Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The difference is in the details:

Since this blog is primarily about shooting stock photography, I thought it would be interesting to include these two very simple images from my most recent stock shoot because they illustrate the really subtle, but extremely important difference between a successful and unsuccessful stock photo.

Many of the best selling stock photo lifestyle situations are oftem very humble events, such as the one depicted here.  It was shot with models in a kitchen scene created in my studio.  Infusing everyday domestic scenes such as this with a feeling of spontaneity, and action is not always easy. The concept of family values in this simple domestic scene centers on the relationship of a mother and daughter working together.  The goal is to tell a simple story without going over board -- one that still maintains the believability of the scene.

On the surface these two photos look very similar.  There are, however, a few differences between them that will make a huge difference later in terms of  their marketability.  This is a simple kitchen scene showing a casual, everyday relationship between the mother and daughter.  Above the models are smiling at each other, but their basic body language is static and they look posed.  The mother is standing upright and holding the utensil but not performing any action with it.  The daughter's position of holding the colander is similarly static and unnatural.  The scene looks uncomfortable, false, and posed -- which, of course, it is.
In this variation I made a few small changes.  I asked the model playing the mother to hold the knife as if she was about to make a cut in the potato and then to shoot a glance to her daughter.  This shifted her body into a more flattering curved position and gave a little dynamism to her pose.  I asked the daughter to repeat a motion of  picking up a potato from the counter and putting it in the colander.  At the same time, I asked them both to maintain eye contact and gave them something to say that parted their mouths as if they were really having a natural and pleasant conversation, and not just smiling at each other.  Simple and subtle they may be, but these differences translate into a stock shot with a more spontaneous and natural feel to it,

Follow up:

One of the comments to this blog entry thought that the first shot made a better stock image than the one I had chosen.  Truth is, sometimes when editing a shoot the variations are very similar.  That, in fact, is one of the points I was trying to make.  The image you choose can make all the difference between the financial success or failure of a shooting.

Because I had some doubts myself, I decided to submit the eight photos from this situation to someone who could provide a second opinion.  I asked a person who has been a creative director in stock photography with over twenty years of experience and who has worked for the top traditional stock agencies.  Here are the eight photos and the editor's comment:

"I would pick 8. The eye contact and connection between the models seems genuine and the shot is about a kid helping and the body language and position of the kids hand on potato looks like a convincing moment" 

Number 8 is the image I had selected so I feel good about the fact we both came to the same conclusion for the exact same reason..  But if you look at the images I submitted you will realize that they are extremely close.  The point I am trying to make here is that the difference between success and failure in a lifestyle stock image can be very subtle. 

Creating a successful lifestyle photo is a lot like making a movie in microcosm.  The photographer must assume the role as script writer, director, casting director, and, less I forget, photographer too.