What's Working in Stock Photography: 2011

True or False:

“I’d like to make more money in 2011 and help cover the costs of my vacations.”

If you answered True, keep reading.

That’s in essence what this newsletter is all about—making money to cover your travel expenses, and in turn, letting you do what you love most, whether its photography, writing, or just traveling the globe without worrying about finances.

Yesterday, you heard from Westways Editor Al Bonowitz. He basically said, if you’re pitching travel stories to glossy magazines, you should also be thinking about pictures and videos you can send with it to help sell your story (and also make more money, as photos are often purchased separately by editors who pay extra for web components they can add to their stories online).

Today, I’ve asked Professional Photographer Shelly Perry to talk a little bit about what’s working in stock photography this year. If you follow these trends, your photos are likely to become big sellers—allowing you to earn more, have more fun, and keep traveling.


Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

By Shelly Perry in Portland, OR

When it comes to stock photography, the million-dollar question is, "What kinds of photos are people buying online?"

If you're involved in image creation for stock, this question is constantly at the forefront of your thoughts. It's a question that, if responded to correctly, could make all the difference in the world to your photo income potential.

I'm sure there are a few golden nuggets to be stumbled upon out there. But, generally speaking, the trick is to take a new look at an old subject; apply a twist to a tried and true theme. What's selling today is the same thing that's been selling for years -- photos that meet a customer's need.

Here are five trends I've identified as top sellers right now:

** 1. HOLIDAY: Christmas and the general holiday season can be the biggest singular event of the year for sales, even when it comes to stock photography. Those who make a point of adding this theme to their portfolios each year are usually greatly rewarded for the effort.  Granted, the life span of these images can be short -- September through December generally -- but the sales volume can be significantly greater than with other themes. This picture was the #1 bestseller on iStockphoto.com in December 2010:

** 2. BUSINESS: You'd think this theme would be completely covered since it's the most lucrative theme out there for stock photography.  But here's the thing: designers always, month after month, need new and current business shots for websites, brochures, and advertisements they're creating for their customers.  And graphic designers are still the biggest buyers in online stock. Bottom line: "business" sells.  Here’s one example:

And for a twist: think about life in the real world as your source material.  The real world is not made up of 20-something models.  It's made of people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. These people work in a myriad of environments and industries doing a vast array of jobs, yet when you search for "business" you will tend to see the same type of shot over and over again. Be creative, think "real world," put a twist on it (and do it well), and you will help solve a designer's dilemma… and reap the rewards. Take this picture for example:

** 3. PEOPLE: Not every photo needs to include people, but those that include people generally sell well.  If you can include people in your shots at least some of the time, you'll do yourself a favor. Try to capture emotion and animation -- real people doing real things in a real life, like in this shot:

Just like business shots, designers have a constant need for fresh faces and a variety of situations and emotions. Photos of women (especially business women) are more in demand now than ever before. And don't forget the model release.

** 4. CLEAN, LIGHT, AND BRIGHT: This is nothing new in the world of stock, but images that are clean (think logo- and clutter-free), light, and bright generally sell much better than the more artistic, dark, and moody ones.  With the darker shots, a designer might have to fuss around a bit more to make them fit into a project.

** 5. DYNAMIC: Images that have life to them -- that are not stale or forced. They appear to be genuine, even though they are often highly staged.  It's the art of creating the illusion that you walked into the room and your models just happened to be there… or you (and the viewer) are caught in the middle of meeting with them. Creating these un-posed, energetic types of shots can be a challenge, but it's well worth the effort if you're able to pull it off. Here’s one example:

**6. Concepts/Ideas: This is one area where your creative mind can really shine. Think outside the box as much as possible and create images that tell an idea or express a concept in a new way. Designers are always looking for visuals to go along with ideas, moods, feelings, concepts … for instance "luck" as shown in this image:

Or this one:

Same idea, two very different ways of portraying it. Let your imagination and creativity run away with you here. You can use single words or ideas like this example or metaphors, fables … you name it, if you can create a compelling visual around it, then it could be a big seller for you. You might also find yourself an entire series of ideas to work on. The more innovative and creative you can be here, the better.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]