Photo Sales Trends In China

Posted on 3/5/2018 by Dimmy Ran | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Every six months Dimmy Ran, Creative Content Director of HelloRF, a subsidiary of ZCOOL, prepares a detailed analysis of the search behaviors and sales trends of their Chinese customers. This information is sent to HelloRF contributors with the hope that it will help then create more competitive stock image content. While this information is specific to Chinese customer demand, it may also have relevance to customer demand in other countries around the world.

It is important to note that ZCOOL is a leading interactive platform used by Chinese designers and artists looking for content to license. It is also a strategic partner of Shutterstock in China. Prior to taking the position at HelloRF, Dimmy Ran was Senior Product and Marketing Manager at Visual China Group.

Recent Report

In the past year, the total number of approved contributors increased by 86% and the total royalties paid out to the local contributors tripled than 2016.

Speak of content type, we basically separate the still content into photos and illustrations. In 2016, photos and illustrations each coincidentally made 50% of the total content that was sold. In the first half of 2017, photos exceeded illustrations by 10%, photos took 55% and illustrations took 45%. As we turn to the whole year of 2017, the percentage of illustrations exceeded photos instead. This was because a lot of local and international holidays are largely concentrated in the second half year, Chinese holidays include the Chinese Valentine’s Day, Mid-Autumn Festival, National Day holidays, Double Ninth Festival(A tradition venerating the seniors), Double 11 and Double 12 (Both are important online shopping days, the Black Friday in China), and Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, New Year. These are all important holidays for promotions and sales, and more clients preferred to use illustrations in their marketing, and also in editorial segment. Local photographers take dominant percentage of the contributor group, this mean fewer illustrators are competing in the stock business and they will see more royalties.

For the local photographers, using models in their shooting means sharp increase in the budget, and this has become a barrier for many photographers to shoot models. On the other hand, we also see fewer photographers with rich experiences to create stock lifestyle images, most of them are skilled at wedding photography and posed portrait that with little stock value. In every 3 images sold, there is one image with people, and this percentage has dropped from 49% of 2016 to just 31% in 2017.

In all the images without people, the best-selling categories could be found in the below chart. Compared with the analysis of 2016, landscapes dropped from 21% to 18%. Food and beverage increased from 20% to 23%. The place of cityscapes and architectures has not changed. What is surprising is that we saw the historic scenic sports has squeezed into the best-sellers.

In illustrations, the content with people is on the top, this includes lifestyle illustrations and flat-style business illustrations, as well as 3D human characters. Chinese traditions were at the second place, this includes all the local holidays and festivals, traditional and regional activities and events, cultural heritages like paper-cutting, shadow puppet, Chinese style decorative patterns and textures and more. Background and textures are no doubt best-sellers. There is one category worthy of attention – cityscapes. Many of the cityscapes are the typical city skylines, in which different landmarks in every corner of the city can be easily reproduced in one image by means of illustration.

Food and beverage, and landscape took less percentage in illustrations than in the photos, this means the Chinese client prefer more realistic way of demonstrating the physical condition.

Cityscapes and Architectures

The famous landmarks and distinguished skylines are still the best-sellers, this means those cities with international fame would have advantages. The best-selling domestic city is Beijing and Shanghai. The most downloaded scenic spot of Shanghai is the Bund.

As regarding Beijing, the best-selling images are in two categories, modern city landmarks and historical famous scenic spots. The Beijing CBD area in the east third ring road are the most welcomed place, and within the historic spots, the Temple of Heaven took the top position, and it even exceeded the Forbidden City.

Chongqing, a famous city in southwestern China is a dark horse, is a city built on the mountain, the up and down terrain has made it like another Hong Kong with dense and high-rise skyscrapers. There is a river running through the city with many bridges connecting both bank of the city. This is an amazing city that you can even see the light rail running through apartment building. And the Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki also got inspirations from the brilliantly illuminated Hongyadong area.

Other best-selling cities are no wonder Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Suzhou and Shenzhen.
New York, London and Paris are the top three best-selling international cities. Manhattan, Big Ben, Eiffel Tower, the Fifth Avenue, London Eye, Triumphal Arch have all been repeatedly used in various market segments and channels. Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Queensland and Dubai are also downloaded more times than others.

The ancient buildings in Japan and Europe with their local feature environment sell better than other continents.

St. Basil's Cathedral and the neighboring Red Square in Moscow is the most standing-out international historic spot with its colorful exterior and exotic style.

As mentioned, the skyline illustrations are the most welcomed. We’ve seen many domestic city skylines as well as international cities, either famous or common.


