The most successful Licensing Contributors on 500px have hundreds of images in their portfolios, and they add 25 to 50 more photos each week. They track trends, challenge themselves to try new things, and make time to shoot seasonal content throughout the year. Most importantly, however, they make the most of every shoot.
The secret is this: If you have one shoot scheduled for the week, find ways to turn that single session into three. With just a few hours and a limited budget, you can create hundreds of marketable photos—without too many “similars” that have to be cut from your final edit. Here are our top tips for optimizing your shoots, diversifying your portfolio, and boosting your profitability.
Choose versatile locations
When scouting spots for shoots, keep an eye out for places that pose several opportunities. A house with a well-lit living room, kitchen, and dining room, for instance, gives you more freedom than a single-room photo studio. Similarly, a city park with a playground, a fountain, a hiking trail, colorful walls, and an open-air dining space will produce more images than one that offers just one or two of those.
Look for locations that do double or triple duty. Find places where you can stage several concepts within a single afternoon with friends, whether it’s a home with different kinds of rooms or a neighborhood with plenty of unique spots. If you’re shooting on private property, you need a signed property release, so connect with friends and neighbors to see if anyone has a multipurpose space you can use.
Try a few “takes”
When it comes to lifestyle photos, it can help to do multiple takes of the same activity. For example, if you’re shooting a cooking concept, try asking your model to repeat certain steps in the kitchen. If you’re photographing an athlete, they can demonstrate the same move more than once. Whatever the idea, give your models clear direction and encouragement, and let them try it several times.
This approach works well for two reasons; first, it gives your model the chance to relax into the shoot. Even if they’re stiff the first time, the more they do it, the more natural it’ll look on camera. Secondly, it allows you to capture tons of different images, from a variety of perspectives and compositions. If the first time you worked at the model’s eye level, you can shoot from above or below during subsequent takes.
Take some time before the shoot to go over the concept with your models; ask for their input, as they might have ideas you overlooked. Inviting collaboration and taking time to get to know your models before you even take out your camera will result in more variety and spontaneity throughout the shoot.
Keep your camera out
Once you get into the swing of things, look out for those candid, unscripted moments that bring a shoot to life. If you’re on a lunch break or packing up for the day, keep your camera out just in case; the most powerful photo of the day could be the least expected. Cover everything on your shot list, but also leave room for surprises.
As the session progresses, your models will forget about the camera, and their personalities will shine through; make sure you’re there and ready when that happens. Even behind-the-scenes shots you might otherwise overlook are worth capturing, as brands crave depictions of relatable, everyday “micro-moments” that resonate with their customers.
Mix up your models
One mistake that photographers can make when working with large groups is focusing solely on the group. If you’ve organized a photoshoot with family in the backyard, you can photograph everyone together, and then you can photograph people individually. Within a single session, you can produce intimate portraits, festive group shots, and everything in between.
Think about the various ways you can pair people together; for instance, by photographing a mother and child, you’ll tell a different story than you would by photographing two siblings. Using these combinations to your advantage can help you make the most of even a short at-home photo session. The same activity or scenario can appeal to a variety of clients depending on the people you’re photographing.
Bringing plenty of props is another way to mix up your photoshoots. Before your session, do some research on trending topics, and see if they spark any ideas about styling or props. “By bringing in props that represent larger commercial themes—like reusable water bottles or straws to represent sustainability—you can change the context and story of a photo,” the 500px Content Team tells us. Great props help inspire new ideas, so keep them on hand throughout the session, and invite your models to bring their own as well.
The props don’t have to be the main subject of all your photos; you can focus on them in some frames and then incorporate them more subtly in others to support a larger narrative. In addition to props, ask your models to bring a few wardrobe changes; simply by mixing up the outfits, you can capture content relating to different themes, like relaxing at home with family or having lunch with friends.
Change the context
“You can easily change the context and messaging of a photo with simple tweaks, cropping, and framing,” the Content Team elaborates. A close-up portrait of a couple has different applications than a wide shot of the same couple in a vast landscape; similarly, a full-body shot of someone getting dressed for work will have a different meaning than a tight crop of hands tying shoelaces. A food shoot can include environmental portraits of people cooking as well as detail shots of hands plating the final dish.
What you choose to include in your photos will determine how they’re used by buyers. The more variety you can offer, the more freedom you give the client, so bring multiple lenses, shoot with various depths of field, and try different crops. Experiment with your camera settings, and incorporate some technical tricks. Shift your focus from the subject to the foreground and back again.
Finally, don’t underestimate the value of moving around. Find a high vantage point, or bend down; get closer to your models, and then take a step back. A simple shift in position can instantly change your perspective.
When boosting the volume of photos you take on any given shoot, remember that variety is the name of the game. “While capturing as many photos as possible is a great goal for building up a commercial photography portfolio, always be aware that photos will be declined if they are too similar to other photos from that shoot,” the Content Team tells us. “If the photos look nearly identical, only the best one will be accepted into Licensing.” There’s no ceiling on how many photos you can submit—just make sure they’re all unique.
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