also a useful weight saver compared to their traditional steel or aluminum counterparts.
Plan carefully what equipment to take – Photo by Dave Dugdale via Flickr
When you arrive at your destination, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the place. Work out the transport system, the areas to avoid, and the cheap places to eat.
When it comes to shooting, you need to be disciplined, sticking to your plan. Get up before dawn to get to chosen locations ready to shoot. Once the light is too harsh, you can scout other locations or get some food. I find kicking back in a coffee shop is a great way to get the feel of a place. It is also worth getting some rest during the middle part of the day so that you are refreshed for the evening shoots.
At each location, look for the stereotypical shots, but also for unusual angles and different perspectives. One simple shot idea is to “hint” at a location, focusing on a detail in the foreground and using a shallow depth of field to throw a well-known landmark out of focus in the background. Look for the little details as well; close up shots that suggest the uniqueness of a location. These can sell just as well as the more generic shots.
Look for different angles that still suggest your location. Photo by www.theodessafiles.co.uk
When you return
Organization is the key when you get home. Upload and keyword your images as soon as you get back. That way, they remain fresh in your mind. Consider using Wikipedia and Google Maps to help you add keywords and geolocate each shot. When you are selecting images for stock, make sure they are technically perfect—the exposure and colors are correct and the shot is in focus. Do not apply any further sharpening to them.
A carefully planned stock shoot has the potential to make a profit, but you need to minimize your expenses and plan the shoots and locations very carefully. Be professional in your approach, treat it as a proper shoot and not a photographic holiday, and be disciplined in your attitude.