Building a stock photography portfolio and generating passive income can be one of the easiest ways a photographer can make money. However, creating a sizable portfolio that generates a worthwhile income month after month doesn't just happen overnight. Chances are you have already been shooting images suitable for stock without realizing it. With just a little planning and adjustment to how you see and approach assignments, you can turn your existing and future work into a growing stock catalog. Additionally, with stock sites like Adobe Stock built right into your Creative Cloud, submitting, tracking, and learning what sells is a relatively easy task.
When it comes to shooting stock photography, some photographers exclusively shoot stock, while others shoot assignments for clients that may generate stock opportunities. The latter seems to get lost on photographers looking to get into stock photography as a way to supplement their current work. I started getting into stock photography because the assignments I was working on consistently left me with a lot of unused content. These images, combined with personal work I did while traveling to and from jobs, left me with a large catalog of content that just ended up on my Instagram feed. Without setting out to do so, I unintentionally became a stock photographer. Unlike the traditional stock photographer who specifically shoots stock, my work had all been paid for upfront, saving me a lot of time and money. Additionally, new stock websites like Adobe Stock made getting my extra content onto the marketplace incredibly easy. Since the submission process is built into the programs I already use in my workflow, I was able to send in my extra content without expending a lot of additional effort.
These simple changes in how you shoot assignments will help you get started in stock photography.
Getting Stock From Assignments
When most people think of lifestyle images, brightly lit photos of attractive young models enjoying life to its fullest often come to mind. As a genre though, lifestyle really boils down to people in their everyday lives. With few exceptions, most photographers are already shooting lifestyle images in their assignment work. It doesn't matter if you shoot family portraits or exotic locations for big clients; all it takes to get extra stock images out of your assignments is a little extra planning and preparation.
If you are planning to go on an assignment with the intent of producing additional stock images, you will need to retain the necessary rights beforehand. Rights will vary from client to client, but if you take the time to build relationships and learn your clients' policies, you can approach your shoots with a plan to get extra images. For example, often, editorial clients don't have the budget for exclusive rights and also may not have sets that include branded product placements. These jobs make for great stock opportunities. In contrast, advertising campaigns often retain strict exclusive rights and want something produced on brand specifically for them. This doesn't mean you can't shoot additional stock content but it does require careful conversations and know-how to keep stock imagery generic enough so as not ruin your assignment work.
Whether on set, in the studio, or on location, there is always downtime. The bigger the crew and assortment of jobs is, the more time there is usually spent waiting. This wait time provides another opportunity to shoot extra images. When working with clients, I often try to over-produce a project and provide images that tell a bigger story, whether the client is looking for it or not. Sometimes, the client isn't interested in the extra shots I take. Other times, my initiative adds to the shoot concept that they hadn't thought of and leads to more work. Either option is a win for me as the first leads to extra images that can be used for stock and the second leads to an extra paycheck from the client.
During downtime on a shoot, I will grab a model, assistant, or occasionally even the client and start putting them in interesting scenarios, whether we're shooting in a bar, restaurant, hiking trail, or even on the sidewalk. Typically this gets a lot of laughs and can be fun for them while on set, which of course makes for even better lifestyle images. Using my assistants or makeup/wardrobe artist as my model makes getting the releases easier and also avoids any client product placement that the models might be wearing. If there are restrictions on what can be shot, I might just go around and shoot the location or any people that are casually in the area. I keep business cards and model releases on hand or on my phone. More often than not, just asking people for permission gets me a yes. When location-scouting, I often sketch out extra shot ideas in advance in case I have downtime. The more effort I put in before a photoshoot, the better the chance I have of getting extra content.
Types of Lifestyle Images
Chances are the type of photography assignments you are already shooting are full of stock images that you just never thought to shoot. The reality is that there is a massive market for lifestyle images that are made up of people of all types, ages, and activities. Once you start looking at your work with stock in mind, you’ll begin to see just how much potential you have been leaving on the floor.
Education and Family
Do you shoot mostly family portraits or senior photos? It's fairly simple to add a little extra time to a shoot and make arrangements with your subjects that allow you to do more with the images. Have students invite their friends to the shoot and offer some sort of group deal. You might be able to get more clients and sales while also creating fun interactions between friends for your stock catalog.
Do you shoot a lot of headshots? I will often talk a client into doing additional images in their offices, sometimes working with their staff or coworkers. This provides them with some flexible images for future uses and gives me some great stock content that would otherwise take a lot of work to set up.
The healthcare industry is massive and has a high demand for images. Few photographers have access to this field in their regular assignments, but if you do manage to find yourself with a related assignment, take full advantage of your surroundings. The majority of medical stock images I have shot were from editorial assignments I've gotten.
This is where the majority of my catalog falls into. It’s also a great place to get started for anyone who already enjoys some type of athletic activity. Lots of sports and recreational activities incorporate equipment, athletic clothing, and interesting locations in both urban and rural settings. This makes for a lot of stock potential, as there is always a demand for images showing people both watching and participating in these activities. When I shoot local surfers, I will often bring my own board and get shots of the surfers using my own gear as props in the foreground. Likewise, if I know I will be shooting in an area that might have good rock climbing, but my assignment may be for hiking, I will try to bring some of my climbing gear and get some shots of the gear with the model.
When traveling on assignment, I always spend my downtime shooting extra content. Previously, I wrote an article on how I shoot skylines everywhere I go. If I have friends or family in the area, I will convince them to be my models and take them out to touristy restaurants and sites. With lifestyle, anyone can be your model.
Lifestyle images can be taken in almost any field. Whether you're shooting healthy living, technology, generational living, culture, food, hunting, automotive, industry, etc., you can incorporate lifestyle shots into the work you're already doing. The list is endless. Anyone doing anything can be considered as a lifestyle stock image.
Submitting Images to Adobe Stock
One of the biggest advantages of using Adobe Stock is the ability to submit images directly through Creative Cloud apps like Lightroom and Bridge. A big part of the strategy talked about above is how to simply and affordably start creating stock content. By using Adobe Stock, I am able to minimize the submission time by using images within my preexisting workflow. I submit new images after each new shoot (depending on client restrictions) without having to create a separate time slot to do so.
Although the majority of my income comes from shooting assignments, I think any photographer could benefit by adding lifestyle images to the work they're already doing and building a stock catalog that will bring them additional income over time. It's not necessary to produce elaborate shoots to build your stock portfolio. Add to what you are already shooting, and you'll find yourself with a large stock portfolio in no time without a lot of added effort.