How to put People in your Stock Photos

In a recent post, Looking for stock photos? Here’s how to take your own, I listed the Four Basic Elements of Stock photography:


1 Background


2 People (Model/S)


3 Subject


4 Involvement


I covered Background in How to create the right stock photo background.


Now this where you will learn how to use people in your stock photography.


First up – the Model


How to put people in your stock photos

There are many innovative ways to use models you may not have thought of.


You’ve got your background ready or least you have an idea what background you are going to use.


The next step is to choose the model/s you are going to use.


Now if you have a big budget you can elect to use actual professional models but I’m going to assume that you are not on a big budget.

So, who do you choose?

Well that depends on what you are going to represent in your image.


Models can be anyone and from any walk of life. They could be neighbours, relatives, celebrities (if you know any well), schoolteachers, lifeguards, police officers, children, (be careful of this one, there are some paranoid parents out there) or just strangers in the street.

So let’s say you have an DIY product, then have a think of who you your audience is.

After all if it’s no good selecting someone they can’t relate to. Especially if they look like the sort of person who wouldn’t know how to spell DIY let alone do it .


We have a hardware chain, Bunnings, that always has its store staff on TV spruiking their general principles.

They are all middle aged or older because that’s the demographic that’s more likely to be involved in DIY.

But the other demographic they aim for is the younger crowd who may feel much better getting advice from someone with experience.


One thing you should ensure, is that whoever you select is interesting looking and appealing.

By all means if you can get a beautiful looking model go for it but that’s not necessary.




How to put people in your stock photos

Positioning under an ad as well as showing activity


Once you have your model you need to manoeuvre them in such a way that they are doing what you want.

You do not want posed portraits.

Generally speaking, you want to depict a snapshot in the life of someone using your product or service or representing your company.


Most of us find watching people doing something is more entertaining (hence all those the fitness videos on YouTube)




Now is the time to think about where they are in relation to the background.

Are they in the way of something you want depicted? Do they have something ‘growing out of thier head’?

Try different angles before clicking that shutter button.

Or take a few snapshots with your phone and see if any of them work for you.




Lighting is the next element to be aware of. Watch out for shadows across the face or over a part of the body that’s showing the product.

If you are using natural light and the sun is overhead, watch out for blown out highlights or very dark, almost black shadows.

Don’t get me wrong, you can use both blown out highlights and blacks quite effectively sometimes but more often than not you don’t want them.

If you are using artificial light then watch for shiny skin.


If you are using a flash try to tone it down a bit.

There are so many images out there that give the impression that of a deer in headlights because the flash is too powerful.

A better way is to use fixed lighting.

That can be from the lights you already have in the room or space through to specialist lighting products.




How to put people in your stock photos

At one of London’s famous markets, Borough Markets where this girl seems to be enjoying handing out samples.


Now the important bit activity.

There is nothing more boring than having an image that shows someone doing nothing.

We, as humans like seeing what people are doing.

I once heard a quote from unknown source “Watching other humans was probably the first form of entertainment for early man”

And as a business you want the viewer to see what your models are doing.

The trick is to show it in a way that stands out.

One way is to show that they are engrossed in the activity or product for example.

As an example, take a look at car advertising.

Sure, a lot of their images are of cars but look closely and they nearly all have people in them.

They might be driving, or looking longingly at the car.

Some images have people walking past the car (or the car driving past them). 

They have a couple on vacation with the car in the frame.

They might be at the beach or at a café.

They do that so that you can relate in some way.

And it works.

Does it make people want to rush out and buy a car?

Probably not, but it does cement the brand in the sub conscious and when they are ready to buy a car that business can be front of mind.

Or, when they are buying and they see these images the contact that they have made could pull them in that direction.


Model releases


Now for the fine print!

Model releases.

Do you need them?

If you are advertising, yes.

If you are using the model to depict an idea such as an editorial piece on your blog. Maybe not.

But my advice get one anyway and you’re covered.

So, what is a model release?

A basic definition is that it’s a written and signed agreement between you and the person you are photographing.

This agreement gives you as the photographer the right to photograph the model and use the subsequent image for the purpose you have stipulated.


I’ll go into this in more detail in a future post so subscribe below and get notified when it gets published.


So, to finish off let’s take a moment to revise the main points again:


We talked about 6 basic principle in using people for your stock photography


1 Choosing people


Models don’t need to be “models’ they can come from any walk of life


2 Positioning people


Avoid taking photos that are obviously staged


3 Background


Tweak your background, assuming that you have already chosen it, to suit the model


4 Lighting


Be careful about lighting. Ensure that there are no ‘blown out’ highlights or very dark shadows


5 Activity


Remember humans are much more interested in other humans being active.


