"My portfolio has only a few people images in it. I often tell myself that I should take more people photos, and that that my sales would be even better if I did, is this true?"



After looking at a few statistics from a user with 1000 images of people on istock, and pretty poor sales results (not just in my opinion, that of several other people too) I started thinking about the market. All of the images were quality, well lit, white background, typical of the microstock movement; each image emoted some sort of subject, and the keywords were good. It all got me wondering if all this 'your photos must include people' clap trap is really true? Sure it's a well known fact that people associate better with images that feature people, there have been studies on that, they get more emotionally bonded. People can provide a scale to photos of landscapes, and used to target products at specific market segments.


Online Use, Where?

This has all started me thinking about where, as a web designer, would you use these images (the web being a large part of the microstock market).

Blogs and personal sites, they're out for a start, you'd be putting an image of someone else up there and people would then associate the image with you. (might not be a bad thing, but it's misleading)

Bricks and Mortar SME websites, well, okay so start to think of some businesses that could use photos with people in them. Hairdressers, they would want an image of someone they had actually cut the hair of, a restaurant, hmm, would a web designer insert an image of a smiling chef who has got nothing to do with the restaurant??? I kept thinking of different small enterprises trying to think of convincing ways in which people photography could be used to enhance their sites and not just decorate it, not many positive ideas here, what about....

Enterprise and Big Business, they usually have the budget to commission something, and again they would probably like to see company employees not a complete random from a microstock site.

E-companies, yes there is a market here, printing family photos, e-commerce websites (but remember these probably already have access to marketing materials from their suppliers).

Information Sites, a bit like this one, it depends on the subject. I can see a use for an image with people in it here, but somewhat limited. I then went on an thought of those domain holding pages, they always use them in an attempt to make people think they are not just a waste of online space!


People Pictures Off-line

There are plenty of places off-line for such images, flyers, billboards and magazine articles are a good place for such images, they fit right in. But is this market as big as we are lead to believe from a microstock perspective. Looking at the front page of a typical microstock site and you will see landscapes and people photos, but look at the sellers and you might see the images that are selling are not the ones on the front page; that box of heart shaped chocolates or the faceless 3D rendering of business people are selling big time.

Placing an image of a recognisable person in a design immediately gives the design a gender, socio-economic grouping, race and age group which it did not have before, this is a good thing in many cases if you have to target your products for specific market segments. But there are a lot of image editors who are carefully picking images in a way that does not tie their product into just one market.

look Apple advertising for their iPod, silhouetted people who look to be having a good time, sure they look young, but not in a way that would alienate an older customer. They are 'race-less' 'world people', there is both male and female, so now you've covered most of the market for a media player on this planet. Here are some examples of people photos that don't actually have any recognisable people in them. A lot of them are a great deal more compelling (to me at least) than many of the unoriginal stock photos I see of real people.


Perhaps the most appealing images are those which feature people but do so anonymously, showing someone from the chin down or from the back, or for example someones feet sticking out from under a quilt or hanging over the end of a sofa - these all need model releases there is no getting away from that, but they allow a broader range of viewers to easily to 'place themselves in the picture'.



If you are making good sales with all your people photos and poor ones with all the non people photos in your portfolio I want to hear from you! I'm not saying that people photos don't sell, they clearly do sell, and sell well. Do they sell better than pictures without people? Is it just a 'design fad' to use images of silhouetted people? There is a lot of debate on this subject, but if you are currently doing quite nicely indeed with what you have, then I for one have started to doubt the holy grail of earning more from "microstock people images". Perhaps they are no better selling than other quality images that capture a concept or mood - and without all the need for models and model releases.



If you create 'unrecognisable' photos featuring people make sure you keyword them as such by including something from the following list (as appropriate):

  • Unrecognisable people
  • Anonymous people
  • People in the distant background
  • Person below the neck
  • People below the waist
  • People silhouetted... etc



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Property, Model and Talent Releases

Dean Mitchell's picture

People images

Dean Mitchell (not verified) on Sun, 2009-05-10 12:27
Hi, I've been submitting to several microstock sites for nearly seven months now (full-time) and with the modest sized portfolio I've created I see (in my opinion) that people images are huge sellers and the best way to earn real money from microstock. I must admit to not having many still life images on sale, or any good quality ones I'm proud of so that will always effect my sales and opinion but my people images - which is 90% of my port - do really well. I can't really compare to anyone else as I don't know what they sell but my largest port contains about 1000 images with the smallest being about 2% of that and I have sold around 25,000 licenses in the seven months - with 99% coming from people images. Is that good? I don't know but I can pay my bills with it. If you've heard of Yuri Arcurs you'll know that he is the biggest selling stock photographer in the world and turned over 1.3 million last year. Now i'm sure 99% of his images come from people photography as his port contains 99% people. Again he doesn't shoot much else so it is hard to compare. However, Amanda Rohde or Hidesy as she is known, who shoots alot of still life and conceptual photography from Australia who is exclusive to Istock, is the third highest selling photog on the istock site and probably 60% - 70% of her work is still life conceptual. The part that concludes this for me is that Hidesy's entire port on IS consists of 12,000 images and Yuri's 4,000. Yuri sells four times more licenses than Hidesy everyday on this site alone. Would you agree people do better in this case? Cheers for the great info on your site. All the best. Dean
Steve Gibson's picture

in persepctive

Steve Gibson on Sun, 2009-05-10 23:45

Thanks for the input, i wrote this last year, and have since seen plenty of peoples profiles, I think yuri does a lot more to aid his sales besides taking 'just people pictures'. Kelly cline seems to do rarther well on predominantly food photos (but they are also of the highest standard). Stick with what you can do best, works well and you enjoy doing!

Steve Gibson's picture

Someone with both

Steve Gibson on Sat, 2009-05-16 04:01

heres an interesting istock portfolio, at the top there is a mix of still life and people, but look down the bottom of the list there are hundereds of people photos with 0 downloads, swamping the number of still life that have not sold at all.

Nikita Buida's picture

People shots

Nikita Buida (not verified) on Mon, 2009-05-11 08:16
I have to agree with Dean. I have relatively small portfolio but the latest part of it consists 99,9% of people shots. And yes, I can say most of my sales are people, but I don't have quality still life and landscapes to compare with. Thanks for lots of useful info! Nikita
Anonymous's picture

Yuri Arcurs

Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 2015-01-25 03:10
No wonder Yuri Arcurs makes so much money on photos of people a majority of his stuff is naked women.
Steve Gibson's picture


Steve Gibson on Sun, 2015-02-01 01:34
I don't think that's true at all (!?)

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