“Most Popular Images” Tell a Tale: Image Trends

Trends come and go. Some gain widespread popularity, and others are forgotten by the end of the month. How does one sift through the information and spot the best-selling, most-sought images from the ho-hum ones?

As a photographer or illustrator, you are often your own marketer and must do some research to find out which images sold, which are selling, and anticipate which may conceivably sell in the not-too-distant future. That said, one of the best tools in your research arsenal is our

Most Popular Images page. Here you have a few options to give you an idea of what sells: Top 50 Images Ever, Top 50 Images This Week, and Top 100 Image Searches. (Top 25 Video Downloads is a fourth category but we’ll focus on that one in a future, footage-based newsletter.)

Top 100 Image Searches

We’ll begin with the Top 100 Image searches. The number one image search term is flower. Indeed, if you run a keyword search for “flower,” the results yield over 300,000 image results ““ almost 10 per cent of Shutterstock’s entire library! The lesson here is this: If you plan to submit flower images, make sure they’re original.

Also noteworthy are the other terms that round out the top ten: Christmas, background, medical, family, vector, tattoo, music, woman, and baby. In examining these search terms, some interesting trends emerge. Family, woman and baby are all related, as there is always a market for images of people. Clearly, image buyers need family-friendly shots of people for their projects. With tattoo, vector, and to some extent, background, the majority of these images are illustrations and vectors as opposed to photos.

There are many different ways you could read into what the top 100 image searches mean. Consider them a rudimentary peek into the mind of the Shutterstock buyer, as he or she searches for the perfect image.

Top 50 Images This Week

For the week of June 8-14, 2008, a number of interesting trends emerged when comparing these 50 images to one another. What can the comparisons and contrasts between the images in this category tell us?

Quite a few things, actually. One of the first themes that come to mind when viewing these images as a whole is “summer.” You find poolside shots, palm trees with a sunrise illustration, landscape photos with green fields and blue skies, colorful, floral vectors, and rollicking ocean wave photos. Because this category is Top 50 Images of the Week, it would only be natural to come across a number of seasonal or holiday-based images. Also noteworthy is the high number of vectors and illustrations.

The vectors and illustrations themselves present some interesting trends. A good portion have tremendous commercial appeal for their imagery of “going green,” or environmentalism, exemplified by some interesting concepts such as a light bulb that has a tree emerging from its base instead of the glass bulb, and some creative takes on the universal sign for recycling, a trio of arrows following themselves around in a triangular shape. Some of these images could equally fall under the category of nature, which tends to be a reliable seller in terms of demand. A particularly imaginative image takes a cityscape and alters its natural colors into hues of grey, brown and tan, giving it a suitably burnt-out, post-apocalyptic look that could be commercially used for messages of environmentalism, brutal summer heat waves, or a science fiction themed product or story.

It is also worth mentioning that when Shutterstock features images on its homepage, a sizable bump in downloads for that image generally ensues, often granting its arrival in the famed Top 50 Images This Week.

Top 50 Images Ever

In this category, the first thing you may notice is the correlation between the 50 images presented here and the top 100 image search terms, especially the top ten we examined above. Flower, music, background, vector, baby, woman, and family are all well accounted for here. While tattoo, medical and Christmas didn’t quite make the cut, there are some vector designs that are tattooesque, and images of snowflakes and winter seem to take the place of what could have been Santa Claus and Christmas trees.

Some trends do carry over from top 50 of the week to top 50 all-time. The environmental imagery certainly remains popular, along with nature and seasonal themes. In fact, if you look closely, you could choose a single image to represent each of the four seasons.

A noticeable disparity between top 50 all-time and top 50 of the week is the amount of people images in the top 50 all-time. There are eighteen images, mostly photos but also a couple vectors, that contain either a person, people, or part of a person (a close-up of a handshake, for example). The reason? Versatility. In some of these images, we see a happy couple smiling at us. In another, we see an embracing couple staring at a house. In yet another, we see a man at work, welding with colorful sparks flying. We have business people in office settings and happy families frolicking in their backyard. Individuals snowboarding, jogging, jumping for joy. Examining these people doing specific things, it is remarkably easy to come up with a context for these images. Trends come and go, but it is difficult to imagine a circumstance where images of people doing things, anything, won’t be marketable.

This article barely scratches the surface of what you can discover if you examine the trends and themes in Shutterstock’s Most Popular Images section. Examine them. Study them. Take notes. Combine this knowledge with your continued submissions of the best images you have to offer, and you may just experience the best trend of all ““ an upswing in your sales!