An Approach for Building Your Portfolio

posted on 14th of july, 2010

It's one thing to sit down and think of ideas to submit for stock, but I see a lot of people taking the same approach as I do: We mainly shoot what we know. Specifically, we work within our comfort level and skillset. I don't have a studio nor do I have access to models so I generally revert to do the same types of images. Keeping your portfolio growing is a challenge if you're going to continue in the same rut.

I can do studio-type shots but it's a pain to try; I don't have backdrops, I don't have the proper lighting, etc. It doesn't stop me but it also makes me lazy. I think of an idea and I put it on the back shelf because of the effort required.

So that got me to thinking; what can I do that is beyond the norm but much more manageable to accomplish? The thought process got me to break down the stock industry into nine types of images:

1. The Usual: You go on vacation and take pictures, right? I've gone through my archives several times now and each time I've pulled out additional images that I've added to my portfolio. I do believe vacation and travel pictures are generally the least desirable to put out for stock because everyone takes pictures of the same thing when it comes to travel and vacation images. However, they do get sales now and then. Yes, I know you can get top-notch travel images, but only if you work on it while on vacation, and it doesn't help you when your archives are filled with low-grade snapshots from years before you got into stock. The bottom line is there is potential in your archives.

2. Your Passion: Some people gravitate toward landscapes. Others, street photography. This is probably one of the easiest categories to get pictures. You take certain types of images as easily as eating, sleeping, and breathing. Don't take this for granted, though; think about ways to get even better with the genres you enjoy photographing.

3. Spontaneous Opportunities: Here's but one example... I got a new roof on my house recently so I took photographs of the work being done. You don't plan a shoot for such things but if the opportunity is there, shoot it! Got a nice new dent in the car? Shoot it! Real life comes at you everyday, use the camera to capture both the good and bad.

4. Commercial Images: We all know what this is. Pretty, smiling girls holding shiny toasters. I don't have pretty, smiling girls readily available (who will sign a model release) nor do I have a shiny toaster. That doesn't stop me from thinking about what I could do if I did. This is one of my weakest areas because of model/studio access but I have turned my living room into a studio when I had the ambition.

5. Illustrations: In another life I used to draw and publish cartoons so I can draw though my style is what it is. Creating stock illustrations is very different from pen and ink and it's like learning how to draw all over again. Being good at something doesn't mean you will be good at doing the equivalent for stock. I feel I have the confidence and experience to eventually master the transition and so far the biggest problem I've had is finding the time to learn the new tools and processes. Some of you may be good at illustrating but lacking with photography. It doesn't matter, the point is, you open up a whole new set of possibilities when you try a new medium.

6. Your Imagination: The best stock images are those that no one else has done. This doesn't mean creating a concept of a flaming toaster flying through space (a shiny one at that!) Search the database and you'll find very few images that are really good and of the subject DISHWASHER. An extreme example, but what other subjects are wide open in the database?

7. The Obvious: The salad you're about to eat. Trees in the park. Well, OK, those are a little too obvious. But do you stop to grab your camera with the obvious? Maybe the obvious isn't so obvious if you don't look for it!

8. The World Around You: Do you live 20 minutes from the Eiffel Tower? Times Square? No matter where you live, you live in a gold mine for images that no one else can take except on an expensive vacation. Take advantage!

9. Concepts: What kind of images can you create that say TAXES? Or LOVE? HUNGER? WORK? Spend time with your brain drifting in between and around different ideas with no limitations. I see many portfolios with extremely talented and gifted people behind them but their portfolio is one dimensional. Put that talent to work in new areas!

The above is not intended to be a definitive breakdown of stock but an exercise in identifying possible categories. Once that is done you can start to think about the limits you place on yourself. It's easy to stay in the categories you're good at. If you don't venture into other categories, you will never reach your full potential and maximize your ability to increase your portfolio (and profit!) My venture into illustrations has not been pretty, but I've been rewarded with sales for trying!

