Blogging With Bahar

Posted on 11/2/2004 by Bahar Gidwani | Printable Version | Comments (0)



November 2, 2004

    Editors Note: Bahar Gidwani, CEO of Index Stock writes a blog at
    that is well worth taking a look at from time to time. He has categorized his reports into four areas: Analysis, Image Ideas, Industry Comment and Searching for Truth, and in many of them he digs deeply into issues of importance to stock photographers and stock agents.

    In the following article I have reprinted, with permission, a two part series on Business Abstracts and his story on Editorial vs. Advertising vs. Foreign to give you a flavor of what he has to offer.


Searching for Truth #3--Business Abstracts

In the brief life of this blog (a few months), the comment that sparked the most interest was that "business abstract" is one of our most popular search terms. (Actually, I may have gotten more attention for my toilet article...but let's ignore that and pretend my readers are more mature than they may appear, on the surface!) Because a lot of people search for them, our business abstract images sell well. Even so, we could probably sell a lot more in this area, if we had more good images.

I thought it might help if I was a bit more specific about what we already have in the area, and what is selling. As usual, I have a lot of statistics and info. Also as usual, it is hard to draw simple conclusions. (Remember--making stock images = creating art!)

I'll start with a comment on abstract image categories. Linnaeus would be proud of how a stock agency like mine, Index Stock , divides things up. We created three different categories to hold abstract images: Abstracts (AB), Miscellaneous Objects (MO), and Concepts (SH). It wouldn't be helpful to give you a tree of the 49 subcategories within these three categories--things like "water & liquid" and "flea markets." People don't think in neat librarian-style divisions!

A vague term like "business abstract" can and should draw images from many different categoreis and sub-categories. In fact if you do that search on our site, you will see 35,474 images that come from more than 500 different subcategories. (FYI, only about a third of the images are within the three main categories, I described above.) The analogy is that "tree dwelling animal" maps to amphibians (tree-frogs), birds (woodpeckers), reptile (tree pythons), insects (caterpillars), marsupials (koala bears) and mammals (sqirrels). The connection between taxonomy and use gets even vaguer, when you realize how hard it is to predict that any given abstract, object, or concept image will be used for business purposes.

Maybe some examples will help? For instance, dollar signs and dollar bills are very popular for business use. Sometimes they are used to indicate small amounts of money--sometimes huge amounts. Over one thousand dollar images are included within our "business abstract" search.

Similarly, flags are hot--especially American flags (in the U.S., mostly). We had so many, we made a special keyword for them. However, only about 40 flags come up within the "business abstract" search.

Ok, so examples didn't help. What next? Maybe we can rely on some semantics? According to, "Business" means "The occupation, work, or trade in which a person is engaged." "Abstract" means "Considered apart from concrete existence." People who search for them together, are looking for a way of expressing what people do to make a living, without calling attention to specific products or persons that actually exist. They want recognizable elements such as dollar bills, flags, buildings, water drops or telephones. But, they want them generalized and boiled down to indicate a feeling or a meaning.

I've probably reached the limits of your patience, for a single blog. I think I'll pick this up in a second installment, where I'll try again to bring you some more examples and some advice.

Searching for Truth #4--More On Business Abstracts

In a previous installment of "Days of our Lives" wait, it was in "Searching for Truth #4," wasn't it?...I rambled around the subject of business abstracts. I wasn't sure exactly how to show what worked and what didn't work, for the hordes of customers who seem to want these types of images.

I discarded classification as a route to enlightenment, tried some examples, and then fell back on our old friend, semantics. Yecch. Let's go the example route again, and try to build new "categories" for the images in this area.

How about looking at business abstracts this way:

1. Making money. Commerce, sales effort, prosperity.


2. Dealing with people. Management, heirarchy, teamwork.

IndexStock-C-380785/Carol & Mike Werner

3. Major products or services. Banking, insurance, technology, communications.

IndexStock-C-553577/Eric Kamp

4. Visual expressions of business words. Investor, success, stress.

IndexStock-C-629083/Mike Hipple

I've linked in each case to an image I hope is illustrative. I can't claim that the images I'm showing you are all best sellers. First, I don't like to give out that data--it is private to the artists who created the images (who happen to all be MASTERS at creating business abstracts!). Second, I don't have time to do all the research needed to figure out if each of these images has done well, or not! Still, I'll put my thirteen years in the industry behind these images as good examples of what should do well.

Want another approach? We can go back to the classification route and pick five "hot spots." Here, I'm using aggregate sales data, so again--please don't assume that the images I am pointing to are all making mints of money. But, I should be showing you where the good soil is, in the field, if you know what I mean.

1. Miscellaneous objects/jewlery. Associated with making money and with major products and services like banking and retail. "Jewelry"

2. Miscellaneous objects/scale. Fairness, justice--dealing with people stuff and some important business words. "Scales"

3. Concepts/medicine. A lot of major products and services revolve around medicine. Also, some good business words like "health." "Medicine"

4. Abstracts/computer generated. Some of these are beautiful, and that seems to fit into business, somehow. Others have been built off a product or service, but the computer effects makes it quite abstract. "Computer generated"

5. Miscellaneous objects/tool. Some of my favorites are here, because they can work on all of the levels I described above. "Tools"

Of course, to make this blog appeal to my more juvenile readers, I should include a link to our wonderful Miscellaneous objects/bathroom item ! Yes, it is one of the better-seling groups, thank you!

