Concepts and Catchphrases – How to approach your photography through the eyes of an Art Buyer

Whoever coined the phrase “a picture’s worth a thousand words” could very well have been a successful stock photographer.

While the advent of digital photography has created endless possibilities in the creative process, it has also made the world of professional photography accessible to more people than ever before. So how do you “stand out from the crowd” to Art Buyers in an industry that literally houses millions of images in every imaginable subject area? Make sure your pictures say a thousand words.


Poppy and Blue Sky Jigsaw pattern Odd one out?

Above are examples of images that clearly illustrate the catchphrase “standing out from the crowd” using a wide variety of subjects. © Downart, Gautier, Yuri_Arcurs

Whether you specialize in shooting lifestyle, travel, landscape, food, industry, still life, business, (or any combination of the above), your images could be appropriate for unlimited commercial and editorial applications if they clearly illustrate a strong concept or catchphrase. And the more universal the concept, the better: Crestock licenses images to clients in practically every country in the world.

Selecting your subject matter is only the first step in a process that involves a number of simultaneous decisions. With increased experience, the technical aspect of executing a high quality image becomes intuitive to a photographer. From lighting a scene, to selecting a lens, to framing your subject, there’s no question that executing a commercial photo shoot is a delicate “balancing act”.


Young woman doing yoga Red on top Balance

Above are examples of images that illustrate the concept of “balance”. © rocketclips, styf22, silence

However, in order to maximize the return on your investment of time and money, technical excellence is not always enough. Even the most beautifully lit, well-styled image has diminished value if it doesn’t tell a story. A technically perfect product shot of an isolated item on a white background could certainly fit the bill for many educational or editorial purposes, but these images are much less likely to sell repeatedly. And in the world of microstock, volume is the name of the game.

Simple portraits and still life images fulfill a limited and specific niche, and the competition within these categories is extraordinary. If you are shooting images that are easy to execute, you can be sure that thousands of other people are doing that too.

A scenic or travel image taken at high noon in July may depict a specific location in the literal sense, but does it say “leisure”, or “the road less traveled”? Would a financial planner put your picture of a beach on the cover of their retirement savings brochure to illustrate “financial freedom”? If the image looks like a snapshot, then it will be ignored by commercial clients.

But, by setting your alarm clock for 5:00 am, walking to the beach and waiting for the perfect light, your image of that very same beach will suddenly have the reach to fit a myriad of conceptual image searches and increase your downloads exponentially. A beach is more than just a beach when it sings “the dawning of a new day”, “golden years”, “the finer things in life”, or “paradise”. It becomes less about the specific geographical location and more about selling a lifestyle.


Santa Monica Beach Palms Footprints on sand beach

Plan outdoor shooting for the appropriate weather conditions and the optimal times of day. And whatever you do, don’t leave your tripod at home! Professional photography requires time, patience, and the proper tools of the trade. No one said it would be easy, but the improvement in your results will be staggering. © passigatti, Mik122

Many popular concepts and catchphrases are overused in the world of advertising, but the ways in which they can be visually illustrated are infinite.


Sleeping baby girl Clear sky over the fence German shepard background

So what do a photo of a baby sucking its thumb, a fence, and a German Shepard dog have in common? “Security”. © bb_doll, 1alias, tiero


Fashion Show A waiter filled champagne glasses Chocolate

Fashion models, a box of chocolates, and glasses of champagne all share the idea of “luxury”.
© ginaellen, Farina3000, Lukrecja


Working together Network Server room Spider on web covered by water drops

Paper dolls, a computer server and a spider’s web can all say “network”. © kabby, improvise, radhoose

Below is a comprehensive list of buzzwords commonly seen in advertising to inspire you on your next shoot. So now it’s time to start “thinking outside of the box”!


Drawing organization chart Nonconformist Dude Jumping Goldfish

“Thinking outside the box” © sidewaysdesign, JSlavy, altaykaya

Concepts and Buzzwords

Allison Hobbs

Allison Hobbs has over 12 years of experience in the stock photography business as both an Editor and Art Director. She has considerable experience producing, casting, styling and art directing large budget stock shoots locally and abroad. Allison also has a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in still photography from Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto (1998) and is a talented photographer. She contributes to several microstock agencies in her spare time – so she understands a photographer’s perspective very well.