Comments (35)

Posted by Bobhelvey on August 14, 2010
I do not yet have any accepted images. All 40 or so have been rejected for various reasons. I have to keep my chin up although I have been shooting over 45 years. i've won photo contests and state fair ribbons. What advice does anyone have other tahn to keep submitting?
Posted by Plaincrazy on August 12, 2010
I like yor article it great and believe I have read others of yours that were as good
Posted by Mtoilar7 on August 12, 2010
Like the article - I'm in Wisconsin too. You give hope!
Posted by Martinisaac on August 05, 2010
Great article... v.useful.
Posted by Cafebeanzphoto on July 31, 2010
Well put !!!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts !!
Posted by Karenkh on July 27, 2010
Lots of great tips! Thanks for sharing them.
Posted by Melonstone on July 25, 2010
Great blog - good reminders!
Posted by FabioConcetta on July 25, 2010
Nice article, congratulations!!!
Posted by Viktor50 on July 25, 2010
Do you have something to learn! Thanks
Posted by Mariusgradinaru on July 23, 2010
Great article! I think i found myself in it :)
Posted by Abubjsm on July 23, 2010
I really like your article. Thanks for sharing.
Posted by Foulke on July 21, 2010
Thank you for the tips they are great to know.
Posted by Charlydamart on July 20, 2010
Great tips!
Posted by Laurasinelle on July 19, 2010
Thanks, this is very interesting and useful article, Great blog!
Posted by Jodyannvan on July 18, 2010
So true. I work at a shot then turn around and shoot the neighbors laundry, pool or wood pile and they are the one in my portfolio. On your own street ,yard ,home are many good opportunities.
Posted by Digitalfestival on July 18, 2010
Beautifully written article and so well expressed.
Love how you share the issues involved with that special sprinkling of subtle humor :)").
Well for one, i am too lazy to usually comment on blogs , but you managed to get me to make the small effort to respond to you... To me- Point numbers 3,6,8,9 are positive solutions and motivating...

Wishing you all the very best
Posted by Darko64 on July 17, 2010
Very true! I am new here, just started in June. I am trying to figure out how this stock photography works (e.g. what sales, what goes and what doesn't). I am a photojournalist by trade and have lots of archives but when I go through them they don't seam appropriate. Either I don't have MR or it was shot at ISO 400/800 etc. So, I started doing studio stuff but it irritates hell out of me to set up each picture. I am trained to capture the moment and not to pay attention much to perfect lighting. By the time you set up your light you lose the moment. Anyway, I am going to try to balance somehow - to use minimum of the lighting gear and to focus on what I do the best - photojournalistic approach.
I managed to file just over 104 pics in 1.5 months. Cheers everybody.
Posted by Kaththea on July 17, 2010
Really great article! It makes me think about how lazy I am, and what a great number of opportunities I've already waisted... Thanks for waking me up:)
Posted by Vwimage on July 16, 2010
Great article. I'm trying to get out of my comfort zone. Not easy. Thanks for putting things into perspective :)
Posted by Wildmac on July 16, 2010
Great blog! Thanks :)
Posted by Sepavo on July 16, 2010
Thanks this is very motivational.
Posted by Heathse on July 16, 2010
You caught me with the lines 'don't have a studio or access to models'
I thought I was the only one! Great blog (and portfolio) Thank you
Posted by Thanatonautii on July 15, 2010
Loved your article! It`s great! Thanks for sharing!
Posted by Adeliepenguin on July 15, 2010
Excellent list...thank you for taking the time to put it together.
Posted by Gmcgill on July 15, 2010
Very true...thanks
Posted by Amyemilia on July 15, 2010
Well thought out, and so true. I travel a lot for business, but hauling the big camera around sometimes seems too much. Perhaps I need to take more advantage of my time "out there". For instance, I missed a good editorial opportunity when my flight took me directly over the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 21st, the day after it blew. Our pilot gave us a nice view of the rig... :( and I would have gotten some decent shot of it since we weren't that high. Oh well.

I've also been thinking about your point #5, illustrations. Hopefully my recently acquired Wacom Intuos 4 tablet will help me produce some useful items to sell here.
Posted by Yuritz on July 15, 2010
great advices and tips,thanks for sharing your experience
Posted by Mani33 on July 15, 2010
Nice listing! Thanks!
Posted by Kittycat on July 15, 2010
Thank you for your inspiration. Good article.:)
Posted by Jeniicorv8 on July 15, 2010
I say yes to all of the above, thank you!

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Comments (35)

This article has been read 3519 times. 21 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Roberto Giovannini.

About me

My greatest passion is landscape and fine art photography. However, stock does provide a challenge in itself. I enjoy coming up with new ideas and concepts and learning new techniques. In the end, each compliments the other. The things you learn from one can apply for another and you grow with the craft. I have over 30 years experience with different kinds of art and freelance endeavors and have yet to become tired or bored with finding new ways to exercise the creative side of me. Thank you for visiting my profile and I hope your time here will be a reward in itself. I am located in Wisconsin... [Read more]

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