Most of the landscape are with the tone of blue, green and yellow. Either clear sky with no clouds or dramatically cloudscaped can both represent pleasant idyllic scenery. About 40% of this category are with oceans, most of the rest and grassland and magnificent mountains. We’ve seen less rivers this year.

Images shot in Iceland and other places near to the north pole where we could see auroras nearly took 70% of the night landscape images, this is far beyond our expectation and previous analysis.


Most of the interiors are light- toned bright, simple and clear. White is the best color for interior images. Enough copy space, simple furniture and decoration with good taste are all the reasons that these images standing out. The luxurious Europe styles are defeated by the simple Nordic styles. Living rooms and bedrooms sold more than restrooms, meeting rooms and kitchens. And there are also increased needs for classroom and warehouses.


The mos popular animal is flamingo, both photos and illustrations are selling well. Flamingo represents freedom and energetic, which perfectly conveys the concept of personality and the rise of self-awareness.

Cute cats and dogs with vivid emotions are also very popular, and we have seen more images of cats and dogs in the same image, this is a new trend that is rarely seen in the sales of 2016. Dog as one of the twelve Chinese zodiacs, are also the best friend to human beings, 2018 is the year of dog, and that is not surprising that we see more images of human kind showing love to the dogs.

Illustrations are best for those animals living only in fantasy, unicorns are the most loved animal in imagination, which is also a common-seen animal in children’s fairy tale.


We do not see too many changes in this category, many of the images in this category are shot for botanical purposes, which represents the environment where and how the plants grow.

Carefully composited plant images are another highlight, artistic patterns and layouts of leaves and flowers could be seen not only in stock agencies but also on different social media platforms.

As forecasted in the Shutterstock 2017 visual trend, tropical concept is perfectly reflected and developed in the past whole year, a clear majority of the plants images are within this trend.

Food and beverages

We divided the food and beverages into raw food and finished cuisine. The percentage of each category is 30% and 70%. We have seen less and less fruits and vegetables in the white background. The raw food are represented in more complicated ways and the photographers are more emphasing on the rhythm, color and patterns.

Beef is the most frequently used meat, and chicken came second. The most popular meat – pork is rarely seen, which is quite strange and it is a typical Chinese cooking item.

In the finished cuisine, either vegetable salad or fruit salad is a frequenter to the table, when matched with sneakers, sports equipment, weighing scales, pills and measuring tapes, it could be extrended to deliver concept like sports, healthcare and medical and healthy lifestyle. The best selling fruit are avocado, strawberry and tomato.

Fried chicken always appeared on the menu, then came the barbecue, it is worthy noticing that the barbecue in China is a little bit from western countries. When accompanied with roasted vegetables, it will sell better.

The most popular Chinese cuisine is hot pot, then comes mooncake, steamed crabs, traditional Chinese rice pudding(Zongzi or rice dumpling) and dumplings. The Chinese cuisine took over 20% of the total food image.

There are more raw food than finished cuisine when talking about food illustrations, even a smashed egg could find its best place.

Still Life

Still life images representing the financial concept took about 30% of this category, many images in this category reflects financing, real estate, mortgage, financial management, insurance and stock market.

Still life images shot from right above the objects are still in the trend. Besides financial concept, the next popular theme is everyday wear and match, then cosmetics.

The Chinese traditional concept is also a trending topic, either the concept of yin and yang, or red lanterns and new year couplet, or tea ceremony, Chinese chess and calligraphy are all among the popular downloads.


Images with people are a large group of different themes and concepts. Among the images with people, about 40% are only with one people, and most of the one-people images are with woman. Then came the images with two people, the relation between the two are mostly mother and son, father and daughter and couple. Businessman are more frequently in the images as a group of people, demonstrating team work and entrepreneurship.

Only 10% of the imags are closeup portrait shot, about 40% are shot waist above or chest above. Men have less chances of showing waist than women, because women have more beautiful body shape.

There are more women doing sports than men, but more men in the outdoor business environment, in these two environment, the camera prefer to shoot from low angle. And when shooting to demonstrate family, office, classroom, the lens will mostly come from a high angle.

Hand is always the most popular, as for women, images showing the shape and line of the waist and hip is more popular. There is also an increasing trend for leg and foot.

Other Illustrations

Other popular illustrations include maps, font, calligraphy, background and textures. Cartoon style maps are very popular, and will be used to demonstrate travel routs, local cuisines, and for educational purposes like animal species distributions and etc.

As a distinguished art with thousands of year, calligraphy is also a best seller, images of calligraphy showing traditional holidays, virtues, poetries are all enjoyed by clients from different segment.

Copyright © 2018 Dimmy Ran. 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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