Capturing authentic stock photography images is more than just having the right model and the right environment. It’s having the experience of shooting a diverse set of imagery that sets a portfolio apart from the rest. Meet Gabriel, the Shutterstock photographer behind Mentatdgt. Based in Singapore, Gabriel is a pro at capturing authentic stock images that sell.
On Shutterstock, authentic stock photography is something we constantly want to see from our contributors. Images of people in real life moments, captured as though you were part of the moment. These are the moments that customers on Shutterstock love to purchase and use for their marketing purposes. And these are the images that can earn you money as a Shutterstock contributor.
We wanted to hear more from this creative artist on how he manages to shoot authentic stock images that earn him money on Shutterstock. Digging a bit into his creative process, we got a sneak peek at some of his best tips and how he got started shooting stock photography.
Here are a few words with Gabriel of Mentadgt on capturing authentic stock photography images that sell.
Shooting Authentic Stock Photography Images
with Shutterstock Contributor Mentadgt
Tell us a little about yourself, Gabriel.
I’m a portrait photographer based in Singapore, Asia. As a photographer, I focus exclusively on portraits and have been doing so for the last 16+ years.
What got you interested in photography?
I was gifted a LOMO LCA when I was a freshman in university. It is a small 28mm point and shoot film camera that had the most basic controls. LOMO encouraged photographers to “shoot from the hip” and to experiment, to embrace perfection. This was very influential on me because it set me on a path to focus on developing a “photographer’s eye” for photographs rather than get caught up in the technical details of photography which can be intimidating and limiting to a young photographer.
The other major influence is movies. I watched thousands of movies as a young man and friends called me the “walking IMDB.” At twenty-five frames per second, and an average movie running ninety mins, you have seen a million photographs composed by master videographers every time you watch five to seven movies. As such, movies are a teacher to me. I osmosed this at first, and eventually started paying more attention analyzing scenes that I liked visually and those that bothered me, and why.
What a process. And how does living in Singapore influence your photography?
Singapore is a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. 5.5 million people crammed into small city that takes forty minutes to drive from one end to the other on the long side.
We can only imagine. What got you started shooting stock?
I stayed away from stock for many years because my impression of stock were of very contrived and obviously posed portraits when it came to people shots. I’ve since changed my mind.
The rise of smartphones, social media and mobile photography, and cheaper digital cameras makes photography so much more accessible and I believe with that, a demand for more candid, authentic, and real photography.
How did you get started as a contributor with Shutterstock?
I was working in a startup at the start of 2018 and I’m a believer in the startup ethos to run small and quick experiments. So I decided to test my hypothesis that my style of authentic portraits would be in demand. Then, I invested 2 hours and met a med school student friend and model who agreed to be my subject and shot, edited and uploaded fifty photographs onto Shutterstock. I have not really slowed down or stopped since. Now, I have 13,000+ photos on Shutterstock.
Wow! That’s a lot of images. If a customer looks at your profile, what can they expect to find?
Authentic portraits of real people in everyday settings and scenes. I do not insist on shooting unfairly photogenic professional models. Expect rich colors, arresting eyes, and genuine smiles.
Amazing. We love your work showcasing real moments in stock. How do you capture authentic stock photography images?
Conversation. A core part of my method is not distancing myself from my subject but taking an active interest in him or her. I am naturally curious and so I ask about what they’re passionate about, and invite them to share their stories.
I like to learn what I can about them and push them down paths to talk about what they care about. When I bring multiple subjects together, I curate the list carefully to put people I think will get along great with each other and just take portraits of their interactions.
How do you create a comfortable shoot location for the people you work with on-set?
I don’t shoot very much in the studio but venture out to cafes, restaurants, alleys, tunnels, bridges, and everywhere in-between. People can often be shy about taking photos where there might be amused passersby streaming around them, but it helps when I keep them engaged by talking to them and not showing a hint of embarrassment. When they realize the photographer is not in the least bothered by the crowds, they start being less concerned by it and focus on the conversation.
