Stock – The Highest Form of Commercial Photography

Stock photography has always been considered the ugly stepchild of commercial photography. Originally stock photos consisted of out-takes from assignments…the “seconds” if you will. The strategy for success for a stock shooter was to get as much content into the collection as possible…not a methodology for gaining a reputation for quality!

Bringing “Quality” To Stock

Along came Tony Stone (Tony Stone Images…now Getty Images) who changed the approach from how much material is in a collection to how good the material in a collection is. He pared down the number of images keeping only the very best, made lots of dupes of a given image (back then you had to send out transparencies…so with more dupes of a given image that image could be in front of more potential buyers at once), and became enormously successful.

Getty bought Tony Stone Images and began to apply business principles to stock photography. It looked as though stock might finally start to be looked upon with a little more respect…then RF happened. And again, the emphasis shifted to how much material one could get in. In some cases photographers would sell their entire archives for a set price.

The Saturation Of Images In Stock

Now stock photography is saturated with a gazillion photos…some of amazing quality…and a huge number of well-executed but repetitive lifestyle and business images. With crowd sourcing and the entry of non-professionals into the market through agencies like Istockphoto, stock is still the ugly stepchild of commercial photography.

Creative Freedom

For me, stock is the highest form of commercial photography. It gives the photographer something truly valuable…creative control. As a stock shooter you are able to choose whatever you want to photograph. You get to photograph your subject in whatever way you want to do it. Unlike assignment photography there are no limits…no Art Directors to satisfy (or rely on), no account executives to please, no clients to impose their own perceptions on your work. No limits!

That isn’t to say there aren’t any challenges…there are challenges galore! While there is no client to impose limitations…there is also no client to bankroll the shoot.
While there are no limits to what you can shoot…no one else is coming up with ideas for you. While there are no Art Directors to impose their visions…it is up to you to have that vision and be true to it.

The Challenges of Creative Freedom

Creative freedom is something that I Portrait Photographer think is a core need of every photographer. But along with that freedom comes challenges. Few things require us to use that “creative” muscles as much as stock. You need to be creative in coming up with what to shoot. You need creativity in virtually every aspect of stock. Creativity in how to arrange access to a difficult subject, creativity in how to shoot without the financial resources of a client…and creative decisions need to be made on where and how to place the work.

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