Getting Images Seen

Posted on 6/9/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

Today, the biggest problem for professional photographers is how to get their images seen by potential customers. Most photographers would agree that the way to get the widest possible exposure for their work is to get their images on

Sources at Getty Images tell me that 96% of the company’s sales come from images customers find on the first three pages of the search returns. Customers have a choice as to how many thumbnails they want to see on any given page -- with a maximum of 100 allowed -- so three pages of images would be a maximum of 300.

The Creative section of currently has a total of 3,532,317 images. Of these 1,828,042 are RM and the rest RF. A quick search of almost any subject reveals way more than 300 images. Just a few examples: couple on beach, 15,199; senior couple on beach, 945; Chinese couple, 5,597; Istanbul, 2,827 and Koi fish, 401. Thus, if all the customers are going to look at is 300, is there anything photographers can do to insure that their images will be among that elite group.

The first step is to understand how the Getty search engine determines which images from which brands to show customers, and in what order. It is important to recognize that there are 163 brands on Each brand is given a certain number of slots in the search return order. The list below is organized in the priority that the brands are given. In our search we used the keyword “people.” There are 1,936,760 images on the site (55% of the total) that have people as a keyword.

The brands are always organized in the same sequence, but if a brand does not have any images in its collection with the keyword requested then it is skipped and the search engine goes to the next brand. Thus, with many searches for specialized niche images there will be a number of brands that have no images and the search engine will work its way through the entire list of brands in many fewer than 300 images. Then it repeats the process.

Let’s look at what might happen to a photographer who has recently submitted three great images of Istanbul to his agency. As best we can tell, the only way images are shuffled within a brand is by the date they are added with newest first.

For example, in a case where many brands don’t have any images on the subject a particular brand that does have images might end up with slots 20, 47 and 86 on a search for that subject matter. And the rotation begins to repeat at 101. As long as the photographer’s images are the newest images submitted all three will be seen when anyone does a search for Istanbul.

But, then another photographer from the same agency brings in 10 new images of Istanbul. Regardless of how well the first photographer’s images have sold or the quality of the any of the images, if they all have the same keyword that the customer used in the search then the 10 new images will always be shown in the sequence in which they were uploaded ahead of the older images belonging to the first photographer. Thus, the first photographer’s first image (the 11th available) will be in slot 347 and probably never seen by the customer. Once an image is pushed below the 300 point there is less than a 4% chance that it will ever be seen again.

Of the 168 brands in the Getty database only 115 have at least 1 image shown in the first 300 returns. 71 only have one image leaving 44 brands with 2 or more images that will be shown in the first 300.

29 of the 163 brands on are Getty owned and 48% of the images on the site are in these brands. There are 134 Image Partner brands on the site with 52% of the images. As might be expected, 170 of the first 300 slots are assigned to the Getty brands That leaves only 130 to the 134 Image Partners with images in one of the first 300 slots. For a number of the Image Partners with people images their first image shown is unlikely to be among the first 300.

One surprise is that Flick has 20 slots in the first 300 and Flickr Select has 2. This means that Flickr photographers have 22 times as many chances to have their images seen as photographers represented by most of the Image Partners. Many people have been recommending that if you want to get your images on the Getty Images web site the best way to do that is to upload them on Flickr. This would seem to be good advice.

Stone has 18 slots in the first 300. Digital Vision, Stone+, Taxi and The Image Bank each have 11 slots. Photographer’s Choice RM and RF combined also have 11 slots. The Image Partners with the most slots are: National Geographic, 13; OJO Images, 7; Blend Images, 6; Image Source, 5 and CSA Images, 4. iStockphoto and Vetta combined have a total of 6 images in the first 300.

On my chart the number in the first column called “Slot” is the position in the sequence where the first image of the brand will appear. The gaps in the numbering are where the 2nd, 3rd and in some cases more images from the brands higher on the list will appear before any of the images from brands lower down will be seen.

Some photographers have been concerned that the new Getty Images contract allows Getty to move RM images that have been in the database for at least three years into other licensing models. But images that have been in the system for that long – unless they have very unique keywords – probably have no chance of ever being seen by a customer searching the Creative collection.