That sounds like an amazing process. Diversity is a massive topic in stock photography right now. How important is diversity to your Shutterstock portfolio?
I have done A/B tests for various model ethnicities and cultures, both alone and in a mix. Diversity is very important although it is not always easy to curate. One of my most successful series is of a diverse group of young people of varying ethnicities in an office setting having meetings and chatting with one another.
Sounds like a beautiful set. And what does authentic stock photography mean to you?
Authentic stock portraits are the ones where my subjects enjoyed the process of taking, and not just the end result. I don’t work with professional models often so this is key. This relaxed candidness can’t be hidden and really comes across in the photographs.
Right. So how do you get your models to portray real moments and real emotions on set?
Ice breakers help. I research jokes (and learn new ones from my subjects), the type that are so ridiculous they’re actually good. What’s great about these types of jokes is that you demonstrate that you don’t take yourself seriously and goes a long way to setting the stage for more relaxed conversation from then on.
I then ask questions, let them speak their mind and ask well-timed questions to keep them talking, taking photos the entire time.
Do you always shoot with models, or do you also shoot with friends?
I appreciate anyone offering their time to be a stock subject. I shoot a wide range of subjects from close friends to professional models. To date, my stock portraits include a chef and her dog, a management consultant, a gym-loving pharmacist, and a speech therapist. They each bring something so unique in their looks, passions, and stories.
While not every individual sells well on stock, I find myself deeply satisfied that I got to meet someone new and interesting.
Do you have any tips for beginning photographers looking to shoot lifestyle photography?
Don’t be discouraged. Sales might be slow at the start, but keep at it.
A very established stock photographer told me to just give up on lifestyle because it’s so competitive, that I was ten years too late. I only made $10 in the first month I experimented with stock and I almost gave up, but I let the intangible draws of shooting stock sustain me (meeting new people) and I think I’m decently successful now.
We’d have to agree! Is there a favorite real moment that you like to capture in stock photography?
Yes, when I glimpse real, raw emotion. I don’t always get to see the full gamut of it since it depends on the flow of the conversation and their comfort with me, but I love it when I see these flashes of unbridled mirth, anger, sorrow, or any other emotion they share with me. Many of my subjects have gone on to shoot many times with me and most of them are now close friends.
What an amazing feeling. So when you create authentic stock photography images, how do you create creative yet generic images that can be used by different customers?
This isn’t too challenging for me because I focus on portraits. We all share the same emotions, emotions that marketers and other users of stock photos want to convey in their marketing and presentations. You just have to have a good eye for framing (e.g. making sure there’s negative space for text, harmonious framing) and details.
And it seems like you have that eye! Do you work with a team or individually?
I’ve shot solo for a year now. I’ve recently started working with an assistant who also doubles up as a model for some of my shoots. He brings so much to the shoot because he’s just so likable and I sometimes get him to talk to the subject and amuse them, often with amusing results.
Sounds like the perfect partner. What does a typical shoot day look like when you shoot for stock?
There isn’t a typical day. I don’t plan a shoot down to the smallest details and I don’t build sets like some of my peers do. I’m resourceful in walking around and looking for great settings and I place my subjects in it and talk to them. What I do plan for is enjoyable conversation.
Do you have any other genres that you like to shoot?
People fascinate me the most, so a related genre that I would love to shoot would still be portraits, but with a more photojournalistic slant. I’d like to travel more, meet more new people and take their portraits in their natural setting.
Amazing. What are your goals for the year ahead?
I want to do more group shots featuring all types of diversity beyond just ethnic diversity. I’d like to travel more and take my stock out into the world. In short, I’d like to continue meeting new and interesting people while keeping in touch with all my existing stock model friends.
Thank you to Gabriel of Mentatdgt for the thoughtful interview on capturing authentic stock images, and his creative process and experience so far. We can’t wait to see what the photographer has in store for us next.