Anatomy of a Best Selling Stock Photo

Posted Wednesday, 9 March 2011 by Ellen Boughn in Ellen Boughn, Photography
Many of you have indicated on our recent survey that you would like to have more posts on the topic, "What makes a winning image?" Several years ago I discovered a photo that embodies some of the best practices of a best selling photo. I've written about it in my book as well as using it as an example of how iofoto did everything right in creating this image that has been a consistent microstock best seller for years.

The photo below is an almost perfect stock photo. It's not cutting edge; it's not trendy. It's not hip or cool. What it IS is a photo that will license again and again for years…extending its revenue stream long after its production costs have been recouped. This is a photo with a very long tail.

Initially the image seemed a very simple and easy photo to plan and take. But once I deconstructed it, I understood the amount of thought, research, experience and planning that went into the creation of this clean and versatile photo and its variations. I'm reminded of what the IT guys always say when a seemingly trivial request is made for a programming change, "Simple doesn't mean easy."

Smiling family on beach

© iofoto/Crestock

A 'perfect' stock photo.

Subject Theme. The image is a subject-based winner. Among the most consistently popular stock photos are family-related subjects. When photos with these themes also spell "happiness/love/caring", the image has a lead over all others. Images of families are used for financial services, vacation and hotel packages, religious publications, and have a myriad of editorial uses on websites for a multitude of topics.

Location. A beach location is a great choice. Stock photo buyers often want ‘aspirational' images that show an idealized place or situation. The beach is such a place in all societies. It is a place where we vacation, go for weekend relaxation, education and fun. The location is non-specific geographically and yet still shows a top vacation spot.

Seasonality. Because of wardrobe choices and the quality of the light, the photo could have been shot in spring, summer or early fall, adding to the versatility of the image.

Wardrobe/Style. Both the photographic style and the models/wardrobe/scene are relatively timeless. There is no skyline to go out of date; the clothing is non-specific and not tied to any fashion.

Palette/Wardrobe: The models' clothing complements the colors in the scene. Because there are blues, pinks, tans and yellows in the palette, almost any color typeface or client branding could coordinate with the image. Shirts lack logos and the fabrics are all solid colors.

Casting. The models form the perfect, idealized family and yet they aren't so beautiful as to look unauthentic. Their pose is relaxed and happy. (Just the way we all imagine the perfect family vacation.) Even the preteen girl appears to be pleased to be with her parents! (Anyone who has attempted to take a daughter of this age on a family vacation knows that IS really an idealized image.) The facial expressions are pleasant and everyone is looking into the camera. The image depicts the vacation every family aspires to have.

Smiling family on beach

© iofoto/Crestock

Similars of popular photos can also be top sellers. But only a few similars will be selected so limit your submission to only the best two or three.

Composition: Dad is at the top of a pyramid, representing conservative (and thus good for middle of the road advertisements) family relationships and the models are posed off center to leave lots of space for type. The background is clean and simple. In both photos, the photographer has left ample space for insertion of a product shot, headline or copy. He has also offered the stock photo user several formats. Here we show a horizontal that can be cropped to a square or vertical.

Good keywording has also contributed to the success of these two images. Look up the keywords by clicking on the photos and you'll see what I mean.

Ellen Boughn

Ellen has over thirty years of experience in the stock business gained at such organizations as Dreamstime, UpperCut Images, Workbookstock, Corbis, Getty (Stone), The Image Bank (Artville) and the creative agency, After-Image, she started in Los Angeles at the beginning of her career. Having been directly involved in the creation of four major stock photography collections, Ellen offers her decades of experience to assist photographers seeking success in stock photography.

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Ellen Boughn's best-selling book, Microstock Money Shots, is filled with insights, tips and advice on how to create commercial images and improve your work flow to profit from photography whether you're a hobbyist or a professional photographer.
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Hindsight is 20/20
By Tom on Wednesday, 9 March 2011 6:52 PM
Analysis is not the opposite of creativity. This shot has been done. It is easy to see it is great, and come up with all the reasons why. But to come up with the as yet unmade "great" shot, is not so easy as, 'just follow the recipe." Most (honest) photographers will tell you their greatest shots, were accidents!

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