Stock Photography: How to Appeal to a Particular Demographic to Massively Boost your Sales

As a microstock photographer, your number one concern is how to boost sales and maximize profits with creative money making ideas. Is it possible, for instance, to target a particular demographic with your photography?

Who Are Your Customers?

First, of course, you need to know who’s buying your images. Not the name, address, race, gender, age and occupation of each customer, but the purposes for which most people need stock photos in the first place. Typically, you’re selling to artists, web designers (professional and amateur), advertisers, graphic designers, and others in the publication business–whether they work for popular magazines or are in charge of putting out the weekly church bulletin. Because they are buying images for a work project, and not for personal use, knowing their personal information may not do you much good. After all, the seventy-something woman in charge of her garden club’s newsletter may adore photos of dressed up poodles wearing rhinestone sunglasses, but when she has her wallet out while preparing the newsletter, what she’s really looking for is a good, clean image of a trowel on a white background.

One of the best ways to determine what microstock customers want is to look at their finished projects. Examine magazines for the types of photos that make it into both articles and advertisements. Do the same for college daily newspapers, any online newsletters that you subscribe to, your day job’s corporate materials, textbooks, children’s picture books, websites that you frequent–pretty much any published matter that contains a photograph. Even if an image didn’t come from a stock agency, it’s still useful. After all, our vision of how a graphic should appear is heavily influenced by what we see in our everyday lives.  When buyers come to BigStockPhots<link>, Shutterstock, iStockphoto, and other agencies, they have a preconceived notion of how their ideal photo will look, informed by what they’ve already seen. These in turn influence the terms that they input in the search box, and you want to make sure your photographs show up high in the search results. By mimicking, to some degree, popular poses and motifs, you’ll ensure that the photo they end up buying is yours.

Targeting a Niche

Money Making Ideas: Stock PhotographyOne of the “most popular” images on

Stock photographers are advised to “find a unique niche” for their work, both to avoid the tremendous amount of competition in popular categories, and to cultivate what amounts to a personal client list–people who appreciate their subject, their photographic style, and are likely to seek out their work whenever they need a photo. Once you’ve found a niche (or two, or three), observe and take careful notes on which photos sell–both your own and those of others. Just as mentioned above, whenever possible, check out periodicals and websites dealing with that same niche, and ask these questions. What style of image is most popular? Are there colors that predominate? Moods? Do the photos need to have large amounts of white space? Do they feature more people or objects? If your niche is bowhunting, for example, you might find that the preferred style is straightforward, without a lot of artistic angles. The subjects tend to be male, and the color schemes involve more earth tones.  Don’t let your observations completely control your photo choices, however.

If, for example, the bowhunting subject area is heavily populated by photos of stocky bearded men in camouflage, bows at the ready, what you may need to do is add some great shots of female hunters, some detailed equipment close-ups, and interesting angles to garner more attention and sales. Never be afraid to experiment a little; your photo might provide the inspirational jolt customers are searching for.

As you strategize on how best to serve your niches, don’t forget that, like those searching more general topics, your customers also have concepts they need to illustrate in their materials. Again, looking at finished products is the best way to see just which concepts are important. For example: religious websites generally feature plenty of photos of Bibles (or Korans, Talmuds, or other scriptures), but they also need images that illustrate the spiritual ideas they are promoting, the meanings of parables, devout adherents, and religious symbols. If you’re not already an enthusiast for your niche, it may be difficult to come up with images that are related to your niche but belong to a subcategory that nobody else is serving. So it is best to pick a niche you are already familiar with and passionate about. For whatever reason, if you pick a niche you are not that familiar with, try putting yourself in the minds of your clients. When you can think as they do, you’ll better be able to provide the photos they need.

General Trends

Well, that’s all very interesting, you might think, but what’s really selling? You can’t make money with these money making ideas if no one is buying. Are there any general demographic trends in microstock photography that I can take advantage of? And how can I find out what they are? Of course there are. And the best way to discern them is to make a regular practice of examining the top sellers from every microstock site–not just the one(s) you work for. After all, perhaps the client bought from the competition only after he couldn’t find what he wanted on your website.

A quick examination of the “top searches” on BigSotckPhoto reveals that a lot of people are looking for pictures that can be used as background images, business themed images and images containing people in general. Correlating these with the “most popular” images gives an interesting perspective of what kind of images have the most oomph in the context of these search terms. Most popular images tend to be brightly colored. They’re shot from interesting, even artistic, angles. Just as you’ve always heard, they feature more people than nature–and happy people, at that. You will also find a lot of beach and waves, not because surfing websites are big customers, but because a surfer tackling a wave, silhouetted against a gorgeous sunset can be used to illustrate concepts ranging from “courage” and “independence,” to “relaxation,” “health,” and “one with nature.” Most shots feature activity, or the feeling of movement, whether or not the subject is actually in motion. Stills of vibrant colors–food, color pencils, and flower shots are popular, as are those of objects on white backgrounds. Believe it or not, “white” is one of the more popular search terms. Remember, the majority of your buyers are graphics professionals. They know how to get the photo to do what they want; they simply need a good, manipulate-able image.

Don’t forget seasonal themes and current events

As you plan your photography sessions, remember to cater for those looking for pictures to illustrate the spirit of the season or current events. “Christmas” is one of the top-rated search terms on Shutterstock; creative images for any holiday should sell well, if only for a brief time. Remember, too, that many publications are planning their holiday issues months in advance; don’t be afraid to put up your winter-themed photos in June. A large number of photo purchases are driven by a journalist’s or blogger’s need to write about newsworthy events. Develop an instinct for current concerns and trends and shoot both specific and concept photographs to appeal to this market.

One of the challenges of being a stock photographer is that there’s always room to grow. Yet that is also one of its great joys. Through careful research and observation, you can learn how to appeal to both niche and general markets, and what once started out as one of many money making ideas will also help you keep your artistic sensibility stoked.

Interested in stock photography? Check out the best stock photo site on the web — — for ideas and examples of the kind of pictures that users are looking for. Currently, this is where we get all the images for this site from.
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  1. Hey Sam,

    Came over from your great comment on my blog, and what a great article to land on.
    Not for me mind you, but a good mate of mine is just starting his own photography business and his hard drive is already full of a quadrillion images so this would be perfect side business for him.

    I’ll pass it along, cheers.

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