How to Become a Travel Stock Photographer
A Conversationwith Brett Shoaf
What were you doing before starting your business?
I began doing photography as a full-time career in the summer of 1986 at age 28. I worked first as a Photographer’s assistant doing mostly hotel and restaurant shooting for brochures and back-lit wall display ads. These were put up at the SD Airport and the Mission Bay Visitor Information Center. While this was a good start and taught me much about honing my techniques, delivering jobs on time and dealing with clients, my heart was not fully in it. After several years of this, I began to wonder what other types of photography might hold more appeal for me. Product and portraiture shooting in a studio setting were really not my thing, as I much prefer the outdoors. Then I heard about stock photography. The thought of traveling all around and shooting what I want, when I want, where I was the boss and was not limited to getting what someone else directed me to shoot seemed like a dream come true. So in early 1990, I gradually phased out the hotel photography and formed my own business, Artistic Visuals, in order to begin doing stock photography full-time.
How did you start your business?
Once I’d selected San Diego as my main target for photographing, I initially embarked on an ambitious months-long shooting spree to build a collection of images (which I continually update and expand to this day). I ventured through every coastal and inland community throughout all of the county, choosing what I should shoot by just deciding what was interesting to me and what looked good to my eye, and also following my own instincts as to what I thought would sell. I realize the importance of including people in scenes for an added personal touch and to connect the viewer to the setting, like “You are there". Travel magazines particularly favor these, and they almost always sell very well. But I must say, I’ve had equal success selling just straight scenic shots, whether they be beaches, bays and lagoons at sunset, lakes, mountains, even city architecture. So I always make a point of including a mix of both in my submissions. How did you grow your business?
I made direct contact with potential clients. Word-of-mouth referrals go a long way once you get some exposure in print along with favorable responses. I do almost no advertising in print, preferring self-promotion. I try to obtain new customers in several ways — by doing Internet searches, writing down publisher names from travel books/magazines in book stores, and checking visitor guides in hotels. Then I begin making contacts by phone and email. In my case, this is usually with the photo editor, publisher, or a person in marketing at a given publication. I tell them that I’m a professional freelance travel stock photographer, and I ask if they’d be willing to accept photo submissions of stock shots that I have of their city for future issues of their publication. I’d say that most of the time they are receptive to this, which is very encouraging and has helped my business to branch out into many directions by gradually building a larger customer base for repeat business.
What’s in the bag?
Lenses: Sigma 20-35mm 2.8, Nikkor 35-70mm 2.8, Nikkor ED 80-200 2.8, Nikkor ED 300mm 4.0
Filters: Hoya U/Vs (lens protection), Hoya neutral gray circular polarizers, Cokin series ‘P’ resin filters for effects
Flash: Nikon SB-28 (film camera); Nikon SB-800 (digital camera)
Tripod: Gitzo G1318 carbon-fiber (sturdy, smooth actions, lightweight) w/ Gitzo G1371 head
Misc. items: Mini voice recorder (for logging info on certain subjects), spare AA batteries, cable release, gray card, film retriever, and sunblock lotion!
What advice do you have for aspiring stock photographers?
First, the obvious (but necessary) points: Take several courses in photography and related subjects, attend a few photography workshops or seminars outside of the school setting, read instructional books for technical knowledge, browse through other photographers’ works for inspiration/motivation, and most of all — practice, practice, practice shooting on your own.
Secondly, buy a few books specifically about “Stock Photography” (how/what to shoot, what sells, available markets and agencies, etc.)
Be bold and experiment. Try new techniques and challenge yourself to shoot a familiar subject in a new way. The skills you bring to your stock shooting will not go unnoticed by those who dole out the dollars. It’s very rewarding to hear words of praise from clients about the beauty of your work, to have the freedom to choose subjects that appeal to YOU and that also sell. Be patient, be creative and have fun!
Copyright 2006 Andrew Hudson for Photo Tour Books, Inc. Written for PhotoSecrets. 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 Andrew Hudson for permission.