Stock Photo Tips: I Borrowed a School Bus and It Paid Off

Kevin Lohka had a great idea for a back-to-school-themed photo shoot, so he borrowed a school bus and got to work.

I’ll let him explain more below.

-- Lori

Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

September 30, 2010
The Right Way to Travel

By Kevin Lohka in Calgary, Canada

It was about 10 days before the end of the school year in June, and I started to think about creating some "back-to-school" images for my stock portfolio. I figured that back-to-school would be a high-demand theme, come July and August.

Since my son Joshua is the last kid off the bus, I asked his driver if one day he could spare 15 minutes at the end of his route. I wanted to take a few pictures of Joshua in front of our house, using the bus as a giant prop.

The driver said he'd be happy to help out and we agreed to take the pictures on the last day of school.

Thinking ahead, I prepared a clean set of clothes for my son to change into after getting home from school. I also came up with a shoot list to have ideas of the images I wanted at-hand.

When the bus pulled up, however, Joshua had paint all over his face from his last-day-of-school activities. Since I’d already asked the bus driver (a complete stranger) for a favor and didn't want to waste his time, I quickly got Joshua cleaned up, had him change into his modeling clothes, and started the shoot.

But when I started taking the planned photos of Joshua leaving our front door and walking to the bus, I couldn't get the exposure right. Our front porch was in heavy shade and the bus was in bright sunlight. Tick, tick, tick… I started to feel pressure.

Seeing that my planned shots weren't going to work, I decided to walk around the bus to get some inspiration.

That’s when I saw the bus stop sign. Bus safety might make a good theme, I thought. So I asked the driver to activate the stop sign and brought Joshua to the front of the bus to make it look like he was crossing the street.  I positioned him to block the view of the driver so that I wouldn't need to worry about a second model release.

I took a total of 84 pictures during the shoot, and chose five for submission to iStock, Shutterstock, and Dreamstime.

This is one of my favorites from the day:

Kevin Lohka

So far, this one image has earned me $29.10 in stock photo sales. Not much. But again, I just posted it in June.

The total sales from all five images from this shoot are $88.83. This includes one enhanced license sale on Shutterstock for $28.

I'm pretty happy with the results. I admit, I was very uncomfortable asking a near stranger for help with the shoot. But it worked out well and the driver was happy to help.

At last year’s Ultimate Stock Workshop in Santa Fe, the instructors stressed planning your shoot themes two to three months ahead to give designers enough time to use your images.

Doing this certainly improved the sales of my portfolio over the summer, as I now have a few back-to-school images that buyers are looking for.

My other take-away from that workshop was to get over my fear of asking casual acquaintances for help with photo shoots. It’s a good thing to get comfortable with, since getting shots of things that are difficult for other photographers to gain access to is a real competitive advantage.

Just think -- who do you know that has a unique prop that you could plan a shoot around?

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]