A Good Stock Image is an Incomplete One...

posted on 17th of february, 2007

A pioneer in the stock business once said, "A good stock photo is an incomplete photo".
That doesn't make sense, does it? Shouldn't a great stock photo simply be a great photo? Sometimes, yes. But think about one of the reasons stock photos sell and the unfinished business of some stock photos make sense.
Look at these images:
Red Velvet Theater courtains
Clown 2
Image on the left seems to be waiting for something to happen. Wouldn't it be a better photo of a stage where there was a play going on or a band or a singer performing? Not withstanding the need for model releases that are almost impossible to come by for such events, the empty stage is a great subject for several reasons one of which is as a foundation for multiple creative uses in PhotoShop as in the image on the right.
The empty stage is a showcase for any product. The user can place their product or message against the background. And being center stage is where all advertisers want to be.
The image is graphically simple and so captures the eye at the thumbnail size. The colors are saturated and the curtains luxurious.
The scale of the stage and curtains is miniature so that the product will be in proportion to the environment. Imagine a bottle of shampoo on the stage. The image also lends itself to conceptual keywords like "anticipation", "star power", "opening night" and any words associated with product launches. Additional uses might be for invitations, announcements and other uses as background for text. And because the image is not product specific it has many, many opportunities for use across many types of products and services.
The second image is a beautiful use of various elements to create a photo that has terrific impact and that would be impossible to catch as an image straight out of the camera. It's easy to see how many different scenarios are possible.
Compare the theater images to the ones below. These images have some possible uses in addition to advertising spa treatments and vacation destinations: they could be used for a financial institution encouraging its users to save for a vacation or to indicate peace of mind in financial areas. But unlike the theater image, these two are more limited in kinds of industries and messages.
Woman by Pool
Looking down on a woman having a hot stones treatment
The theater image is a stage for almost any product or message. A winner! And relax...the spa and pool shots are too.
I have created a collection called "Theater Curtains" to showcase more terrific examples of those images. And will revisit a broader range of "incomplete" images later.
Comments (50)

Posted by Ellenboughn on July 09, 2008
Did you post this one before? This looks a bit familiar to me... uhm.
Yes this is a comment to a post that came from long ago. I'm so pleased that people are going back to the old blogs and reading them either for the first time or again. But one of these days I will probably repeat myself as sometimes I wonder what in the world is left to write about! But then something occurs to me and off we go.
Posted by Dersankt on July 08, 2008
Did you post this one before? This looks a bit familiar to me... uhm.
Posted by Ellenboughn on July 08, 2008
There isn't a general rule of thumb...just negative space somewhere in the image large enough to hold a headline or short tag line.
Posted by Srm on July 02, 2008
Thank you for the informative article. I am completely new to stock photography and would appreciate some information on how much area to leave for type space. For example, if I take a photo of an apple against a pure white background, and it is 3000 x 3000 pixels cropped to the edges of the apple, how much should I increase the canvas size to allow for the type. (how much negative space should I leave around the apple). Is there a general rule of thumb for this? Thanks.
Posted by Coastweb on January 17, 2008
I'll reiterate the 'don't crop' sentiment - forget your artistic sensibilities, make your image usable to the greatest audience - let the user crop as they need. I’ve had to overlook so many otherwise promising images because the photographer has cropped the image too heavily. And variations - produce variations - again I’ll see an image I like, but the facial expression, for example, isn’t right - variations, variations, variations boys and girls!
Posted by Brybry57 on January 16, 2008
coppyspace is a big deal when buying so it is almost a must when shooting
Posted by Astrup on January 07, 2008
Amen! I was just about to set up my own blog and write about this. Please let me do the cropping. Sure an image looks cool when cropped BUT sometimes - no actually 99% of the time I need the full shadow or that edge of the plate or what ever the subject might be.
I just downloaded an image to use on page, image taken in portrait orientation BUT the photo aspect ratio does not fit the aspect ratio of a letter sized page. Had the photographer just given me more of the background it would have worked. Now again I have to spend time in Photoshop creating the missing part of the image, which could easily have been in there.

