202 Challenging Subjects when Shooting for Stock

When shooting stock photography, particularly for microstock, the perception often is that there exists an endless choice of subjects just waiting to be captured, and sold, Yes, for real money!

“But wait…” I hear anybody who has been selling stock for a while scream, “you can’t just shoot anything and expect to rake in the cash.”

I’ve dug through searches made on the picNiche system for the last year and put together a simple (intentionally vague) list of subjects you’d do well to avoid, not because they don’t sell, because they all do, many of them exceptionally well. But because there is so much competition of such a quality that you’d be very hard pressed to really capture a decent size of the market, especially if you’re new to microstock photography.

Don’t shoot?!

I’m not suggesting you don’t shoot any topic in this list at all, if you really like shooting business men or domestic animals (lol ;)) then you should do it for the love of it. Though you will need pristine-quality images, with an interesting and engaging ‘twist’ on the concept before you risk the time to produce them and end up lost on page 274 of the agency search engines.

This list is built from supply/demand metrics composited across a variety of associated search phrases and queries to picNiche over the last year or so. I’m currently working up some algorithms to get the other end of the this table built too.

It is roughly ordered by the amount of competition for that subject, so you’d need to work a whole lot harder to sell images from the top of the list than from the bottom, but even the bottom of this list would require hard work and professional-level output to really make an impact, especially if you’re arriving ‘late to the game’ in what remains a young, but rapidly maturing market.

Do you agree/disagree with the items in the list?
Is your entire portfolio focussed on one of these topics?
Have you seen an improvement or decline in sales over the last years/months/weeks for any of these themes?

Please let us all know what you think in the comments below 🙂

The List:

