Subjects In Greatest Demand

Posted on 3/18/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

A reader asked if anyone produces a list of the stock photography subjects that are in greatest demand. As far as I know such a list does not exist. In very general terms the subjects in greatest demand are model released people in business and family situations, but to be useful it is necessary to get much more specific.

Probably the best way for a photographer to get a sense of the demand for the subjects he/she is interested in shooting is to go to and search for those subjects. Organize the search returns based on "Most Popular." If you’re a still photographer be sure to only search for photos, not illustrations and video.

Next, look at the first most popular image and see how many times it has been downloaded. Then I go to the 200th most popular and see how many times it has been downloaded. While the number of downloads for that first image may be very high, the number for the 200th will give you a better sense of the general demand for the category. The more you can focus your search by narrowing the category the more useful the information is likely to be. Keep in mind that this is total downloads since the image has been on the site and some of them have been there since 2004 or earlier.

Also, keep track of how many total images were returned with the search. In many cases this will be in the tens of thousands. Recognize that all the rest of the images in the collection will have been downloaded fewer than the number of downloads for the 200th.

Sometimes the number of downloads on an image, particularly the first one, can be deceptive because it may have been found using keywords that varied greatly from the ones you used. When I searched for “flower” the first picture to come up is a beautiful shot of a child blowing petals off a dandelion. This shot has been downloaded more than 22,000 times but that is probably more because of the child’s interaction and the keyword “child” than because the user was looking for flowers or dandelions.

If you find a subject that looks promising like “elementary school (education)” below it might help to check the 600th most popular image. In this case it has only been downloaded 8 times. Most customers won’t look at more than 600 images before they change their search parameters or go somewhere else. While it might appear that there is lots of demand for this subject 3,614 of the 7,622 in the collection have never been downloaded. In the “banking” category 34,500 of the 75,275 have never been downloaded.

It may be useful to do the same type of search on Shutterstock to see what images are there. You can organize the search returns by “Popular,” but unfortunately they don’t tell the user how many times each image has been downloaded so the information is not nearly as useful. We also don’t know if “Popular” is based entirely on the number of downloads or if other factors are considered in the algorithm.

If you find a subject you want to shoot it may also be worthwhile to look at the number of downloads for the same subject matter on and You may be surprised by how many fewer downloads they have compared to iStock.

Below is a list of a few random iStock searches that compare different subjects.

  1st 200th Total Images
woman office >16,000 >1,400 133,880
woman office computer >14,000 >500 33,517
couple on beach >6,700 >200 25,319
banking >10,000 >600 75,267
New York Stock Exchange >3,400 >10 870
tiger >1,500 >30 11692
owl >600 >20 9,340
butterfly >3,900 >100 45,433
flower >22,000 >900 907,338
daisy >10,000 >300 69,967
rose >2,600 >300 118,591
NY skyline >3,100 >100 15,806
London skyline >2,600 >60 7,414
Paris skyline >1,300 >10 3,591
Berlin skyline >200 6 1,270
Tokyo skyline >500 >10 2,545
Hong Kong skyline >1,800 >20 7,066
fashion industry >1,300 >80 10,069
education >15,000 >1,600 325,915
elementary school (education) >6,600 >30 7,622
pizza >1,700 >100 27,543
birthday cake >2,400 >100 7,715
Christmas >7,400 >1,000 419,641
buddhism >7,900 >100 112,834
handicapped >5,000 >200 15,704
cancer >3,700 >200 10,314
warehouse >5,000 >200 37,488
kitchen >4,200 >400 132,521
soccer >6,000 >300 37,883
children playing soccer >2,300 >80 4,659
basketball >2,600 >200 13,255
swimming >4,300 >300 85,334
trains >6,300 >100 43,367
traffic >4,300 >400 118,885
traffic cellphone >500 3 704

Copyright © 2014 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Catalina Cotelin Posted Mar 21, 2014
    From my research, SS's "popular" algorithm looks at the number of downloads in a certain period of time (like last week or month), not forever.

    They might take other variables into account as well, like the age of the asset.

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