Want to do more business abstracts? Good, we want you to create them, too! Want advice? OK, here is my attempt at giving it:

1. Don't include people in the shot, unless they are not recognizable or have caricature-type expressions. If you include people, remember my advice on ethnicity, and try to include a range of ethnic types.

2. Try to include at least one component that is highly recognizable and relevant to business. A wrench, a dollar bill, a graph, a pair of eyeglasses...don't be so abstract that the image is ONLY beautiful.

3. Stay away from components that are branded or narrow. If you were doing jewelry, don't shoot pieces from Tiffany or anything else that could be viewed as the trademark work of a professional jeweler. it you are shooting a tool, use an old one, not something from Home Depot that has a big logo on it.

4. Leave negative space in the image. The customer will be putting a lot of text into the final composition, to tie the abstract to his or her theme. Don't squeeze that out.

5. Give us variations in color, tone, and composition. We may not take them all, but customers often will use several images from a series, if they like them.

6. Don't be afraid to be painterly or to use illustration-type digital tools. A lot of our best business abstracts have been manipulated. Of course, the image has to stand up to use at very high resolution. So, don't lose some much information in your post-processing that a client can't use it full page at 300dpi.

7. Stay crisp and uncluttered. Business people want to communicate in direct and simple terms. They don't want fru fru; they don't want to say ten things with one ad.

Hope this is helpful. We may already have thousands of images in this area. But, we could probably use ten thousand more!

Searching for Truth #5--Editorial vs Advertising vs Foreign

People often refer to someone as an "editorial" shooter, or say that a set of images would be good for "advertising use." In fact there are three main branches of use within an agency such as mine, Index Stock . One is with what we call "editorial" customers-those who use images for book, newspapers, magazine stories, and other products that educate, inform, or entertain. Another is with what we call "advertising" customers. These customers use images for brochures, magazines ads, commercial Web sites, and other things that aim to make money. The third group is our foreign customers. They use images for both editorial and advertising uses. Unfortunately, our foreign agents do not always tell use what type of customer used each image. Plus, we have always thought foreign customers would want different types of images from our domestic customers.

Well, if you are reading this blog, you are probably either an artist who creates images, or someone who markets or is interested in marketing them. So, time for a little test. Below are three tables. Each represents the top ten "categories" of images in sales for last December, from one of our thee markets. Which one is which?

List A

Business / business people inside office

Cambodia / general

Couple / indoor

Education / college

Education / teacher & student

Food / snack & dessert

Holiday / Christmas

Medical Science / miscellaneous

Medical Science / research

Zoology / deer

List B

Agriculture / barley

Cat / cat

Cat / kitten

Concept / business

Concept / people

Entertainment / amusement park

Entertainment / circus

Food / snack & dessert

Holiday / Christmas

Mature Adult / indoor

List C

Agriculture / general

Caribbean Islands / Bermuda

Flower / general

Massachusetts / Cape Cod

Pennsylvania / general

South Carolina / General

Sport & Leisure / football

Sport & Leisure / sailing

Togo / General

UK: England / General

Of course, one thing that is fascinating, is how diverse each list is. We run reports on our sales by category each month, and the top categories constantly vary. Does it help you guess if I give you the same kind of list for August of this year-with a label at the top for which segment each comes from?


Australia / Sydney

Concept / business

Concept / miscellaneous

Couple / indoor

Italy / Pisa (incl. Leaning Tower)

Land Transportation / Auto, racing

Miscellaneous / tool

Sport & Leisure / soccer

Woman / portrait indoor

Zoology / bear


Cat / kitten

Concept / business

Education / grade school

Family / mother & child

Massachusetts / Boston

Massachusetts / general

Mexico / General

People / general

Washington DC / White House

Zoology / deer


Astronomy / Earth

Australia / Sydney

Aviation / airplane air

Caribbean Islands / Bermuda

Industry / fiber optic

Mature Adult / outdoor

Meteorology / tornado & hurricane

Military / Navy

Togo / general

Woman / portrait indoor

There are hints in each list that may be helpful in solving my quiz. (Of course, you could just skip to the end of the blog and peek at the answers!) Obscure travel locations like Cambodia, are likely to be requested by our editorial customers. They are also more likely to dig deeply into our science files, as they search for specific types of animals, plants, minerals, and bacteria! Advertising clients are often interested in mainstream beach locations, like the Carribean and Cape Cod. They are more interested in general categories, than specific ones. They are most likely to want things like indoor portraits and sports.

Foreign clients seem to want it all. Our file has been successful overseas, because of its breadth. Our foreign agents use us to fill in all of the holes left from the various specialized collections they gather from elsewhere in the world.

I hope these lists make you realize how little separates each of the stock image markets. One consequence of the overlap is that we have made our image quality standards more uniform. For many years, we took images of medium quality if they had some subject we thought was unusual. The idea was that editorial buyers would accept a lower image quality, if they could get the exact subject they wanted. About three years ago, we changed this policy. From that point onward, we began screening out any image that was not top quality in composition, exposure, etc.

We continue to look for unique subjects that may have special interest to our editorial customers. But, when we find special images on editorial subjects, we now also get images that can be used in advertising and overseas.

Done wrestling with my test? Here are the answers:

List A = Editorial

List B = Foreign

List C = Advertising

How did you do? If you got all three right, maybe you should plan to come around for an interview. We could probably use someone with your talents, on our staff!

Copyright © 2004 Bahar Gidwani. 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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