Subject Research Links
new year pN FT IS SS DT BS
christmas tree pN FT IS SS DT BS
cell phone pN FT IS SS DT BS
united states pN FT IS SS DT BS
icon set pN FT IS SS DT BS
Easter egg pN FT IS SS DT BS
national park pN FT IS SS DT BS
red wine pN FT IS SS DT BS
santa claus pN FT IS SS DT BS
blue sky pN FT IS SS DT BS
young adult pN FT IS SS DT BS
fast food pN FT IS SS DT BS
still life pN FT IS SS DT BS
bird of prey pN FT IS SS DT BS
light bulb pN FT IS SS DT BS
business man pN FT IS SS DT BS
design element pN FT IS SS DT BS
business people pN FT IS SS DT BS
coffee bean pN FT IS SS DT BS
sea shell pN FT IS SS DT BS
Christmas present pN FT IS SS DT BS
mobile phone pN FT IS SS DT BS
valentine card pN FT IS SS DT BS
traffic sign pN FT IS SS DT BS
dried fruit pN FT IS SS DT BS
coffee cup pN FT IS SS DT BS
water drop pN FT IS SS DT BS
young woman pN FT IS SS DT BS
hair style pN FT IS SS DT BS
south africa pN FT IS SS DT BS
little girl pN FT IS SS DT BS
web icon pN FT IS SS DT BS
front view pN FT IS SS DT BS
kitchen garden pN FT IS SS DT BS
business woman pN FT IS SS DT BS
healthy eating pN FT IS SS DT BS
studio shot pN FT IS SS DT BS
lying down pN FT IS SS DT BS
merry christmas pN FT IS SS DT BS
in love pN FT IS SS DT BS
business travel pN FT IS SS DT BS
fishing boat pN FT IS SS DT BS
built structure pN FT IS SS DT BS
long hair pN FT IS SS DT BS
flower garden pN FT IS SS DT BS
wine glass pN FT IS SS DT BS
healthy lifestyle pN FT IS SS DT BS
25-30 years pN FT IS SS DT BS
for sale pN FT IS SS DT BS
sea gull pN FT IS SS DT BS
sandy beach pN FT IS SS DT BS
single object pN FT IS SS DT BS
coffee beans pN FT IS SS DT BS
easter eggs pN FT IS SS DT BS
italian food pN FT IS SS DT BS
orange juice pN FT IS SS DT BS
sexy woman pN FT IS SS DT BS
domestic animals pN FT IS SS DT BS
brown hair pN FT IS SS DT BS
brick wall pN FT IS SS DT BS
roof tile pN FT IS SS DT BS
christmas decoration pN FT IS SS DT BS
wood texture pN FT IS SS DT BS
looking up pN FT IS SS DT BS
side view pN FT IS SS DT BS
building exterior pN FT IS SS DT BS
home interior pN FT IS SS DT BS
green pepper pN FT IS SS DT BS
wild animal pN FT IS SS DT BS
facial expression pN FT IS SS DT BS
teenage girl pN FT IS SS DT BS
young man pN FT IS SS DT BS
gift box pN FT IS SS DT BS
human hand pN FT IS SS DT BS
sea food pN FT IS SS DT BS
nautical vessel pN FT IS SS DT BS
healthy food pN FT IS SS DT BS
fruit cake pN FT IS SS DT BS
cup of tea pN FT IS SS DT BS
red pepper pN FT IS SS DT BS
travel destinations pN FT IS SS DT BS
water sport pN FT IS SS DT BS
asian food pN FT IS SS DT BS
business person pN FT IS SS DT BS
abstract background pN FT IS SS DT BS
red square pN FT IS SS DT BS
clear sky pN FT IS SS DT BS
blond hair pN FT IS SS DT BS
abstract concept pN FT IS SS DT BS
greeting card pN FT IS SS DT BS
drinking glass pN FT IS SS DT BS
christmas day pN FT IS SS DT BS
water fowl pN FT IS SS DT BS
clock tower pN FT IS SS DT BS
fashion model pN FT IS SS DT BS
fruit tree pN FT IS SS DT BS
water garden pN FT IS SS DT BS
baby girl pN FT IS SS DT BS
green field pN FT IS SS DT BS
christmas card pN FT IS SS DT BS
raw meat pN FT IS SS DT BS
kung fu pN FT IS SS DT BS
pink flower pN FT IS SS DT BS
water bottle pN FT IS SS DT BS
autumn leaves pN FT IS SS DT BS
vegetarian food pN FT IS SS DT BS
paper currency pN FT IS SS DT BS
coffee break pN FT IS SS DT BS
little boy pN FT IS SS DT BS
baby animal pN FT IS SS DT BS
tranquil scene pN FT IS SS DT BS
short hair pN FT IS SS DT BS
chinese food pN FT IS SS DT BS
green apple pN FT IS SS DT BS
spring flower pN FT IS SS DT BS
human eye pN FT IS SS DT BS
green leaves pN FT IS SS DT BS
citrus fruit pN FT IS SS DT BS
christmas ornament pN FT IS SS DT BS
healthcare and medicine pN FT IS SS DT BS
web button pN FT IS SS DT BS
farm animals pN FT IS SS DT BS
asian woman pN FT IS SS DT BS
casual clothing pN FT IS SS DT BS
christmas ball pN FT IS SS DT BS
night sky pN FT IS SS DT BS
tile roof pN FT IS SS DT BS
travel destination pN FT IS SS DT BS
white flower pN FT IS SS DT BS
stone wall pN FT IS SS DT BS
vegetable garden pN FT IS SS DT BS
sunny day pN FT IS SS DT BS
human face pN FT IS SS DT BS
group of objects pN FT IS SS DT BS
fishing boats pN FT IS SS DT BS
rural scene pN FT IS SS DT BS
traditional culture pN FT IS SS DT BS
lake district pN FT IS SS DT BS
yellow flower pN FT IS SS DT BS
blue water pN FT IS SS DT BS
construction equipment pN FT IS SS DT BS
holiday home pN FT IS SS DT BS
baby face pN FT IS SS DT BS
orange flower pN FT IS SS DT BS
historic building pN FT IS SS DT BS
ribbon bow pN FT IS SS DT BS
business suit pN FT IS SS DT BS
spring flowers pN FT IS SS DT BS
pine cone pN FT IS SS DT BS
christmas decorations pN FT IS SS DT BS
old car pN FT IS SS DT BS
red background pN FT IS SS DT BS
little girls pN FT IS SS DT BS
red rose pN FT IS SS DT BS
tea cup pN FT IS SS DT BS
river boat pN FT IS SS DT BS
fresh fruit pN FT IS SS DT BS
glass of water pN FT IS SS DT BS
office equipment pN FT IS SS DT BS
office worker pN FT IS SS DT BS
non-urban scene pN FT IS SS DT BS
head and shoulders pN FT IS SS DT BS
single flower pN FT IS SS DT BS
sea animal pN FT IS SS DT BS
red flower pN FT IS SS DT BS
old book pN FT IS SS DT BS
rose garden pN FT IS SS DT BS
tomato sauce pN FT IS SS DT BS
red flowers pN FT IS SS DT BS
flag pole pN FT IS SS DT BS
red heart pN FT IS SS DT BS
christmas background pN FT IS SS DT BS
modern architecture pN FT IS SS DT BS
hair care pN FT IS SS DT BS
happy girl pN FT IS SS DT BS
sea mammal pN FT IS SS DT BS
red onion pN FT IS SS DT BS
christmas ornaments pN FT IS SS DT BS
holiday season pN FT IS SS DT BS
abstract design pN FT IS SS DT BS
seamless pattern pN FT IS SS DT BS
glass bottle pN FT IS SS DT BS
happy holidays pN FT IS SS DT BS
old wall pN FT IS SS DT BS
human age pN FT IS SS DT BS
summer holiday pN FT IS SS DT BS
blue flower pN FT IS SS DT BS
happy child pN FT IS SS DT BS
yellow rose pN FT IS SS DT BS
orange fruit pN FT IS SS DT BS
christmas child pN FT IS SS DT BS
juicy fruit pN FT IS SS DT BS
abstract texture pN FT IS SS DT BS
ancient art pN FT IS SS DT BS
color pencil pN FT IS SS DT BS
red apples pN FT IS SS DT BS
hot tea pN FT IS SS DT BS
red tulip pN FT IS SS DT BS
white cheese pN FT IS SS DT BS
rocky mountain pN FT IS SS DT BS
medieval castle pN FT IS SS DT BS
red tomato pN FT IS SS DT BS
white bird pN FT IS SS DT BS
low angle view pN FT IS SS DT BS
fall leaf pN FT IS SS DT BS
mountain landscape pN FT IS SS DT BS
flower bud pN FT IS SS DT BS
abstract backgrounds pN FT IS SS DT BS
modern building pN FT IS SS DT BS
teen girl pN FT IS SS DT BS
cute baby pN FT IS SS DT BS
old door pN FT IS SS DT BS
water background pN FT IS SS DT BS
brown background pN FT IS SS DT BS
yellow tulip pN FT IS SS DT BS
beautiful flower pN FT IS SS DT BS
sexy body pN FT IS SS DT BS
hot coffee pN FT IS SS DT BS
city park pN FT IS SS DT BS

