The Concept of Concepts for Amateur Stockers
I think everyone understands the "Concept of Concepts" when it comes to stock yet it seems amateur stockers have a difficult time putting that "concept" into practice.
Just browse through the database and look at what the high-end professionals are doing and you'll understand concepts. All you have to do is grab your camera, $20,000 worth of lighting equipment, hire three or four models, and rent a venue such as a resort pool or bank lobby. A few shots of people interacting in a bank setting would be gold in your portfolio!
You all "get" that and you all know what a fantasy it is at the same time to generate such a shot. It's not an easy image to create even if you have resources and location.
However, let's just back up a minute here. When you look at the portfolios of amateur stockers, you really don't see many CONCEPT type images. There will be generic landscapes and architecture, artistic images of flowers in the park, etc. Even when a Contributor is fortunate to have a model (usually a spouse and their kids), the images generally tend to be snapshots. There are plenty of smiling heads and cute baby pictures in the database and as such, they don't stand out from the competition.
Snapshots are not concepts.
OK, what is a "Concept?" A concept, in stock photography, is an image that COMMUNICATES to the viewer a specific IDEA. (Or... concept!) A well executed concept grabs the eye immediately and tells the viewer what the subject is.
Think in terms of this: Have you ever flipped through the pages of a magazine but stopped because an image CAUGHT YOUR EYE AND MADE YOU WANT TO LOOK? And without even reading the article or advertisement knew what the SUBJECT was about? That is essentially the bread and butter of stock photography. Grabbing the eye and telling the brain immediately what the message is. Execute the concept well and you make the viewer stop and look. An advertisement is no good if the viewer ignores the ad. A web page fails when a person surfs to another web site.
Fine, we all know that, but how do we, as Contributors, accomplish that? First of all, you have to recognize the difference between snapshots and concepts. When you begin to understand CONCEPTS and practice the craft of REAL stock photography, you will begin to see more sales.
Let's go back to the bank example. Getting models and securing a bank lobby is not going to happen, but if you sit down with paper and pencil and BRAINSTORM ideas, you might come up with ideas that will work. And it helps to be unique; the first idea that comes to mind might be a pile of coins. You can shoot that easy! And it communicates the concept of banking! Well, there are thousands of images like that in the database, you might as well go back to doing snapshots.
Play with the ideas in your head. Can you do the shot on your kitchen table? What props might be used? How about... taking a friend to an ATM machine and photograph their hand using the machine. Edit out the bank logos and you have a banking picture, no model release required!
Keyword search ATM MACHINE and there are only eight web pages of images when I do the search. Do you think you may have a chance to grab some sales with that type of CONCEPT? Especially if you execute the image better than what is available?
This is one of the many secrets of being successful in stock photography: Put the camera away and sit down at a table with paper and pencil. Just let thoughts drift through your mind as you conjure up a few subjects such as BANKING. When you have a basic concept in your head, start to imagine different objects, metaphors, symbols, whatever, that are related to the topic. Try to see the image before you ever set it up. Work through the logistics. Can you get a friend who will let you photograph their hand using an ATM machine? Do you have the skill to edit and remove logos and trademarks on the machine? If you know you can't do a shot for whatever reason, work around the issues and think of another way of doing the concept.
I know we would all love producing an image of a smiling bank teller and customer performing a transaction in a bank lobby, but there are still hundreds of ways to express the concept of BANKING that will work within your limited resources. All you need is paper, pencil, and imagination.
Does this help with CONCEPTS? Are going to submit snapshots of your smiling spouse now? Or will you photograph them repairing the car, doing household chores, paying bills, and creating other CONCEPTUAL images? Don't give up, either; some of your ideas will sit and never get sales, but others will.
For those of you who are not practiced with this and will find a blank sheet of paper a huge barrier, I will leave you with a small list of concepts you can think about:
Phases of Life (Young/Old)
Photo credits: Markbeckwith.