Tourist Icons

Posted on 5/9/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Alamy has searched through its collection of over 23 million images to determine the top ten buildings around the world that are the most photographed. As we enter the tourist season this information is worth considering. These locations are icons that represent a city, region or country. They are must-see locations for any tourist visiting these areas and are likely to appear in every travel, airline and hotel promotion for the general location of these buildings. You’ll also find them on calendars and postcards. There is great demand for these subjects.

The downside is that on Alamy alone – not including Getty Images, Corbis, iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Flickr, etc – there are already a huge number of choices available for anyone interested in using a picture of these locations.

Photographers hoping to produce images of these buildings, or the general area in which these building are located, are faced with a two pronged dilemma. First, will they be able to produce an image that is so unique and outstanding that it will stand out above all the rest already available? And, second, even if they can produce such an image will they be able to get it in a position on any one of the major search engines where it is likely to be seen by buyers and stand out among all the clutter?

Some photographers ignore these major over-photographed icons and concentrate on producing images of less important, but much less photographed locations. While images of secondary subjects, patterns and details face much less competition there is also much less demand for such images. One way for photographers to gage possible demand for the subjects they choose to photograph is to go to iStockphoto, search for the subject they intend to photograph and see how many times some of the pictures that have sold most often have been licensed.
Alamy’s list includes:
    1 – Eiffel Tower (Paris) – 15,536 images

    2 – Big Ben (London) – 14,896 images
    3 – Empire State Building (New York) – 13,637 images
    4 – London Eye (London) – 12,734 images
    5 – Statue of Liberty (New York ) – 9,573 images
    6 – Great Wall of China – 8,907 images

    7 –Taj Mahal (India) – 8,544 images
    8 – Notre Dame Cathedral (Paris) - 8,185 images
    9 –Brooklyn Bridge (New York) – 7,990 images
    10 – Sydney Opera House (Australia) – 7,848 images
The question for the professional photographer is not just which are the most popular subjects to photograph, but how frequently are they licensed. iStockphoto offers some interesting insights on the use of images of these locations. The first number after each location is the number of times the most popular image has been downloaded. The second number is the number of times the 10th most popular image has been downloaded. In several cases many of the images in the top 10 were not photographs at all, but illustrations. For photographers planning travel shoots it is worth examining what customers are buying.
    1 – Eiffel Tower (Paris) – 2,300 – 1,000
    2 – Big Ben (London) – 1,600 -- 600
    3 – Empire State Building (New York) – 1,800 -- 400
    4 – London Eye (London) – 400 -- 200
    5 – Statue of Liberty (New York ) – 1,600 -- 700
    6 – Great Wall of China – 2,700 -- 400
    7 –Taj Mahal (India) – 1,300 -- 400
    8 – Notre Dame Cathedral (Paris) – 100 -- 80
    9 –Brooklyn Bridge (New York) – 2,300 -- 300
    10 – Sydney Opera House (Australia) –
On iStockphoto all of the top selling images that showed the Sydney Opera House were wide panoramas of Sydney harbor where the building was only a very small part of the overall scene. Far down in the pack were a few close-ups of the Opera House itself marked “For Editorial Use Only.” Due to trademark issues iStock has chosen to include very few of the iconic Opera House images. Alamy, on the other hand, has a wide range of images from many photographers showing the distinctive sail shapes. 600 of the almost 8,000 are in the Creative collection which would indicate that they are released and available for commercial use.

Also note how few times images of the London Eye and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris have sold compared to the number of images available on Unfortunately, photographers have no way of knowing which images on Alamy – or most of the other traditional web sites for that matter – are actually being licensed. We do know that fewer than 1 out of ever 100 images on Alamy are licensed in any given year. Many of the pictures that are keyworded Empire State Building are actually shots of the New York skyline taken from the Empire State Building. The Brooklyn Bridge is also popular because of the distinctive New York City skyline in the background, not so much for the bridge itself.

Copyright © 2011 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:  


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