Should Stock Photographers Shoot Verticals?

Posted on 7/15/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

In olden days when stock photographers were trying to produce images that might be used as covers or full page inside magazines it was advised that they turn the camera on its side and shoot verticals of as many situations as possible.

But times have changed. Are verticals really selling today?

Recently Robert Kneschke reported on his web site that he had reviewed 100 of his best selling images and not a single vertical was among the group. The 74th picture in the group was square and the rest were “without exception horizontal” despite the fact that 68.09% of his portfolio is made up of horizontal images, 23.12% verticals and 8.79% square.

I did a little additional checking with a major U.S. photographer who has large image collections with a number of agencies. Out of over 11,000 images of which 44% are vertical and 56% horizontal he reports the following breakdown of sales of his top 1,000 best selling images.

3 out of top 100 are vertical. 3%
15 out of top 250 are vertical. 6%
175 out of top 1000 are vertical. 17%

Clearly, there is much less demand for vertical images. This photographer said, “I shot more verticals in years gone by than I have recently; probably in part because I looked at sales of what was selling in best sellers and recreated visual situations to mimic that. Placement of backgrounds, choices of models and styles of props are all important elements as is horizontal or vertical emphasis. When I was first starting in royalty-free image making, doing verticals was an important way to round out a project of nearly 100 images for a CD disk product. Without the verticals, a lot more concepts had to be shot in a day and that took more time and was more costly than the approach of instead filling up the shoot with extra verticals and cropped images to enhance the choices on the disk.”

Next, I decided to search some of the top image suppliers to determine the number of Verticals and Horizontals in their collections.

Getty Images 26,271,119  
Vertical 6,463,792 24.60%
People Vertical 2,972,981 11.32%
Horizontal 18,329,091 69.77%
People Horizontal 6,706,254 25.53%
Square 1,099,408 4.18%
iStock 96,370,150  
Vertical 19,040,276 19.76%
People Vertical 6,478,004 6.72%
Horizontal 43,769,483 45.42%
People Horizontal 16,642,842 17.27%
Square 8,574,135 8.90%
Alamy 165,000,000  
Vertical 5,773,771 3.50%
People Vertical 1,975,458 1.20%
Horizontal 9,420,423 5.71%
People Horizontal 3,179,336 1.93%
Square 3,366,791 2.04%
Shutterstock 282,851,647  
Vertical 3,793,791 1.34%
People Vertical 794,807 0.28%
Horizontal 7,702,426 2.72%
People Horizontal 1,706,231 0.60%
Square 8,320,335 2.94%

Clearly the suppliers to Getty and iStock do a much better job of adding the keywords “vertical” or “horizontal” to their images than do those supplying Alamy and Shutterstock. Maybe, Alamy and Shutterstock customers never use those words to narrow their searches.

In all cases there are a lot of mis-identified images – horizontal images that are identified as vertical as well as vertical images identified as horizontal. In some cases, it seems that the photographer might have thought that a vertical section could be cropped out of a horizontal image and thus added both keywords.

It is also interesting to consider how much time photographers may be wasting, not only in creating vertical images that no one wants to use or buy, but going to the trouble of correcting and keywording those images in order to get them into the agency collections. A lot of wasted effort.

More unneeded images in the collections simply makes it more difficult for buyers to find what they want and can use, rather than being helpful.

Why Aren’t Verticals Selling Better?

One thing to consider is that unlike times past when most images were used in printed products which tended to have a vertical format, now the vast majority of images are displayed on some type of digital device which tends to display horizontals better than verticals.

Another thing to consider is copy space. Often horizontals offer more options for copy to be placed within the image that is the case of verticals.

In addition, often image creators assume that buyers want an image that will work “as is.” However, today more buyers seem to be willing to retouch, crop, re-compose and use images as elements in ways that make the finished product the buyers visual statement. In such situations horizontals may work better than tightly framed verticals.

It would help image creators if agencies would supply some general information about the actual percentage of purchased images that are horizontal vs vertical or square. And, if possible, the subject areas where verticals are most often used. This would enable creators to make more efficient use of their time. Of course, such an effort would require a little work on the part of the agencies and none seem to have the staff or the interest in supplying contributors with such information.

Copyright © 2019 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:  


  • Alexander Karst Posted Jul 22, 2019
    I agree: appx. 5% of images we licence to our customers are verticals - and it´s not the media deciding, it´s the motif: a glass filled with coins, a night sky with a jet stream, a portrait...

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