What Sells: A look at my best and worst selling images

Many blogs and message board postings are dedicated to tips, thoughts, tricks, comments and questions about improving portfolio sales. It seems that much of the mystery and frustration surrounding this topic results from the fact that just because a photo is impressive to you, your friends, family, fellow photographers, etc.. does not mean it is going to be a top selling stock image. Bummer right, well not necessarily.

Here on dreamstime we have an incredible resource for improving the odds our images are going to sell. So what's the big secret you may ask, well it's the incredible photo library made up of all of our images. By looking through the photos that sell, in general and by topic, you should begin to understand what designers are looking for when they are shopping for the perfect image to communicate their message and/or sell their product/service.

Top sellers on Dreamstime:

A second resource you have is your own portfolio. By reviewing what images of yours sell and the keywords were used to find them you can ensure the time you spend on expanding your portfolio is spent efficiently. We all have limits on our time, so by focusing your efforts on taking photos of subjects that designers are looking for you will improve your sales and streamline your workflow.

In my own portfolio I have taken the steps described above to increase the variety of images appealing to designers and improve my sales. As a new photographer to dreamstime I, of course, expected lots of sales within just a few days of uploading images to the site.

Here are some of my first uploads (and worst sellers):

After several weeks and months had passed and my sales were disappointing I began to try to figure out why. After looking through pages and pages of the top selling images on dreamstime I began to realize that my images, while nice to look at, were not commercially viable. I decided to do two things, 1) go back through my old photos to look for images I had previously skipped over that fit the look of images that sold well, and 2) in the future intentionally shoot images that looked like those that sold well.

Here are some of my top sellers:

One thing that these images all have in common is that you would probably not hang them on your wall. They are not pretty, visually stunning images, but they do convey a message, sell a concept, or represent current events. These are images designers can use to tell their story or sell their product.

No matter how many years you have been a photographer there is always something else to learn. By keeping abreast of what images buyers are looking for you will keep your work relevant and your sales high!! Good luck and happy shooting!!

Photo credits: Aviahuismanphotography, Bellemedia, Billyfoto, Eric Gevaert, Kelliem, Radovan.

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August 07, 2013


good blog.. also I have a lot of images that would fit your collections.. civil war, beach and military. and you have a lot that would fit mine! can I add some of yours? feel free to look in my collection and add whatever you like to yours.

January 07, 2012


One thing I always say to photographers is "Don't crop so tight. Let me do the cropping". That point is proven in your examples of best sellers vs. worse sellers. The seashell shot is lovely, but hard to work with unless you just want a specific shot of that type of shell in that specific size ratio. Your best sellers have more open space that allows the designer more flexibility.

January 03, 2012


Very good advice! Thank you for sharing!

December 20, 2011


very useful info, thanks for sharing!!

December 18, 2011


So simple really, yet we get so caught up that this truth escapes us. For different markets we need to shoot differently. And what you're pointing out here is that the image needs to support / sell a concept or story etc in order to be a successful stock shot ... Thanks so much for re-minding us :) I needed that! :)

December 18, 2011


Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

December 16, 2011


Very useful info...what appeals to the shooter may not be appealing to the buyer...that's your message. Thanks

December 16, 2011


Good blog. Points out what should be basic, but obviously isn't. Most of us get caught up in equipment and things when we should concentrate on composure and subject.

December 16, 2011


The cat must sell :). There's lots of attitude there :). I love the cat!

December 16, 2011


Thank for very importance concept and Experience.
I'm try to improve my image.

Thanks a lot.

December 16, 2011


Thanks for the great advice :)

December 16, 2011


Thanks for sharing !

December 15, 2011


Thanks for the advice, wonderful images too!

December 15, 2011


Thanks for advice ... I think I need it :D ,lam a beginner illustrator since last summer ,its nice to have some a blog :)

December 15, 2011


Great blog! Thanks for taking the time to share. When you see a good stock image, sometime its like a thump against the head - duh, I can see why that image would sell. I like the cat, hope it sells for you eventually.

December 15, 2011


Great photos in your portfolio! Thanks for sharing the tips! I totally agree with you: Always try to improve and imagine what buyers are looking for!

December 15, 2011


Thanks for sharing this blog, we all wish to have best seller images here... You have great images.

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