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Take Stock; Another Way To Think About Your Travel Pictures

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"How's it goin'?" a writer friend asked me recently. "Busy," I said. "That's great," he said. We talked some more, and what I ended up telling him was that one of the reasons things were going well and I was staying busy was that in addition to assignments from tourist boards, travel bureaus, and cruise lines, a lot of my income comes from stock photography. And, fortunately, that my stock images are pretty popular. I've got eight different stock agencies that have my pictures, and those pictures are bought and used for...well, just about everything. As we talked I realized that there's hardly a day that goes by that I don't see one of my photos somewhere. I didn't want it to appear that I was bragging about it, but I told him that I've seen my photographs in TV commercials, in news features broadcast on CNN, on billboards, in newspapers, and on direct-mail flyers. They're routinely used to sell and promote everything from airlines to coffee, shoes to health insurance, toothpaste to Viagra.

Photos © 2003, Jack Hollingsworth, All Right Reserved

Then I recalled that on a three-day drive last summer from our home in Texas up to Cape Cod, my family and I counted something like 15 times on the way up and about the same on the way back that we saw one of my pictures. We saw them on billboards, on the cover of a hotel directory, in newspaper ads, and in a AAA catalog, among other places.

Lifestyle Stock
The images that were being used in all those places were examples of my lifestyle pictures. They were travel photography, sure, but they were lifestyle travel, not the standard relative in front of the landmark picture. Then I realized that what makes my photographs, and the photographs of many other travel photographers, salable for all these purposes is the same thing that will make your travel photographs successful and special: they're about the spirit of a place, rather than its landmarks. No one needs me for another photo of the Eiffel Tower. What I do is pay attention to detail, look for unusual views, treat color and composition as subjects, and find and direct people.

Interpretive Means Multi-Use
What I'm talking about is the difference between travel photography as documentation--here's the Eiffel Tower--and travel photography as interpretation--here's the use of the Eiffel Tower to tell a story. Interpretive photos are the ones that sell as stock, and my photos of Paris can be used by, for example, financial planning companies, health care organizations, insurance companies, and, of course, airlines.

The photos here, which I took in Italy as I traveled the country for two assignments, are all viable stock images that can be applied to any number of products and services because they're about the mood and feeling of the place.

I think you'll make yourself a better photographer if you think of your travel images as stock pictures. Subject is important, but next time ask yourself: What's the feeling here? What's the mood? Shoot the landmark to prove you were there, sure, but work
harder to capture the spirit of the place to show what it felt like to be there.

There's no need for exotic equipment to do any of this. All the photos here were taken with my workhorse Nikon F4 and a handful of lenses, including my 21mm, 28mm, 50mm, and 80-200mm Nikkors. Add a tripod and a few filters, and that's about it.

So consider the lifestyle message when you're traveling. If you get enough good stuff, maybe you'll start thinking about getting a stock agency interested in your work. There's bad and good news about that: it's a highly competitive market, but there's such an appetite for new images, there's room for you. (If you'd like to check out some stock agencies, log onto the website for the Picture Archive Council of America, which is the trade association for stock agencies. PACA is at www.pacaoffice.org.)

Remember, the landmark isn't going to change; it's the life swirling around it that will make your images interesting ...and maybe even commercially viable.

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