Your mom was right, when as a child, she warned you about talking to strangers. But as a professional outdoor photographer you should (with caution), talk to strangers who might be performing an outdoor activity that makes for good stock images.
I have come across many people engaged in outdoors activities that no doubt made for great stock images. These included rock climbers, fisherman, kayakers, bicyclists, and many others just enjoying the outdoors.
While they do their activity you should be snapping away and I usually snap a few and then stop and ask how they feel about being photographed. I usually do that when they see me take their picture. I never interrupt them and if I think the picture is so awesome I have to get a release I will wait until they are done or there is an opportunity to talk to them.
I usually say: “Hi, I saw you fishing and thought it made an awesome photo with you casting and the sun behind, so I snapped a few. Would you like to see them?”
If they do then show them and let them say “wow” or at least respond to what has you excited. At this time I say that I publish my work and have been in certain publications and tell them I‘d like their permission to see if I can get them on the cover of XXX magazine. Then I ask if they would sign a release and that I would send them a print if they did. I also say I will contact them if I license an image to a publication. I have found that is helpful in getting a release; your willingness to let them know about publication and I follow through. 90% of those I have asked say “no problem.”
If they don’t like the fact you took their picture before talking to them or don’t like what you show them and won’t sign a release, move on and don’t plan to put them in your photo files for sale. People who object to you taking their picture and won’t sign a release are the ones most likely to sue you if you licensed their picture for publication.
Model releases are required and even with the idea that you don’t need one for editorial usage you have to ask if it is worth the risk. Someone who agrees to sign your release will be happy to get published while someone who objects to you taking their picture and then you sell it anyway, even to an editorial market, might just sue no matter where the image was used.
Photographers have been sued and lost in editorial published images. Others have lost when they had a signed release and even if you don’t lose, how much did it cost you? Probably much more than the image earned.
I have captured some marketable images from talking to and photographing strangers outdoors and here are a few examples.
I was on assignment for the former America West Airlines, shooting the land and people of this island in Oregon, when I stopped to capture this combine in the rear harvesting the wheat. While shooting a truck drove up and a farmer climbed out and said the farmer version of “Wassup?”
I mentioned I was on assignment for a magazine and saw this beautiful scene and he essentially said “cool.” I talked to this total stranger for awhile, inquiring about his farm and such before asking him to pose for a shot. He agreed only if I waited for his wife who was driving the combine. He radioed her to come over for a picture and I positioned myself and shot away for about 3 minutes so I did not hold them up.
As I always do, I made them a print and mailed it to them. This started a relationship where I was invited back many times to photograph different crops, harvest, and farmer portraits. This image later was widely published and resulted in this handsome advertising use.
On one of those return visits to photograph corn harvest, the father of the farmer showed up and we talked for a few minutes before I asked him to pose. He grabbed this armful of corn and and gave me this wonderful pose and smile. This image also was successful in the markets.
Once upon a time I was repped by a wonderful stock photo agency called Adventure Photo & Film and they had called me knowing I was traveling around the country shooting about 50% of the time and asked me to go photograph Rainbow Falls near Devils Postpile in California. So I made a right turn and headed over there to hike and shoot it. Upon my arrival this guy was fishing and I was bummed. I needed a good, straight, nature image of the falls and I need to get the shot before the sun hit the front side of the falls. I was bummed!
But only for a minute or two before realizing I had a stock shot, so I pulled out the camera and started shooting and shot quite a few images and he knew I was photographing, but kept at it. His buddy was sitting on the bank and when I got the shots I wanted, I walked over to the buddy and struck up a conversation. In a little while the fisherman was done and walked over where I presented my spiel and he signed my release.I then shot the falls without any people in the image and just in time.
While teaching a workshop in Capitol Reef NP a few years ago, my workshop group had taken the front row at this overlook so this old cowboy climbed up on the rocks to see over us. It only took a minute to notice I I began shooting verticals and horizontals, zooming in and out, and when I was done I walked up and got his email and told him I would send some of the images and he was thrilled. When I sent the email I mentioned I publish my work and would he be interested in signing a release. No problem was the reply. The only problem is that my workshop group and co-instructor also shot the same images. This has no been in the market long enough to provide results.
This final image happened in Yellowstone while shooting scenery. I was really on the lookout for bison and elk in the fog but when I saw this guy I stopped and started shooting and after awhile he wondered what’s up and I told him. He signed my release and invited me to go fishing on his boat in Florida. Never made it down there unfortunately.
Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers! Keep in mind that in today’s markets, unique imagery is what sells and if you can capture a marketable image with your cost being only a print, it would be nuts not to do that.
If you have ideas, suggestions, or an opinion, please leave a comment.