Best regards
Posted by Lihui on December 18, 2007
Yes!Leave some room for type elements!
Posted by Gabre on December 03, 2007
Thanx for the tip...I certainly will keep these things in mind when taking photos and submitting them.
Posted by Pamtriv on December 02, 2007
Great article! Thanks for the information!

Posted by Sutprattana on December 01, 2007
I found that successful photographer is not only take good pictures but they take pictures those sell.
Thanks for a very good article
Posted by Sextoacto on November 30, 2007
Very nice advice. When I plan my photos I always think of them as a finished ad, and maybe thats the reason some of them doesn't sell they way I'm expecting (and someones really does).
Very interesting, I will take your advice when planning new photos and illustrations. Thanks!
Posted by Amaranta on November 30, 2007
Great this article! Very interesting and usefull to see our images in a new way... Thanks!
Posted by Ellenboughn on November 01, 2007
Just remember that the client often wants to 'finish' the image themselves and so often leave negative space for type etc.
Posted by Hozzi19 on October 31, 2007
I use both completed and unfinished photos for my artwork. Sometimes it is a really big help to have those "finished" specific ones when a client is requesting a specific photo.
Posted by Bcbounders on October 28, 2007
Great article. Sometimes it's hard to fight the urge to "complete" the photo by having it contain "everything." Simple suggestion/insight... but oh so spot-on. Thanks!
Posted by Roberto1977 on October 19, 2007
Very very interesting. Thanks!

Posted by Russel77 on October 15, 2007
I'm not very good at composing pictures but I am creative in a different way. For example, I took a very plain Jane photograph here
and took it to CorelDraw with a logo and created the following picture
to use in a question & answer document about a new service that I offer.

I had looked in lots of places on the Internet before I found Dreamstime, which has the best selection of "incomplete" stock photos.
Posted by Ellenboughn on October 11, 2007
yes something is wrong with the images...checking on it. Thanks for the head's up.
Posted by Maigi on October 11, 2007
There must be something wrong with those pictures in this blog. Is somebody hacked this? There are strange td tags also...
Posted by Cathysbelleimage on October 11, 2007
Am I missing something ? The images I see do not correspond to the article at all... I see legos, a electrical tower and a design... no spas !! ;O) But, thank you for the advices; it is something I try to keep in mind when shooting... this and text space...
Posted by Yemeky on October 04, 2007
very very nice blog title, useful, thanks for sharing
Posted by Valeria73 on October 01, 2007
Very useful, thanks a lot!
Posted by Kruain on September 28, 2007
Posted by Kruain on September 28, 2007
Posted by Sailawayagain on September 27, 2007
Thanks for the advice. I'm just starting and this is something that makes a lot of sense but I never thought of. I will start looking at my pictures differently now.
Posted by Supersaver on September 17, 2007
YES, YES, YES! I've been doing graphic design for nearly 15 years and I have to say you are absolutely correct. Sometimes less is more. Leave some room for type elements! Thank you photographers and Illustrators, your talents are very appreciated!
Posted by Supersaver on September 17, 2007
YES, YES, YES! I've been doing graphic design for nearly 15 years and I have to say you are absolutely correct. Sometimes less is more. Leave some room for type elements! Thank you photographers and Illustrators, your talents are very appreciated!
Posted by Omegatransfer on September 14, 2007
I'm quite interested in shooting stock-oriented picture. Advices like this one are welcomed:)
Posted by Howee_cz on September 11, 2007
yes, exactly

many times you find too much on the picture

creatives dont need it.

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Comments (50)

This article has been read 16248 times. 27 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Billyfoto, Karen Struthers, Alex Bramwell.

About me

I have written a about microstock photography released in 2010. I was the Director of Content at Dreamstime for two years ending in Feb, 2009. You can order my book from amazon via my website at www.ellenboughn.com/blog.

Bainbridge Island, US

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