Top 5 Best Selling Stock Photos

Hey fellow photographer grinders,

I feel that it’s only fair that if I’m going to teach you how to make money with stock photos that I should disclose which are my top 5 selling images at Shutterstock in terms of downloads only not in terms of $. I do submit to other Microstock agencies but Shutterstock are by far my biggest moneymaker.

At the end I’ll give you the “secret” check-list of what makes an image premium, but keep the best bits in my book, the Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography. By the way, I use the term “selling” here loosely since it’s actually licensing.

Without further to do, here they are.

kiwi drink2

5th place with 105 downloads – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

What’s so special about it?

If you don’t recognise where it is, well it’s in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was taken a year before the Olympics and sold regularly to blogs/articles featuring stories about Olympics. Since, it does well as a travel photo as well as popular for blogs about cocktails.

What else is special? The background is superb with the light and the drink looks appetizing. It’s clean and screams out RIO! There’s also plenty of copy space, which is important for designers to place their Call to Action. Also, everybody loves a caipirinha on the beach!  I tried the shot with beer, on the opposite end of the beach (arpoador), but hasn’t been as successful

Downloads per Keyword: caipirinha (51.6%), rio (12.9%), cocktail (9.7%)


15 downloads only, enough to pay for a few beers but not much more. In Brazil, they call it a ‘chopp’


That’s my hand by the way, extra points for me managing to hold and take the shot at the same time! 🙂

Downtown Rotterdam during the day

4th place goes to Rotterdam, Netherlands’s Central Station (Editorial) with 146 downloads

What’s so special about it?

There’s loads of pics of this iconic building, inaugurated in 2013 of Rotterdam’s central rail station, but they’re usually taken at street level. Therefore, I haven’t seen any from this vantage point which happened to be where my office was – not bad eh. The image also has a beautiful sharpness and futuristic feel, combined with the copy space on the top left. I have other ones from this angle but this one sells the most.

Rotterdam has become a trendy place in Holland, rivaling Amsterdam so this image features heavily in travel blogs. Also, since Rotterdam is a hub for import/export business, with Europe’s largest port, this image features heavily in business-related websites and blogs.

Downloads per Keyword: rotterdam (66.7%), roof (3.3%), downtown (3.3%)

Airplane at Schiphol

Bronze medal goes to this iconic shot at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport with 160 downloads

What’s so special about it?

Well considering that I risked getting arrested since I was so close to the runway in a restricted part of the airport, I should be earning a lot more! With all the security paranoia (rightly or wrongly), I probably wouldn’t be able to get this shot at that airport in 2017. I live close to an airport in Milan but the huge fence doesn’t help to get clean shots.

Everything about it is special, the lighting, composition and unique moment. A hugely versatile commercial image about a popular subject (travel). I love taking airplane shots but none of my other airplane shots have done even close as well as this one, for obvious reasons.

Downloads per Keyword: airplane (88.6%), travel (4.3%), fuselage (2.9%)

Airplane taking off with sunset

Only 22 downloads, a disappointment in comparison – also taken at Amsterdam’s Schiphol on another occasion. Probably works better as a fine art print and gets lots of views in Fine Art America but not sales as of today

Jardim Botanico

Silver medal goes to this shot of the Botanical Gardens in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with 240 downloads

What’s so special about it?

Unsurprisingly, many wedding shots at taken underneath these arches. No such shots on the day I visited though, luckily. What is special about this image is the hypnotizing composition which just leads you in, with a beautiful soft tropical light coming through (it was winter there, hence the best light). It’s been used for all sorts of media from postcards to wedding blogs and of course blogs about travel to Rio/Brazil.

Downloads per Keyword: rio (26.5%), de (18.4%), janeiro (18.4%)

Woman reading book next to Houses of Parliament, London

Honourable mention goes to this shot of this pretty lady across from the Houses of Parliament, reading her book. Not a high-grossing image with “only” 50 downloads, it’s still one of my favourites for capturing that special moment! Crucially, it looks extremely authentic and the framing is excellent


Disappointment of the year/decade goes to this image of an EU flag burning prior to the UK referendum on whether to leave the EU. By the way the Brexit vote was also a huge disappointment but that’s another matter. This image has only been sold 10 times. Hey at the time I thought it was a good idea and I like the post-processing…this industry can be tough to predict. Now onto the winner…


Gold medal goes to this iconic shot of a little girl at Keleti Rail Station in Budapest at the height of the refugee crisis in September 2014. It has been downloaded a whopping 532 times (editorial)

What’s so special about it?

Duh. It’s just a crazy special moment in the midst of the chaos to see humanity stare at you like this. A defenseless young girl that has nothing to do with what’s going on in Syria is pleading for her life while her dad (I presume) looks on. She may not know what’s going on but the people around her look exhausted and make for a nice frame as she’s clearly the centre of attention.

I can’t ever see this image going out of style, especially as the refugee crisis sees no end in sight, unfortunately.

Downloads per Keyword: refugee (59.3%), syrian (7.9%), migrant (7.9%)

So what are the secret ingredients to a high-value stock photo? I write about this extensively in my book, so if you haven’t purchased a copy, please do. Meanwhile, i’ll give you a sneak peak.

Premium images generally have a combination of the following:

  • In colour
  • Have a clearly identifiable theme
  • Are authentic looking (in the case of commercial images)
  • Provoke a powerful emotional response
  • Capture an inspirational place
  • Have at least one person in the frame
  • Are trending or will be trending soon

If you want to see how I go into detail on each of these with clear examples, click below to purchase a copy (Also available on Kindle):

Buy Now Button

Until next time and good luck with your shooting!

Alexandre Rotenberg

Author of the Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography


2 thoughts on “Top 5 Best Selling Stock Photos

  1. Pingback: Bored at the airport? Shoot Stock! | Alexandre Rotenberg's Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography

  2. Pingback: Why I choose to embrace ‘subscription’ downloads at Microstock sites! | Alexandre Rotenberg's Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s