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 Dabobabo on September 11, 2007
Hi, thanks..is a real good advice..do you think that this could be usefull also for illustration?..I think so..
Posted by Dhealy on August 23, 2007
Good advice, as a newbie I can use all the help I can get. :)
Posted by Lx_gti on August 23, 2007
is a fun idea, i like that go... and thanks
Posted by Blocat on August 19, 2007
Great post just helped me finish a website banner I have been struggling for 2 days with

Thanks a plenty
Posted by Natie on August 17, 2007
I quite agree with your article. I work in a magazine, and we always look for photos. Sometimes we need something particular, like a woman resting on your example, but we also look for backgrounds and pictures we could make collages from. Designers usually need pictures of your first type - an empty stage is a perfect background for many different designers' needs. Thank you for sharing your ideas with us!
Posted by Kenneystudios on August 16, 2007
I absolutely love your posts! Reading your articles has helped me a lot these past few months as I've begun my journey into stock photography. Often times I find myself drawn to "pretty pictures." But, just because it's a pretty picture doesn't mean it's good stock!
Posted by Bmcent1 on February 24, 2007
Can I make a suggestion on Article titles?

Can you number them like #004: How to shoot like a pro on a shoe string budget?

I think these articles are a great idea but without titling them in that way, when I visit the forums to check the latest article, the listing is no really ordered other than by which article has the most recent reply.
Posted by Ellenboughn on February 24, 2007
You are correct Sophie...if I understand your statement. Images used small on websites don't need to have room for type but remember an "incomplete" image can also be cropped to a tight shot. And the close up images often read better at the small thumb size.
Posted by Sophiesourit on February 24, 2007
I guess that's absolutly right, but I'm still and also amazed by the number of sales of "finished" pictures . I guessed that was a kind of new market coming from a certain kind of webmaster searching to produce good quality website for a very low cost ... and then cutting the cost n cutting the time of producing with "ready-made" image. But maybe that's just my imagination
Posted by J6789 on February 23, 2007
Your idea is very interesting and thanks.
Posted by Arenacreative on February 23, 2007
I totally agree with this - give the designers more freedom. Us designers will eat these kinds of photos UP. I know, because I sell art elements and background like hotcakes. I also use them frequently in a variety of projects from print, to web, to ad and tradeshow banner designs.
Posted by Annie1G on February 23, 2007
Food for thought, indeed!
Posted by Grafoo on February 20, 2007
Very Interesting and useful tips to get closer to stock orientation.
Posted by Araraadt on February 20, 2007
I'm totally agree with Ellen, but some designers haven't fantasy or time to create conceptual photo, they use the ready photos from data of microstock agencies. this is also a basic for commerce for microstocks !
Posted by Korat_cn on February 20, 2007
I think yes.
I'm not a photographer, I'm an illustrator. But my best selled images are incomplete images. Illustrations with a "hole" with a space for adding something... Especially backgrounds, you see them and you think something is going to happen.
Posted by Khwi on February 20, 2007
great tips!

never thought of this before =)
Posted by Fotograf77 on February 19, 2007
Interesting ideas :) you have very much helped Me :)
Posted by Ellenboughn on February 19, 2007
Yes LightArt, you are correct. There is a missing image. We had to remove one image due to logo issues. I was flying across the US today so couldn't change. But another, new image will be posted in a few hours.
Posted by Avion49 on February 19, 2007
Very interesting, and something I had never thought of before. Thanks! Sandy
Posted by Creekside on February 19, 2007
A very interesting piece and something to keep in mind. I would like to shoot more stock oriented images and this gives a great starting point for considering the kinds of shots I should do.

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This article has been read 15859 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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