Have you ever been to a stock photography site and found that a lot of the photography all looks the same? Yeah, me too.
To be sure, there is a place for the impossibly good looking people, with blindingly white smiles, shot in bright flat light. They do sell well, but the microstock market is oversaturated with them, and not everybody is looking for the generic “stocky” look. Many discerning designers are now searching for images that look more realistic.
How to shoot realistic stock photos
Believe it or not, it’s tougher than it sounds. The easy part is to collect some real people for models. Instead of searching modeling sites or agencies, try asking the real people you come into contact with on a daily basis – friends, relatives, acquaintances. The fact that you have a relationship and a rapport with the models will translate into more natural expressions and a more relaxed photo shoot. Don’t be afraid to ask. Just present yourself professionally and be ready to answer their questions honestly.
The worst they can do is say no. And from my experience, very few ever say no.
Rather than get your concept ideas, as so many do, by combing through the most popular photos on the major stock sites, try combing through your own personal experience instead. That way you will have a portfolio offering your own unique vision, rather than adding to the ever increasing pool of sameness in the stock photo industry.
For example, do you get your nails done every couple of weeks? Ask your nail technician, or better yet the owner of the nail shop, if you can do a shoot on location. Offer the nail shop owner a disk of the photos, for use in her advertising, in exchange for the use of her shop and her technical expertise in posing your “models”. You will be surprised how often people agree to let you shoot their businesses. Bring a property release form with you for her to sign.
Lighting in the Field
Now how to light it. There’s a lot of trial and error involved in venturing outside the studio to shoot in the real world. Not all locations are conveniently suffused with light. I’ve put together a traveling light kit that is lightweight and fairly comprehensive. It consists of two Alien Bee strobes, with lightweight portable light stands, a couple of long extension cords and power strips, a couple of large umbrellas, one silver/black for bouncing the strobe, and an opaque white one to shoot through for a softbox effect. Throw in some pocket wizards and an on-camera flash to use in a pinch, and you’re all set.
If the ceiling is low enough and white, I will bounce one of the strobes off the ceiling in the background to create natural looking ambient light. Then I will set up the strobe with either the bounce umbrella or the opaque one so that it illuminates the subject. The results are very natural looking and not your traditional stocky look.
Lisa F. Young (LisaFX) is one of the most successful commercial stock photographers in the world. She specializes in unique and natural lifestyle, business and occupational photos of people. Lisa’s images have been featured in national advertising campaigns for Wal Mart, Glidden Paint, Home Depot, AAA Auto Club, Sylvan Learning Centers, and many others. Her photos have also appeared on numerous television shows, including The Late Show with David Letterman, the Fox drama Fringe, and ABC World News Tonight. Lisa’s portfolio is featured at Warmpicture Royalty Free Images.