Extro (like an intro, at the end)

There are plenty of blog posts around about what you should shoot (though not many about what not to, if you have one please link in comments and I’ll add), and I’d suggest checking them out.

But in short… find a subject you love, and be creative with it 🙂

What do you think?

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17 Comments

  1. Posted August 13, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    I think that there is no subject to avoid if You are good in it and You like it, but such lists and researches are good to just see the competition and avoid repetition (in fact these phrases are very general and can include completely different images), also to explore new way of expression, quality improvements and so on.

    Unfortunately link to my article about is under construction;) I’ll post it here right after publication.

  2. Posted August 13, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I think the blog post title is a bit confusing.

    The keywords you list DO sell very well. But since many photographers know this the offered quantity and quality is yery high on these topics. This makes it hard as a newbie to get sales there, but I wouldn’t tend to say that efforts would be worthless.

  3. Posted August 13, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Bob, funny and interesting. I can sell “dried fruit” and “mountain landscape” Wow! Maybe ’cause there is another keyword more “niche oriented” that was used in the search.
    Cheers,
    roberto

  4. bobbigmac
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Plrang:
    Yes I agree, they are intentionally vauge (took a lot of database queries to get them this vague lol, if it was any more specific it would be 202,000 ‘challenging subjects; 🙂

    Robert:
    I’ve adjusted the title to more accurately reflect the content of the post 🙂 I was trying to be ironic and kinda skipped over the literal meaning 🙂

    Roberto:
    The figures are from a set of composited figures and topics across a few thousand searches, they will sell if excellent quality, but for a newcomer producing sub-premium-quality I think it would be a waste of time to try 🙂

  5. Posted August 13, 2009 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Challenging Subjects sounds good!

  6. Posted August 13, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    @bobbimac:

    I understood that your title was ironic, it just somehow reminded me of the post in Yuri’s blog where he stated what you shouldn’t shoot and one commented that almost his entire portfolio consists of these shoots. 😉

