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Stock Photography: Thinking Outside the Box

We’re all familiar with the idea of photographing different subjects – birds, motorbikes, landscapes, babies, trees – the list of possible subjects for our camera to focus on is almost endless.  What we may not think about so often though is the idea of photographing concepts.

Conceptually though it could be used to illustrate ideas such as “standing out from the crowd” or “head and shoulders above the rest”.

Photographers who shoot for stock libraries will be very familiar with this idea.  Stock libraries have a wide range of image needs.  On the one hand they will often be asked for a photograph of a particular object or place – the Eiffel Tower, a cute kitten, a London bus.  Then it’s a simple matter of fact – do they have an image of the Eiffel Tower or not?

On the other hand they may be asked for a photo that illustrates a concept, such as softness, vulnerability, power, freshness, leadership – again, the list is very long.  Here it may not be so obvious immediately whether they have a photo which fulfils the request – it’s a little more subtle.

It can be interesting to think about some of your images in this alternative way.  This stock photo of sunflowers, for instance, is on one level just a photo of sunflowers against a blue sky.  Conceptually though it could be used to illustrate ideas such as “standing out from the crowd” or “head and shoulders above the rest”.

A photo of an orang-utan cradling her baby is on the one hand a representational photo illustrating orang-utans, and on the other hand a conceptual photo illustrating mother love, protection and vulnerability.  A daisy with dew drops can symbolise innocence and freshness.  Think of the market for skin-care products for instance, and how often their packaging and advertising includes photos of flowers or even simply grass covered with water droplets, symbolising the concept of moisture for your skin.

Some stock photographers will spend many hours putting together elaborate set-ups to illustrate concepts, but it’s fun to see how sometimes the simplest images can express a concept too.

For further information on stock photography, consider taking a 4 week online course Making Money from Your Photography

Geoff Harris

I am a photography journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill, Steve McCurry and the late Mary Ellen Mark. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time.

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