Slot   1st Pg. 2nd Pg. 3rd Pg. Total in 300
1 Digital Vision 6 4 1 11
2 Lifesize 3 2   5
3 Stone+ 4 4 3 11
4 PhotoDisc 6 2   8
5 The Image Bank 6 3 2 11
6 Photographer's Choice 4 2 2 8
8 Stone 9 7 2 18
10 Flickr 12 5 3 20
13 OJO Images 5 2   7
14 Photonica 3 3 2 8
15 Photographer's Choice RF 3     3
17 Riser 1 1 5 7
20 Vetta 2   1 3
22 Taxi 6 5   11
28 Iconica 4 3 1 8
32 FoodPix 1 2 1 4
35 Blend Images 2   1 3
37 The Agency Collection 2     2
38 StockImage 1 1 3 5
42 Stockbyte 2 1 1 4
46 Blend X Pictures 2 1   3
49 Comstock Images 2 2 1 5
52 PhotoAlto Agency RF 2     2
53 Retrofile 1 1   2
67 Botanica 1 1 2 4
72 Image Source 1 3 1 5
73 National Geographic 2 3 8 13
76 Cultura 1   1 2
82 CSA Images 1 2 1 4
83 iStock Vectors 1   1 2
86 Flickr Select 1   1 2
89 Reportage 1   1 2
95 Altrendo 1   1 2
98 Workbook Stock 1 2 1 4
107 Taxi Japan   1 1 2
111 Robert Harding   1   1
122 GAP Photos   1   1
129 LOOK   1   1
131 Johner Images   1   1
137 Visuals Unlimited   1   1
139 Gallo Images   1   1
147 iStock Exclusive   1   1
148 Fuse - Zefa/Corbis   2   2
150 momentimages   1   1
152 Stock 4B RF   1   1
154 Lonely Planet Images   1   1
155 Stock 4B   1   1
160 Retrofile RF   1   1
161 Time Life Pictures   1   1
166 Gulfimages   2   2
168 Image Bazaar   1   1
171 All Canada Photo   1   1
173 PhotoAlto Agency RM   1   1
177 Axion Photographic Agency   1   1
178   1   1
179 Archive Photos   1 1 2
181 Imagezoo   1   1
183 Art Box Images   1   1
184 Asia Images Group   1   1
185 Asia Images   1 1 2
188 amanaimages RF   1   1
190 Science Photo Library   1   1
191 Photosindia   1   1
193 Rubberball   1   1
194 Indeed/Aflo   1   1
195 Imagemore   1   1
196 Cory Docken   1   1
197 Bloomimage   1   1
198 Dorling Kindersley   1 1 2
200 amanaimages   1   1
202 Collection: Mix     1 1
203 Stock Food Creative     1 1
205 Glow Images     1 1
206 Discovery Channel     1 1
207 First Light     1 1
208 Westend61     1 1
209 Popperfoto     1 1
212 Allsport Concepts     2 2
214 Hola Images     1 1
215 Latin Content     1 1
221 Antenna     1 1
223 Science Faction     1 1
226 Estnine Inc.     1 1
227 DeAgostini Picture Library     1 1
229 Radius Images     1 1
230 ABSODELS     1 1
231 Arabian Eye     1 1
234 PhotoLibrary     1 1
235 Design Pix/ Ron Nickel     1 1
236 Minden Pictures     2 2
238 Bridgeman Art Library     1 1
240 Onoky     1 1
245 Superstock     1 1
246 Panoramic Image     1 1
247 NordicPhotos     1 1
248 Dex Images     1 1
249 America 24-7     1 1
251 BJI     1 1
252 Aurora     1 1
253 FoodCollection RF     1 1
254 imagenavi     1 1
255 Illustration Works     1 1
256 Tango Stock     1 1
259 Japan Images     1 1
260 Hulton Archive     2 2
266 Gorilla Creative     1 1
269     1 1
270 Samba Photo     1 1
273 Purestock     1 1
284 Upper Cut     2 2
291 RedChopsticks     1 1
292 Gallo Images, ROOTS RF     1 1
293 imagewerks     1 1
294 WIN-Initative     1 1
296 MIXA     1 1
  Totals 100 100 100 300

Also See: Getting Images Seen At Getty: Revisited

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:  


  • Paul Melcher Posted Jun 9, 2011

    Great research.

    could you elaborate on the methodology used to obtain these results ? Where the placement of image per brand an information given to you by someone in charge of search at Getty or did you perform multiple searches?
    If you did multiple searches, can you tell us how many , with how many different keywords, from how many different countries, we can have a better understanding of the numbers involved.


    Paul M

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Jun 15, 2011

    The information in this story is based entirely on my analysis of the site. No one in charge of search at Getty Images gave me any information about the algorithm. As stated in the article the numbers are the result of a single search on the keyword “people”. However, if you do searches on other words lie “man” or “woman” that would apply to almost every brand you will see that the image sequencing remains the same.

    The big differences come when some of the brands have no images that fit the keyword requested. Then they are skipped and the next brand is moved up in the sequence. This enable some of the images for niche brands to get higher in the search return order. For example one would think that when someone searches for “aorta” the 19 images from the brand 3DClinic would come up near the top because that company specializes in medical illustration. In fact their first image is 86th in the search return order.

    As always an image from Digital Vision is first. Not necessarily the greatest illustration of an aorta, but it is in the DV brand. All the images from PhotoDisc, Photographer’s Choice, Vetta, and The Agency Collection appear before anything else. Science Photo Library, De Agostini, Visuals Unlimited and Science Faction have a lot of images in the first 100 because they have a lot of imagery on this subject and most of the other brands have nothing. Getty also has a brand “Collection Mix: Subjects” which includes images from a number of different brands including Universal Imaging Group and 3DClinic. It is in this collection that the first 3DClinic image appears. If this image happens to be chosen by a customer I presume 3DClinic will receive a percentage of the percentage paid to Collection Mix: Subjects”.

    As far as I know, the different countries from where the searches are made have absolutely no bearing on the search return order, as long as customers are searching the Creative section of the Getty Images Site. When searching for editorial content the algorithm may be different.


  • John Lund Posted Jul 7, 2011

    I just did a search on Getty. the results came back with over 6,000 images. Number 8 was one of my images that has been with Getty since 1994. That would seem to contradict the idea that the most recent images submitted come up first.



  • Jim Pickerell Posted Jul 7, 2011

    It is certainly possible that they include in their algorithm something that brings best selling older images to the top of the search order. That would make sense, but if you look the search results of most searches it is hard to believe that they take sales into account in any way.

    I assume the 8th image was in the Stone collection. Is it possible that there is no other image in the Stone collection that has the same keywords you used. If so then your image would come up first because the 8th slot is reserved for an image from Stone (assuming that the other brands in 1 through 7 all have at least 1 image.)

    Is it possible that Stone only has one image on that subject but all the other brands put together have the other 5999?

    Another thing to consider is that if you used two or three words to find your image all the images with all three words will come up first. But, after that all the images with just one or two words will be put in the pile. It is certainly possible that there might be 100 images with all three images and the rest only had two or one word.

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