    • bobbigmac
      Posted August 13, 2009 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      lol yes, if only we all had access to Yuri’s studio and production team 😉

  7. Posted August 13, 2009 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    eheeh what a huge list of different and equal subjects! :p
    I am quite new in microstock but I think we need to create more and something different than the usual, because there is a lot of “same” images that are already online, like business handshake etc..! I have a new board concept that I am working on it and there only a few things on the market, and I am seeing some sales there…!

    keep shooting 🙂

  8. themightyshrub
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    So I should avoid shooting colour images? Darn…

    • bobbigmac
      Posted August 26, 2009 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      ‘colour image’ as a subject, yes, so things like those shots of multi-coloured umbrellas and rainbow/swatch style textures, and other patterns highlighting just colour are oversupplied.

      Not of course images in colour 🙂

  9. Posted September 2, 2009 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Then maybe i’ll use it with Your permission under that second title 😉 We’ll see which one get more hits 😉
    Naah, i have my next article on the way

  10. Posted September 24, 2009 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    I don’t do much microstock at all, but I don’t see how this list is that useful, to be honest, because the subjects are so vague. It almost seems more like it’s a challenging list of keywords, rather than a challenging list of subjects. For example, under “Still Life,” I looked at what IS had–and it’s everything from an isolated object (baseball, with over 400 dls) to a smear of pink lip gloss (0 dls), and that’s just on the first page. Does that mean that ALL potential still life subjects shouldn’t be shot by beginners? I can’t imagine buyers always use only 2 key words for searches, and contributors have to use at least 7 or so. I’ve just recently started using picniche and I find the more keywords I have (that are accurate and valid, not spamdexing), the more of a “niche” I find to shoot. Do I have it all wrong?

    • bobbigmac
      Posted September 24, 2009 at 1:37 am | Permalink

      Heya Colleen, yes and no, for your example ‘Still Life’, as a ‘subject’ it is severely oversupplied, not of course, ALL still life images.

      Images very representative (cliches) of still life (fruit bowl on a curtain, a single wine bottle, etc etc) would be in very competitive segments, as with the rest of these subjects, for a newcomer to stock, they’d have to be producing very high quality images to be able to focus primarily on that and expect high RPIs for the work.

      I’ve focused on searches consisting of 2 words here simply because the median search is somewhere between 2-3 words, I think the last figure I saw was 2.5ish, though I did read a while back that it was slowly rising. I wish I had access to good quality buyer data to be able to mine this further 🙂

      With regards to your ‘more keywords = better rating’ question, this in some cases is true, as more keywords generally do indicate you are approaching a niche by the ‘proper’ definition, on picNiche results though you also need to keep in mind whether the phrase is likely typable by a buyer (not many buyers would type “my dog ate my shoes and I’m angry” whereas “dog eating shoe” is more realistic).

      Determining this can be helped by checking the Views/File and Downloads/File metric, though sadly, interpreting the data still comes down to one of those things which many people are still trying (and failing) to automate, common sense 🙂

      Not sure if that helps?

  11. Posted September 24, 2009 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    Yes, it does help. I think I understand it better now. Thanks! 🙂

  12. Posted October 13, 2009 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I love a not to do list; it makes me feel so much less pressure! Seriously, it is pretty useful in encouraging us to focus on niche subjects and/or twists instead of adding more to an already over supplied subject.

  13. Posted May 6, 2011 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    Well, I shoot any subject that crosses my mind. Even if it’s challenging won’t hurt to extend my portfolio.
    I mean if you have easy access to a particular subject even if it’s competitive is always better to have it.

    • bobbigmac
      Posted May 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      Usually yes, but don’t forget that some microstock agencies penalise contributors who have a high proportion of images which don’t sell. Sometimes (only sometimes mind) more is not better… (always though) better is better 😉

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] 202 Challenging Subjects when Shooting for Stock by Rob “bobbigmac” Davies (picNiche’s author); <<The list is built from supply/demand metrics composited across a variety of associated search phrases and queries to picNiche>> […]

  2. By Don’t shoot clichés? We did… | core[pics] on September 27, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    […] photographers, discuss this taboo on clichés. The evidence is out there – the stock sites, a PicNiche article, on  Mystockphoto and the microstockdiaries views on Clichés. There’s even a […]

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