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As a professional photographer, people are always asking me, “What sells best in stock photography?” Here’s the answer in two words: people photography. I recognize that I could be biased, being predominantly a “people photographer,” so for the sake of objectivity it’s always a good idea to check a few outside sources… One place I check is the “Most Popular Downloads” list found on iStockphoto. It shows the 15 most downloaded shots over the course of three months. Currently, only three of those 15 do not have a person in the photo. Another way to see what’s selling is to pay attention to your local ads, like bus stops and billboards. These almost always include people. While this is by no means scientific research, it does reflect that photos of people sell well. And to further prove the point, we can look at the results of my own portfolio. I currently have over 3,300 photos in my portfolio and well over half (about 1,800) of those photos include people. Based on that, you might think that half of my sales would not include people. But that’s not how it’s worked out. In fact, my sales closely resemble iStocks “Most Popular.” Of my all-time top 15 most downloaded photos, only two do not include people. Another important thing to notice is that my top 15 best sellers include some of the simplest people shots I have in my portfolio (see below). So, what makes them top sellers over some other much more complex shots?

  • They are simple and clean
  • They are designer-friendly with space for copy
  • The people have happy, friendly expressions

Here are my top three all-time best selling shots. They have each sold over 1,000 times. See what I mean? They are simple head and shoulders shots. The background is clean and uncluttered. There are no distractions. Just real people in real and genuine expressions. That’s what makes these photos stand out to designers. To be designer friendly, none of these pictures are too cropped and each has space available for text. Bringing these elements together in one clean and simple shot makes for good sales potential. [Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]

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