What Kind Of Images Are In Demand?

Posted on 8/11/2020 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

If you would like insight into the kind of images that are in demand and what you should be shooting you might want to take a look at AdobeStock. Adobe offers some features other major agencies don’t. Exploring the site could help you decide what kind of images might earn the most money for you.


One of the unique features is that Adobe allows the user to sort images by downloads. To begin a search, you must enter a keyword. Pick anything, but I started with “people.” Currently, Adobe has 30,265,764 “people” images. Once those results appear change the category you’re searching for to “All” and go to the right and change the “Sort by” from “Relevance” to “Downloads.”

The first picture that appears is of a man and a woman giving a boy and a girl piggyback rides and everyone is smiling at the camera. This picture created by Monkey Business Images is at least a decade old, on all the microstock sites, and has probably been licensed many thousands of times.

To get a better sense of the subject matter in greatest overall demand, I removed people from the search bar and did a new search leaving the search bar blank. That gave me 220,934,316 returns which should be all the images in the collection in order of popularity, or number of downloads.

If you then change the “All” to “Images” you will get all the photos and illustrations in the collection. You’ll also need to go back change the sort to “Downloads” again because it defaults to “Relevance” with each new search. Also, you have the option of dividing the image search by clicking on either "Photos, Illustrations or Vectors" at the top of the page.

When I did the search 71% of the total images were photos. Illustrations and Vector combined represented 29% of the total Images. Of the Illustrations and Vectors  group 71% were Vectors and only 29% were illustrations. In other words Illustrations only represent 8.5% of the total Images collection.

Presumably, what Adobe means by “Downloads” search is that the image with the greatest number of downloads on their site is shown first, the image with the second highest number of downloads is shown second and so on. As you go through the first few pages this begins to tell you the type of subject matter that is in greatest demand.

Getty Images offers a “most popular” search option, but they don’t tell us how they come up with what is popular and what isn’t. I suspect they use some system other than just downloads to establish the order in which the images are presented. Shutterstock has a “Most relevant” default search which only tells you what the Shutterstock editors want you to look at first and a “Fresh content” which presumably is the same as “Most Recent” at Adobe.

Photos Or Illustrations

One of the things that interests me about the Adobe search is that about 53% of the first 1,000 images shown are illustrations, not photographs. This is particularly interesting when we see that there a much smaller percentage in the collection (29%) than photos (71%). Clearly illustrations are in much higher demand and sell much more frequently relative to the total images in the collection than photos.

In addition, many of the photographs have type or other elements added to a basic photograph to make the image work. I suspect that in all these cases it was an illustrator who uploaded the image to the adobe collection, and it is the illustrator, not the person who created the photograph that is part of the illustration, who is receiving royalties from the licensing of the image.

Photographers should recognize that many buyers of their work are graphic artists who prepare the projects for the end using customer. When these graphic artists need visual elements for their projects, they may decide to create an illustration rather than buy a photograph. Sometimes they may use one or several photographs as elements in their illustration. They may also use a stock photo as a reference, but the photo will be unrecognizable in the final end product and the person who created the reference photo will receive no compensation for their effort.

As I look at the use of visual elements in advertising and marketing products today it seems that the percentage that use illustration instead of photographs has increased dramatically in the last decade or so. If your goal is a career in photography this should be something to think about.


It is also helpful to look at the portfolios of some of the photographers with these best-selling images. In order to do that click on the image and get the preview. There will be a hot link to the photographer’s name beside the image. Click on that and you are taken to the photographer’s complete portfolio. In many cases you will find that the photographer creates a lot of images in the same style, although some photographers shoot a wide range of subject matter.

Go to the bottom of the first page and you can determine how many images are in the photographer’s portfolio. There are 100 images on a page and many of these top selling photographers will have 100 pages (10,000 total images) in their portfolio. Not only have they figured out what is in demand, but they shoot a lot of it.

Also, when you see that a photographer has a collection of 10,000 images don’t assume that is all they have. That is just the maximum Adobe will show of any contributor’s work. One of the contributors you will find in the top 100 best sellers is Rawpixel. They have over 1 million images in their collection and I assume they have most of them on all the microstock sites. Another big producer is Wavebreak Media. These organizations, like many of the best sellers, are not single photographers, but large production teams, including not only photographers, but location scouts, set designers, makeup artists, people who collect props, find and hire models, retouchers, keyworders, people who  manage the distribution of the collection to all the agencies, etc.  

These operations with big production teams probably make a much higher percentage of sales per-image-in-the-collection than the average photographer working alone. They have a better understanding of the subjects in demand and those that are not worth wasting time shooting. I have no idea how many total sales Adobe makes in a month or a year, but based on royalties photographers seem to get from both Adobe and Shutterstock the income per image in the collection might be relatively the same. Adobe has about two-thirds as many images as Shutterstock.

It is worth noting that Shutterstock has 1.4 million contributors and based on estimated 2020 revenue the average contributor will earn a little less than $125 in the year and have approximately 256 images in the collection. Thus, each contributor will earn about $0.49 per image in the collection. Presumably, the average income for Adobe contributors is about the same. A very few of the top contributors will earn significantly more, but they may have a lot more production expenses also.

Thus, there might be as much at $73 million paid out to all Adobe contributors. I have no idea how many total contributors Adobe might have, but certainly far less than Shutterstock’s 1.4 million.

Copyright © 2020 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


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