06 May 2009 Generating Ideas – The Foundation of Good Stock Photography
This is a guest post by well-known traditional stock photographer John Lund. Who better to learn from about generating stock photo ideas than the master of conceptual stock photos?
We all know that old phrase ‘Practice makes perfect’. In the case of ideas for stock photography it certainly holds true. By having a disciplined and ongoing practice of coming up with stock ideas I have made the process much less daunting and far more productive. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when I feel like I will never come up with another good idea¦that happens to me regularly. I am, however, able to keep in mind that such feelings come and go, and yes, I will have another good idea.
Since ideas are the lifeblood and building blocks of stock photography it makes sense to incorporate the process as a regular part of your business. For me, that means a combination of regularly scheduled idea generation supplemented with some exercises to jump-start me at those times when I need a little extra help. All of it, whether it is a regularly scheduled idea session, or an impromptu exercise, begins with intention.
The First Thing to Do is to Set Goals
I have a goal of averaging five concept stock photo ideas a week. Pick a goal that is realistic but challenging. My goal is based on the desire to create an average of five concept stock pictures a week. To average that many I have to have a huge list of ideas. I need available ideas that suit any particular circumstances that I am dealing with at a particular time. Those might be circumstances dealing with budgets, emotions or time constraints. The point is, I can’t rely on coming up with ideas on a moment’s notice. I need a regular practice to build up a library of ideas that I can draw upon when I need them. Ideas on a moment’s notice do happen, but I can’t rely on them.
Set your intention and set a goal. The next step is the actual idea generation. I can’t tell you what will work for you, but I can share what works for me. Again, intention is key to it all. If I set the intention then almost any source material can become inspiration. For years I would set the intention of coming up with at least one idea during my commute. That doesn’t work anymore because my commute is down to six minutes¦darn! Back then the radio was a great source of inspiration. Quite often someone on the radio would mention a phrase that would set off an idea. That still works for me, generally when I am on a longer car trip than my commute.
Just a few minutes ago I went to Yahoo news with the intent to come up with a stock idea. The headline was about this new threatening swine flu epidemic. Is there something I could do with that? Is there an image that could be used by publications (including online) to illustrate such articles with¦and that could be also used in some advertisements? How about an office full of people wearing protective masks? I think that would work! It would be hard to do, and expensive, because of the models and location, but probably still worth doing. OK, it goes on my idea list for some time when I will have a bunch of models together in an office. Next, how about a photo of a pig wearing such a mask¦now there is an idea! I could shoot the pig at a petting zoo for free; shoot the mask on a friend, and put the image together in Photoshop. Done well, it would be such an unexpected visual that I know art directors would find a way to use it for a variety of things.
See how this works? The more you practice the better you get at it. You can set the intent to come up with stock ideas before you read a newspaper, listen to the radio, watch TV, or drive down the street. Intent is the most powerful tool in the generation of stock photo ideas.
Here are five tips you can use when you need a jump-start:
Try the Opposite
Richard Steadman, founder of the Stock Market stock agency (since acquired by Corbis), once told me of a great stock image: A hammer shattering as it struck a light bulb. The unexpected makes a great stock image. So try inverting your idea.
Find an Image that Really Excites You
Then figure out how you can do it differently, putting your on signature on it. It was a shot of running buffalo that inspired my image of stampeding longhorn cattle (right). Don’t copy someone else’s idea; rather let that idea inspire you.
Use Your Own Feelings to Come Up with Ideas
If you are feeling overwhelmed, close your eyes, really dive into that feeling of being overwhelmed, and see what mental images arise from that. If you can create an image that truly expresses your feelings they will be great stock images.
Keep a Paper and Pen Handy
Ideas are delicate. When you come up with an idea, write it down, don’t wait! I always keep a pen and paper with me for that purpose.
Keep an On-going List of Your Ideas
For me ideas fluctuate in their interest. Sometimes I come up with an idea that seems like the greatest idea ever. Then a week later that same idea might seem totally lame, then yet another day that idea might seem great again. I keep my list forever. Even when an idea seems weak, or I have already completed it, I keep that idea written down. You never know when that idea will spark a new one. A permanent master idea list is a must.
Having a disciplined approach to idea generation, creating goals and the intent to come up with ideas, and keeping a written list of your ideas, will make the rest of your stock photography business easier and far more productive. Especially if you have limited resources (time or money), you are much better off putting those resources into only the best ideas.
You can see more of John’s realized stock photo ideas at Getty Images or on his personal website. He also has a selection of invaluable interviews with other top traditional stock photographers on his blog, and you can follow John on Twitter.