Great Stock Photos When the Conditions Aren’t – Making the Most of Every Opportunity

Most photographers arriving at a popular photo destination will do so with a fairly clear idea of the shots they want to get. They will have seen the postcards, books and travel brochures, and they’ll have an expectation of what they want from the visit.

Basically they want the classic shot of the destination that everyone gets, and if they come away without it they can often feel cheated or even inadequate. So regardless of conditions, they will try to get it, even if it’s an exercise doomed to failure from the start.

It might be a famous vista on a dull overcast day, or some outdoor landmark under stark midday lighting, or an impressive waterfall late in the day when the light is going fast. The conditions mean they’re never going to get the shot they’d hoped for, but they take it anyway.

That’s OK for your personal record but for a professional photographer this can be a real trap. Once it’s in your collection it takes iron discipline not to include it in your marketing efforts. I see these types of image sneak past even the most discipline self-editor, again and again, and it can make the most experienced professional look like a total amateur.

It’s easy to see how they slip through though. As long as it’s ‘the best you’ve got’ on a subject, it’s going to lead the ‘polls’ when you are evaluating your work, and most photographers find it incredibly difficult to discard ‘everything’ they have of a specific subject.

Most of us will edit it down to one or two without too much trouble, but to actually discard everything is really tough.

And yet, deep down we always know the image is not up to scratch, we know that there will be better images available to buyers, and if we’re really honest we’ll admit that it’s never going to sell!

Even worse, if you go so far as to post it to a collection or show it to your Clients, it can make your whole collection look bad.

Remember, being the “best shot you’ve got of it” doesn’t cut it for buyers. Neither does ” that’s just what it was like on the day”, or “the bus was leaving so we couldn’t wait for better light”. The exception is obviously if the location is particularly remote or unique, and seriously under-photographed, but here we are talking about subject that you know are well documented.

So if you are going to take these shots ‘for your own records’, make sure you remember that reasoning when you get to the sorting & editing. You need to physically remove them to your personal file at the first opportunity… before you weaken!

The other problem with this approach is that it focuses your attention on the shot you can’t get to the exclusion of all the other shots that might be there waiting!

Because they know deep down that they haven’t got the shot, most photographers will get caught up on the conditions and ‘fate’. They’ll moan about the dismal conditions and walk away with one or two ordinary images with zero commercial prospects. If you’ve ever been around when this is going on you’ll have heard them grumbling about the weather and how they would have gotten a great image if only they weren’t so unlucky.

Less than ideal conditions don’t have to mean a missed opportunity though.

In fact, because most photographers are going after the Classic Shot, this is a great opportunity to add something relatively unique and much more marketable to your portfolio. The trick is to focus on the photos you can get?

If conditions are less than perfect the first thing you want to do is take control of the lighting.

That means finding subjects where you can move in close and create your own lighting conditions using flash, reflectors and basic camera settings. Is the sky is dull and washed out, take it out of the frame. If every photo you’ve ever seen of the subject had a big blue sky behind it, then that is even more reason not to include a washed-out boring white one!

So look for the flash shots? Look for the close ups? Look for the macros? When you get in close you stop being a slave to the conditions.

Can you use the location as a backdrop rather than the feature? If you’re focused on a strong foreground subject, then the washed out sky can actually become an asset, so what other subject matter is there to work with? (Again, those days are often ideal for the close ups of vegetation, wildlife, architectural detail!)

Can you bring some people into the image? (This is something you should be doing regardless, but the drab overcast days can actually make it even easier). For this to work though you usually need to take control and build the image you want. That’s going to mean talking to them, telling them what you want to do and arranging them where you want them.

If conditions are poor, ANY of these ideas well executed will usually outsell your best attempts at the Classic Shot. Once you’ve got a few ideas, then you can start to think about which ones have realistic commercial prospects.

1. WHAT subject matter can I get good photos of?

2. WHO is likely to use this subject matter?

3. HOW are they going to use it?

4. WHAT will each buyer-type need their photo to do?

Instead of an ordinary shot of a popular subject, you have the opportunity to add dozens of marketable shots to your collection. The real bonus is that most of them will be shots that most other photographers will miss!

You will always find it’s much more productive to devote your time and energy to producing something a little bit unique, custom shot for specific buyer-type, than taking another ordinary shot of a popular subject.

As a guide, if you’ve seen more than one or two published photos of a subject, then you can safely consider it ‘popular’. There is little value adding an ordinary shot of it to your stock collection because someone will have already captured it under ideal conditions.

Shoot a copy for your own files by all means, but be realistic about it’s potential… someone is sure to have been there at the right time on a good day. You’ll do much better if you keep looking for something different with a real market.

The good news is, the more often you do this, then the more possibilities you’ll see in every photo opportunity. It all comes from reversing the thought process and holding off releasing that shutter until you know exactly who it is you’re shooting for and what it is they’ll need.

When you do this you can work out exactly what you’re trying to achieve… and when you know what you’re aiming you’ve got a much better chance of hitting it!

So treat every frame as a mini-assignment and you’ll not only shoot more prolifically, you’ll be shooting stronger stock images as well!