stock photography

How To Make Photographs that Sell - Just Do It!

Most of us create images that we like and we hope other's like too. When we share a photograph on facebook, we often get a dozen “likes” and a few comments like, “I love it,” “you really have an eye,” “you have a gift,” these are all common and rewarding to artists, but how do you create images that sell? The answer for me is, you just do it. . .  Let me explain.

Your photographs have to speak to people. By speak to them I mean they should help them have an experience, or feel something special in their heart or mind when they view it. The image must draw them into the scene, and cause them to think deeper. Over the past decade of producing wildlife, landscape, and outdoor commercial images for the travel and tourism industry, the outdoor commercial products industry, and editorial sector, I’ve learned something about what makes a salable photograph. But how did I create them?

My most successful images, and by success I mean in sales, have come about when I just let it all hang out.  When I’m in the field, I’m exploring with my mind and soul. I find that I create the most compelling images when my purpose is to learn. Sure, I create images while on assignment, in which case there is always a theme or subject and therefore I have to create images that capture the essence of the project, but I find that I do my best work when I’m in my “zone.”  When I’m just “freelancing” the environment around me. Whether I’m on an assignment in the middle of a rugged landscape shooting commercial products, or whether I'm shooting landscapes, or wildlife for my stock library, my best images come when my mind is clear and I’m exploring.

The key to exploring is to be open minded while still having purpose (I know this sounds like an oxymoron but it's essential). My purpose is to learn more about the land and the people and critters who use it. I explore and learn first, then create images that I believe are compelling. I look for those places that have elements needed for a compelling photograph then I learn as much about the place as I can. It’s like hunting, you have to look, listen, smell, and most of all, pay attention. You have to be in tune with the place and to do that, your mind has to be free. You must be able to ignore the “noise” and focus on the subject.

Here’s an example. This image is pasted across the nation in magazines, on the sides of buses, elevator doors, billboards, skylights, and even entire store fronts in major cities like Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle. It is being used to brand the state of Montana and it's the cover of the 2012 Montana Guide.

Photograph of glacier national park on bus downtown Chicago.


To me it’s a magical image. I captured it while I was exploring a place I've been to 100 times!  But my mind was open and clear and my purpose was to expose an image that could be used to show people the beauty of a place I cherish.  I did not go there thinking, "I must come home with a great photograph." Instead I went out thinking, "I want to really see what's here." Sounds a little philosophical I know, but give it a try.

[photoshelter-img width='420' height='320' i_id='I0000ppWBDPczu0I' buy='1']So the answer to how to create images that sell is, you dig deep, but not too deep, push hard, but not too hard, be aware and focused but not so focused that you ignore the big picture, and remember, keep your mind open, explore, and just do it. If you have questions or comments please share them!  I'd love to get your feedback.