Images In Popular Subject Categories

Posted on 10/6/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

In the chart below I’ve searched Shutterstock, iStock, AdobeStock, Alamy and Getty Images for the number of images in popular subject categories. No customer would use these words alone in a search for images. Other words would certainly be needed to narrow the search for something more specific within each category. (Note: that some images have more than one of these keyword and will appear in multiple categories.)

But there is a question as to how specific the words would need to be to narrow the number of images down to a reasonable number to be reviewed. It has been reported that most customers will not look at more then 500 thumbnails before they either choose something, change the search parameters, or move on to another source for imagery. Today, very few searches on any of the major sites will return fewer than 500 images. Most return thousands or tens-of-thousands.

This raises several issues for image creators

    1 – How many and how specific must the words be in order to focus the search so it delivers a reasonable number of images?

    2 - Often multiple similars from the same shoot tend to be delivered in the first 500 images. Thus, the customer really gets to see many fewer than 500 unique situations.

    3 –Even when the customer adds words to his/her search request is the number of images delivered still too massive to enable the customer to find something useful in a reasonable period of time?

    4 – Do more words deliver fewer or more images? On most sites if there are four words in the search string the first images delivered will have all four words as keywords, the next will have 3 of the four, then 2 of the four and finally just one. There is not precise delineation to let the searcher know when he/she has seen all the images that meet all the requirements.

    5 – When the customer uses multiple, and sometimes obscure, words he or she is never sure if the creator of the best image for the customer’s purposes added all the same words to his/her keyword list. Is the customer more likely to find the right image by using fewer words (a broader search) that deliver more images, requiring more time to review?

    6 – Is there a preference for newer images? Are the images most recently uploaded always the best? A few years ago I was made aware of a group of images shot and delivered to an agency three or more years previously that were given new, current upload dates. These images immediately started selling at a much higher rate than they had prior to the change in the upload date. I have heard of situations where photographers have taken images that sold well when first submitted, but for which sales have died in the last year or two. They deleted these images from their agency’s collection and then re-submitted them to the same or a new agency. At that point the images started selling again.

    7 – New trends to visual search to automatically add a few keywords to images is unlikely to be of much help in finding the right image and seems likely to add to the clutter.
It would be helpful to image creators if stock photo distributors would provide more information about:
    1 - How many words are used in the average search string where a customer actually finds an image that the purchase.
    2 – The most commonly used words by searchers. (Again, on by those people who actually buy images.
    3 – The relative number of times such words are used. (If one word is used 1,000 times a month and another is used 10 times it is important to understand the relative demand for that subject matter.)
    4 – On an image-by-image basis, how many times in the past year each image has been returned high enough in a search return that it might have been viewed by a customer.
In most industries suppliers are given some idea of overall demand before they are asked to spend time and money to produce new product. Not stock photography.

iStock used to let users search by “Most Popular” and when you opened the preview you could see how many times that image had been downloaded. While it was time consuming to check a number of images of a particular subject it was potentially useful because it gave photographers an understanding of what customers were looking for in a particular category. It is still possible to search for “Most Popular,” but there is no indication of how many times the image has been downloaded over what period. In addition, it is unclear whether the thumbnails are presented in the order of most downloads, or whether some more complex algorithm is used.

  Shutterstock iStock AdobeStock Alamy Getty Images
  Photos Photos Photos Photos Creative Photos
People 13,782,346 11,661,737 6,898,061 9,699,979 6,827,627
Travel 7,014,323 10,420,961 3,997,018 7,773,441 3,523,208
Nature 19,894,243 10,522,268 9,050,817 6,746,021 3,725,804
News 189,003 316,829 112,441 6,046,705 89,162
Architecture 4,760,194 2,755,663 2,738,140 4,674,514 1,972,991
Food 10,766,087 7,503,219 7,684,217 3,801,584 1,367,022
Business 6,221,909 3,110,890 7,872,883 2,740,409 1,008,231
Entertainment 1,661,852 1,380,562 429,947 1,743,821 365,780
Wildlife 1,695,342 1,285,799 821,384 1,659,388 1,067,728
Sports 2,787,366 2,003,913 1,682,300 1,599,484 793,041
Office 2,732,254 859,276 2,548,108 1,367,785 398,285
Children 2,625,692 1,851,690 2,347,604 1,254,386 1,287,151
Industry 2,291,873 2,133,660 1,622,404 1,141,243 402,209
Agriculture 2,419,327 1,466,837 1,496,109 1,031,909 350,045
Recreation 1,269,767 2,410,523 962,166 924,495 1,872,596
Computer 1,619,632 911,921 2,297,429 814,672 386,218
Landscapes 5,924,729 2,885,877 3,518,764 594,694 1,347,707
Medical 1,150,782 1,515,330 607,268 551,728 349,750
Scenics 2,300,513 2,444,495 1,199,577 499,126 1,558,475
Editorial 683,384 293,826 22,912 428,598 3,604
Science 647,579 577,823 388,796 389,557 267,826
Babies 1,247,572 418,093 973,500 131,257 206,636
  93,685,769 68,731,192 59,271,845 55,614,796 29,171,096

Copyright © 2016 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:  


  • Christine Osborne Pictures Posted Oct 8, 2016
    Clearly this survey has involved a great deal of work but where is your category for RELIGION ? Dissent between, and within, the world's mainstream religions is the cause of most major wars such as we are seeing in the Middle East today. I also queried this with Alamy who has every type of category but not religion. Why? Don't people involved in stock photos give a
    second thought to include this subject?
    Can someone give me an answer. I would really like to know.

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