6 Model release


Make it simple, get a model release for all your models.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if you sexy aunt or uncle need to fill one out.


Assuming you have read the whole article as you have got down this far I’d like to thank you for reading it.


And now that you have got this far, keep going and subscribe to my newsletter where you will get info not necessarily found elsewhere. I’ll even give a guide for your trouble.


You can share your portraits and questions in the comments below. Just leave your ego at the keyboard.


African shoestrings – Malawi Day One Hundred and Two Blantyre

An hour later we got our bags and decided that enough was enough, it was time to jump ship! We had already learnt that the Bus Company in an amazing piece of logic had decided to fix the clutch by sacking the bus driver and a replacement driver had already miraculously arrived. This was the last straw and with the other two we cleared immigration and customs and walked into Malawi.

A minibus heading for Blantyre was waiting down the road. After the usual fare negotiations and once again watching our bags being loaded onto the roof, we got going and apart from being tightly packed in and being stopped by the police, we had an uneventful two-hour journey.

The police in Malawi have quite a number of roadblocks. We were told that they were looking for drugs, guns and illegal immigrants but in this case they weren’t exactly pedantic choosing only to talk to the driver and have a quick look at the bags on the roof.

The bus dropped us off at the very pleasant Doogles Backpacker hostel, which as it happens was next door to the bus station, a place we would have to brave if we were to follow our plan. We were shell shocked and tired and all we could think about was how the hell were we going to face another bus ride again.

In fact so frazzled were we that we spent most of that day looking at alternatives.
And guess what? There weren’t any! We went to the British Airways office and got a price for a flight to Dar es Salaam. At US$195.00 each it was out of the question although such was our reluctance to catch another bus that we were tempted. But realising that we were not in the right frame of mind to make that decision we wisely decided to stay the night at Doogles and worry about it tomorrow.

Blantyre itself is one of these colourful and vibrant African towns and although we should have been in Lilongwe some 250 kilometres north, we still enjoyed its feel. The buildings were as usual rundown and dilapidated, the streets were dusty and dirty but the people were happy and smiling and seemed to spend their days in and around the many food stalls and street vendors that thronged the streets. There was a sort of musical beat about the place, as if everyone was listening to it and swaying as they went about their business.
How could these people be so happy when they have to travel on such appalling transport? Don’t they realise how stressed out we were? What right did they have to be happy and smiling when we had to brave death to move on?
As you can see we were becoming paranoid. Our paranoia subsided somewhat as we too began to feel the imaginary beat of Blantyre and then spent the evening back at Doogles watching the Aussies play India in one of the world cup cricket games.

Malawi is without doubt a beautiful country and despite our experiences on the bus has a warm, friendly and happy population. But like Mozambique, Lesotho and Zambia it’s poor. That night we met Martha an Irish nurse who had come to Malawi 10 years ago for a two year stint as a voluntary AIDS education worker. After that she had stayed on and was one of the people responsible for managing the AIDS education program for the whole country. I was touched by her willingness to give up her own life to help the people of Malawi, a task that seemed to me to be almost a lost cause.

As she said “These people are not worried about a disease that will eventually kill them in 10-15 years. They are more worried about how they can put food on the table now!”

Malawi like most of its ex colonial neighbours has a lot of growing pains since independence and has only recently become a democracy. An increasing number of the Malawi’s population doesn’t think that this has improved their lot. Dr. Banda was Malawi’s first President and held office as a dictator for 34 years and whilst freedom of speech and other common liberties that we take for granted were missing, generally the standard of living was better than it is today. As we were told; freedom of speech doesn’t put food on the table. With its main source of income being tobacco the government is hoping that tourism will bolster its ailing economy. From what we had seen and were later to see, it’s got a long way to go.

After a good night’s sleep everything looked better especially after everyone assured us that we had just unlucky and so we bought reserved seats for the bus to Mzuzu some 600 kilometres north. We had realised that time was getting away from us and Malawi was going to be the casualty. We had a little over two weeks to get to Dar es Salaam to catch our flight to London. In that time we had at least another three days of travel and wanted to spend at least five days on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Dar. So a lot of what we had planned to see in Malawi was not going to happen especially as we had effectively lost a day and half and around 250 kilometres thanks to the bus ride from hell number one.

Our new plan therefore was to get to Nkhata Bay, a small town on the edge of Lake Malawi, chill out for a couple of days and then continue on to Dar. To get to Nkhata Bay we had to go via Mzuzu and pick up a local bus there.


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The main street in Blantyre, Malawi

The main street in Blantyre, Malawi