How To GetStock-Quality Shots
By Andrew Hudson Published: August 18, 2011 Updated: November 26, 2013
If you look at the sort of shots that get printed in travel magazines and expensive coffee-table books, they tend to share similar attributes. Look for pictures that you admire and try to analyze why you like them. These are some of the features I like:
Magazines in particular always like people in the shot. It gives the viewer a human connection, a sense of being there, and a sense of scale. Photographs evoke emotion and empathy comes with someone’s face. Avoid crowds and simplify the shot down to one person. The young and old are preferred subjects, with their innocent expressions and weather-worn faces respectively. People make your shots warm, friendly, and personable. Just like you are.
Simple, Clear Layout
A good shot focuses your attention on the subject by using a sparse background and a simple but interesting composition. Always remove clutter for the picture — this is a real skill. Like a musician, It’s always difficult to make things look easy. Zoom in, get close, get to eye level, find a simple backdrop, look for balance.
Bold, Solid Colors
’stock-quality’ images make great use of color. Look for solid primary colors: bright ’sports-car’ red, emerald green, lightning yellow, and ocean blue. Use a polarizer to bring out the colors. Avoid patterns — keep it simple. Bright afternoon sunlight will add warmth.
Alternatively, look for ‘color harmony’ — scenes restricted to similar tones and colors, or even a single color. This presents a calm, restful image where the eye plays with the differing shades and intensities. Look for pastels, cream, or delicate shades.
Always include some pointer about depth. A photograph is two-dimensional but we want it to appear three-dimensional. If you’re shooting a background (mountains) include a strong foreground (people). If you’re shooting people (foreground), add an out-of-focus blur behind them (by using a wide aperture — small f-number).
Use a wide-angle lens for exaggerated depth. With a 20mm to 28mm lens, get just a few feet from your subject and, with a small aperture (large f-number), include an in-focus deep background too. This exaggerated hyperfocal perspective is used in a lot of magazine shots. What impact!
Alternatively you can remove all depth by using a long, telephoto lens. This compresses or compacts the image, making your 3-D subject appear flat.
Photographs that win competitions are often ones that make interesting use of light. Look out for beams of light shining through clouds, trees or windows, long shadows, and the effect of side- and backlighting. Shoot in the warm golden “magic hours” of early morning and late afternoon.
“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
A great shot takes time. Scout out the area, make mental notes of important features, unusual and interesting angles, and changing crowd levels. Take time to prepare the shot. Get there before the best time of day, clean your lenses, set up a tripod or mini-tripod, add a cable release, try out different filters, wait for a good foreground, and talk with people who may be in the shot so that they’re comfortable and will pose well.
Copyright 1997–2007 Andrew Hudson for PhotoSecrets / Photo Tour Books, Inc. You may reproduce this article for personal, educational, non-commercial and non-Internet use, such as in a local photo club newsletter or school project. No Internet publishing is permitted. For commercial use, please email me for permission.