The story of a best seller

Photographer, Camera - Photographic Equipment, Digital Camera, Adult, Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera

You never know when you’re going to capture a best-selling image. That’s the fun of stock photography. You can just be going along, living your life, when all of a sudden, a perfect opportunity pops up.

That’s exactly what happened to stock photographer Danny Warren. I hope that reading his story below inspires you to keep your camera close and always be ready to seize those photo worthy moments!

My Best-Selling Stock Photo

By Danny Warren, Stock Photographer

We looked hard at the weather forecast. Could be better, but given it was November on the rainy Oregon Coast, it could be a lot worse. My in-laws were visiting from the prairies of Canada and we had spent most of our weekend cooped up in our cabin. We had taken short trips to walk on the beach and to visit lighthouses, but we were itching to get out on a longer hike.

I always keep a running list of places I want to visit, and Cascade Head, a 1,300-foot high exposed ridge that rises straight out of the ocean seemed perfect for this occasion. I pulled out the hiking book with a teaser photo of what we might encounter and it didn’t take any convincing to brave the elements (and mud!) to see it for ourselves.

As we broke out of the trees at the crest of the bluff, the vast expanse of the Pacific stretched out before us. Around the corner was a bird’s eye view of the final winding meanders of the Salmon River. Rain squalls were off in the distance, but we stayed dry. Not another soul was around. It was perfect.

A senior couple hikes on a trail far above a rugged coastline on a stormy day. Cascade Head, Oregon. The Salmon River estuary is seen at left.

My stock photo instincts kicked in and I knew this was a great opportunity. I asked my companions to do a few laps walking back and forth along the trail as I tried to capture the best angle. The trick was finding the balance of showing the people, while also conveying the incredible setting they were in. 

The exposure was complicated too. The breaking waves below were all white and the clouds behind were bright, but the subjects were lit from the side— leaving their faces and bodies dark. I put the camera in manual mode and watched the histogram until I found settings where I barely started to blow out highlights in the sky. I knew some careful post-processing in Lightroom would let me bring the shadows in my subjects up enough to balance the exposure.

After fifteen minutes of photos, our group ate a quick snack and soaked up one final view of the landscape. The cold creeping into our hands and toes and the call of a hot meal were enough to get us to head back. I was thoroughly happy in the moment. I knew I had some pretty good shots too— but I had no idea I captured what would become my best-selling stock photo.

In the 8+ years since this hike, this photo has been a consistent and strong seller. I’ve seen it used in The Guardian, Yahoo.com, a book cover, magazine articles, and both online and printed advertisements. On numerous occasions, my in-laws have gotten emails from friends saying they saw their picture used– something my in-laws always get a kick out of.

I had no idea this photo would sell so well at first, but in hindsight I understand why. Stock photos are used to convey ideas and concepts, and this photo shows two older adults being active in a beautiful setting. Themes of health, vitality, active retirement, freedom, travel, and adventure all are present. These are all highly marketable concepts. This photo, showing real people in a real place, conveys those ideas well and thus has a wide range of potential uses.

This photo and the experience behind it encapsulate why I love being a stock photographer. I am able to do the activities that bring me happiness, and when the situation is right, I can turn a minimal amount of work into consistent income through time. I have found this extremely rewarding, both as an act of artistic expression, but also for my pocketbook!

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