Reading the Writing on the Wall: Sign Photography and Selling Stock – Tuts+ Premium
We have another Photo Premium tutorial exclusively available to Premium members today. In this tutorial, we’ll examine sign photography and its possibilities as stock imagery. Learn more after the jump!
Photographing signs, signposts or signboards can be an interesting and rewarding experience. It’s a kind of still life photography that’s done outdoors most of the time under natural lighting conditions. It’s a kind of documentary photography where powerful messages can be conveyed for a number of purposes. There are no props, no light stands and softboxes, no tripods to be set up: it just you and the camera capturing a found still life object.
What’s the purpose?
Okay, so you may wonder why you should be photographing a normal signpost. Maybe I should clarify what I mean by sign photography. It means photographing not only signposts, but any signage, any poster or graffiti or a notice, any writing on the wall. It can be the message written on a T-shirt that you saw in a tourist shop in Bali or it can be the funny message written on the back of a parked car. This can be as simple as the head-on shot of a danger sign in a power substation, or it can be as creative as a unique shop sign that you happened to discover.
Photo by slightlywinded
There is whole range of usage for these kinds of images. Advertisements, news stories, articles, book covers are to name just a few. As “concept photographs,” sign images are also accepted in stock photo agencies. Here is a photo I took in South Australia during our honeymoon. This has been a top seller in one of the stock photo sites where I contribute.
A simpler form of photography
There are some inherent advantages when you are photographing a still life like a signboard. Photographing still life is done mostly in studio environments where you have the option of changing, modifying or enhancing lighting conditions until you are satisfied. That’s not the case when you are photographing a signpost or a notice: most of the time you are shooting outdoors.
Although you are at the mercy of the weather or how the sunlight is falling on your subject, in a sense it frees you up so you can concentrate more on the compositional side of things. And best of all, your subject is not moving, nor is it going away, nor will it be any different the next day. So if you cannot get the shot you would like to have, you can always come back the next day.
Having said this, you may also be shooting indoors sometimes and that’s when you may have to use extra lighting equipments like a flash or a reflector. It will be highly unlikely that you will be commissioned to do a sign photography, so most of the time your lighting equipment will have to be minimal.
Finally, you may not have to think about the perfection of your subject either. For product shoots, the object has to be clean of any dents, scratches, smudges or fingerprints. Not so much when you are photographing signage. In fact your sign or notice can be written on a rusty metallic surface with countless scratch marks and you still do not have to spend hours working in Photoshop fixing those.
As with any other form documentary photography, it’s what your images says or used to say that is important.
What to look for
Signage photography should convey a powerful message and/or a message that’s generic enough to be used time and again for different purposes.
Street signs or directional signs can be a good example of that. Consider the following two images. The inherent messages of both are similar: a prohibition, saying “no”.
Photo by Johnny Jet
It does not have to be a street sign always. I shot the following image a few metres away from a taxi stand using a 300 mm focal length. Think of the ways this can be used: a news story on taxi drivers’ working hours? The cover for a handbook from the transport company that will be distributed to taxi drivers?
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