How to Create A Successful Concept Stock Photo
One way to succeed in stock photography is to create concept photos that fill a need for lifestyle or business uses, and provide a strong enough visual impact to grab a viewer’s attention. In this article I will take you through the process from idea to completed image sharing my process for coming up with ideas, my criteria for a successful stock photo, my shoot methodology, and an overview of my post-shoot digital imaging techniques.
Creativity Is A Muscle
I am constantly thinking up ideas for stock photos. Your creativity is like a muscle; the more you use it the stronger it gets. I like to keep my creativity, at least for my work, in top shape. A favorite technique I have for coming up with strong conceptual pictures is to take a typical image and add an unexpected twist. In this case I as I was walking to a nearby café to grab a cup of coffee a bicyclist sped by me pumping his pedals furiously. It got me to thinking, what could I do with a bicyclist that would make it stand out from all other bicycle shots out there?
Inspiration Speeds By
The cyclist that sped by me was working very hard, the effort he was putting out was very evident. His effort was inspiring in more ways than one. Maybe there was something I could work with there. What would make a cyclist’s work significantly harder? Perhaps riding up a ridiculously steep hill, or up stairs, or…having square wheels! That would be the shot; A cyclist, riding a bicycle with square wheels. As an added bonus, the image would be funny and humor sells.
A Simple Shoot
Shooting the image was actually quite simple. I hired a model with his own riding gear and bicycle. Another friend of mine has one of those gizmos that you can use to convert a road bicycle into a stationary bike by attaching a frame to the rear hub. We set up the rig in the parking lot outside my studio. The Sun was pretty high up when we got around to that shot (we incorporated that shoot into a larger shoot we had already planned). I used a Profoto 7b power pack and two heads to provide supplemental light. I positioned 1 head to the left of the bicycle and one head to the right. Those lights would provide both fill and a edge lighting that would add some subtle drama to the image. Then I simply had the model, in his bike gear, stand up on the pedals and look like he was straining. I went to a nearby bike path and shot the bike path from the same low angle I used to shoot the cyclist. Next I Shot the background totally out of focus using a 400mm lens on my Canon 1ds MKIII at 5.6.
Photoshop for Post Production
In Photoshop I pasted the out of focus background onto the bike path shot and used a layer mask, painting black with a 2500 pixel brush to softly fade the background image away revealing the bike path and giving the impression of a single image with a crisp asphalt roadway and a beautifully soft and un-distracting background.
Again with Photoshop I next used the pen tool to create a clipping path around the cyclist and bicycle. I then used the clipping path to create a selection and copied and pasted the selection into the background image. Next I pen tooled one of the wheels, including the spokes, made a selection, then used a combination of the warp tool (under Edit>Transform>Warp) and the liquefy filter to make the wheel square. Then I copied and pasted the square wheel into the main image. Since I really don’t have room here to get into all the details of the Photoshop work, suffice it to say it took me about six hours of work to finish all the details…but it looks great!
Work Smarter, Not Harder
The image fits my criteria for a great stock photo. It was relatively inexpensive to produce; it stands out from all the other bicycling images out there, and can be used to advertise a wide variety of products and services.
Trying out different headlines with the image can make a great test. For example, “Work Smarter, Not Harder” or “The Right Tool for the Job” both can work with this image. But the real test for this image was when, as I had just finished it, a friend of mine walked in, saw the photo and began to laugh out loud. Anytime someone spontaneously laughs at one of my images I know I have a winner.
To sum it up, exercise your creative muscles, come up with highly conceptual images with strong visual impact, and keep your shoots simple and inexpensive. Add a dash of humor and you just can’t go wrong in the highly competitive world of stock photography.