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What kinds of photos sell best?

Dear Reader,

A few weeks ago I sent you a few samples of stock photos our readers have taken, along with links to how those photos have been used by different photo buyers.  If you missed that issue, I’ll include a link to it at the bottom of today’s note.

One of these photographs was purchased by a graphic designer who creates websites and brochures for woman-owned businesses.

We got in touch with this designer and asked her a few questions about the types of photos she buys and perhaps more importantly, what our readers can do to make their photos more appealing to stock photo buyers.

You’ll find her answers below…

-- Lori

Lori Allen
Director, AWAI Travel Division

P.S. Three people signed up for our Puerto Rico expedition yesterday.  Maybe that’s because we’re currently offering to pay for their flight.  Details, here.

April 30, 2010
The Right Way to Travel

What Photo Buyers Want: A Designer's Take on Stock Photos 

Interview with graphic designer April Brinkley of Lipstick and Rouge Designs
By Bonnie Caton in Portland, OR

BONNIE: April, as a graphic designer, what kinds of projects do you like to take on?

APRIL: I suppose I’m somewhat a “Jackie-of-all-trades,” as I do a little bit of everything for both print and web media. Logos, ads, brochures, postcards, and websites are among the more popular items.

While I have worked with a wide range of clients spanning numerous industries, my clients tend to be small, woman-owned businesses, generally from interior design, beauty, or fashion industries. Hence the makeup references and fun, flirty artwork on my website.

BONNIE: How often do you use stock photos in your designs?

APRIL: Quite often. Chances are, if there’s a photo in one of my designs, it’s a stock photo. I use them in just about everything for both print materials and online communiqués.

A few of my clients opt to use their own photos. But since the majority of my clients are start-up or small businesses, stock photos allow them to look polished and professional while eliminating the need for their own photographer -- or at least fill in the gaps until they can expand their personal library of photos.

On a side note: There is a bit of a controversy over using stock photos on a designer or home stager’s website. However, I never misrepresent the photos as the designer or stager’s own work. The usual approach is to use stock photos on all pages except the one noted as “portfolio” or “gallery,” showcasing only the client’s actual work on this area.

BONNIE: What do you look for in a good stock photo?  What makes you pick one out of a group of similar shots?

APRIL: To me, a good photo -- stock or otherwise -- must capture the imagination. For commercial use, stock photos need to engage the viewer and inspire them to want/be/do whatever is being “sold.” In some cases, the item for sale is an actual product. But more times than not, it’s an idea or an ideal version of that idea.

What I look for above all else when selecting stock shots is a photo that “speaks” to me, that pulls me in and makes me want to step inside.

When choosing one from a group of similar shots, my choice is partly dependent upon the logistical needs of the project: orientation, copy space, color palette, etc. Beyond that, it’s simply instinct: Which one appears to have the best overall composition?

BONNIE: When you saw Cheryl’s photo of pillows on a bed on her iStock portfolio, what made you want to buy it over the others? (See Cheryl’s photo below)

APRIL: Well, obviously, it’s gorgeous! But beyond that, the crisp and stunningly vivid nature of it really drew my eye -- right down to the paisley embroidery on the bolster. It also helped that the bedding was done in bright and cheery shades, since the design for which it was chosen was a springtime promotion.

BONNIE: What would you like to see more or less of in stock photos?

APRIL: Good question! My thoughts are:

More: Rich, crisp, well-lit shots with nicely contrasting color palettes. I also enjoy shots that have a good depth of focus, sharply showcasing the focal point while slightly blurring the background.

Less: Poor lighting. And also goofy angles and obvious filters. If these are called for in a design, I can add them myself.

BONNIE: Do you only buy from iStock, or are there other agencies you use?

APRIL: iStock is a great resource and I do purchase from them often, but I primarily use Shutterstock. I’ve also found some interesting shots through Dreamstime and some of the other smaller agencies.
BONNIE: How important is the color palette when you’re choosing a photo for your designs?

APRIL: Oh, it’s VERY important! Since my clients tend to come from the fashion, beauty or interior design industries, color coordination becomes a major focus in their designs. After all, they are expected to create beautiful color palettes for their clients, so everything needs to look pulled together and polished. So when it comes to stock photos, they really need to complement the hues in use.

BONNIE: Anything else you can think of that you wish stock photographers would do in their photos?

APRIL: From a designer’s viewpoint, it is helpful if the same essential shot is available in both portrait and landscape orientations (that is, both horizontal and vertical), with a couple of slightly different angles if appropriate, a close-up or two of the photo’s focal point, and if possible, one with a natural area for copy space.

Cheryl’s photo that I used in my client’s postcard campaign is accompanied by similar shots on her iStock portfolio, which provides us with the opportunity to use her landscape or close-up of the same bedding in future designs.

Also, theme comes to mind. It’s a disappointment to find a striking photo that fits your needs, only to find it’s a “one hit wonder” as there are no others remotely similar to it in that photographer’s portfolio. However, finding a portfolio with lots of great shots in the same theme -- be it interiors, travel, healthcare, etc. -- is like hitting the jackpot. I will certainly visit it again and again to find prized photos to include in my designs.

[Ed. Note: To find out more about selling your photos as stock, check out our Ultimate Money-Making Photo Workshop-At-Home Package.  Or grab a free copy of our Lazy Man’s Guide to Stock Photography when you agree to test-drive our Turn Your Pictures into Cash program, here.]

If you missed our issue showing samples of stock photos our readers have taken and how they are being used, click here to read it.


The Right Way to Travel is a FREE newsletter from the American Writers & Artists Inc., available to AWAI members and friends.

It is coming to you because you are either a member of The Ultimate Travel Writer's Program or Turn Your Pictures into Cash, or you have opted to receive information about getting paid to travel from the AWAI Travel Division.

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