Too often photographers reside in their own little bubbles. The have their influences, their favorite photographers, the blogs they regularly check out and rarely venture out of their comfort zones. There’s nothing wrong with sticking with what you know, but it’s worthwhile to sometimes take stock of what you’re letting seep into your brain. Looking to other sources for inspiration on what to shoot, especially if you’re a commercial photographer, can be beneficial to your career. To help in your quest to level up, I created this list of five places every photographer should look for inspiration.
While participating in the panel “The Changing World of Stock Photography” at PDN’s 2015 PhotoPlus Expo, one of the questions that came up during the panel had to do with where photographers should find out what they should shoot. Since the Internet provides an endless source of inspiration and information—a blessing and a curse—it can be hard for commercial photographers to know where to go for quality inspiration.
My fellow panelists, Sarah Fix, President of DMLA; Keren Sachs, Director of Content Development at Shutterstock; Amy Steigbigel, VP of Acquisitions for Gallery Stock; and Cameron Whitman, Content Manager at Stocksy United all had superb advice that ranged from taking a look at the advertising campaigns around you to paying attention to other photographers’ work. That discussion served as the inspiration for this blog post (how very meta).
No matter what, you have to be aware of what’s happening in the world today. Too often I see photographers trying to sell images that are clearly from another era—think old mobile devices, out-dated fashion, etc.—through their portfolios. Not only is it nearly impossible to sell these images, it also makes you look like you’re not keeping up with the times. With that said, there’s a lot you can learn as a photographer from simply paying attention to a few things.
The Advertising World
At the end of the day, this is who you’re selling your work to. Advertisers, agencies, and brands are the ones looking to license your work, so it’s a good idea to keep your finger on the button when it comes to their tastes. Pay attention to sites like AdvertisingAge and AdWeek. Check out the campaigns and creatives taking home Cannes Lions. Go to a newsstand or your local magazine shop and flip through every magazine you can get your hands on (better yet, subscribe to several). Pay attention to what types of photos advertisers are using for their campaigns. Lürzer’s Archive is also great for this. If you want to go a step further, use Pinterest or Tumblr to keep ideaboards of themes you come across.
In constantly tracking what types of images are being used in ad campaigns, you’re reminding yourself of what clients are actually buying, as opposed to just what looks cool on Instagram.
Other Photographers’ Work
Avoid the desire to remain in your own echo chamber, solely looking at and scrutinizing your own work ad nauseam. That’d be like musicians only listening to their own music all the time. While it’s good to have favorite photographers and claim old masters and fine art stalwarts as your influences, I challenge you to turn to your peers or other photographers who might be slightly more successful than you. Take a page from the book of a photographer that’s getting gigs and licensing work. See who she’s shooting for, what her style is, and maybe reach out for advice.
If you need a good resource to turn to, ImageBrief’s photographer search is a great resource to find other photographers based on what they shoot or who they’ve shot for. You can even add them to your network and follow their careers. You should also follow your fellow photographers on Tumblr or Instagram to help build your community and network.
Branding and Brands
While fine art photographers might turn to galleries and photobooks for inspiration, commercial photographers should turn to brands. I know, weird analogy. Hear me out though. If you aspire to shoot for a particular brand, you need to know what they’re all about. Take a walk around your house or apartment, look in your closet, your pantry, your refrigerator. What are some of the products you use the most? Now take the time to follow these brands on social media, check out their websites and what content they have on their blogs. What kinds of images are they using? When you start paying attention to their style, you can start thinking how to build your portfolio to fit their aesthetic. You can even take it one step further and find out what photographers shoot for these brands if you do a little digging.
The photography market is changing thanks to social media and the consumption of media in general. Because of this shift, there’s never been a higher demand to produce a constant stream of images. With brands and agencies needing to consistently publish content that includes images, they’re always looking to hire new photographers. If you can plug into what they’re looking for, you’re one step ahead of the game.
Tastes of Art Directors
You can think of creative directors and art directors as the gatekeepers and tastemakers of nearly every advertising campaign or magazine. Want to find out what they like and get inside their heads? Find out who the art and creative directors are at your favorite magazine or agency and follow them on Instagram or see if they have a blog. Another great resource to check out is ADC.
ImageBrief What’s Selling Collection
When it comes down to it, a great majority of commercial photography buyers (especially on ImageBrief) are looking for images that will have an emotional impact. According to the Harvard Business Review, connecting with customers’ emotions is top of mind for brands. On ImageBrief, the most popular style of images are the ones that make the viewer feel like they’re in the moment. Want to see what’s being licensed? Bookmark our What’s Selling collection. We regularly update the collection with images that are licensed on the site through briefs and the Marketplace.
Where do you look for inspiration? Let us know in the comments.