Top 5 Best Selling Stock Photos and why (Mid-2017)

I do submit to other Microstock agencies, as well as to Midstock, but Shutterstock are by far my biggest moneymaker. To see a comprehensive list of Microstock agencies, click on this link. 

At the end I’ll provide a simple 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 are my top 5.

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

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! 🙂

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%)

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

I’ve recently used the image above to create a composite of a potential drone strike at an airport. To see the blog post, click here.

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%)

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 (I’ve included links to other articles within my blog):

Would appreciate if you could help me out!

Above and throughout the blog, as you can appreciate, I’ve given quite a bit of my time to help you make sense of this complicated stock industry and focus on making money. I’ve also given away some of my best-sellers which will directly lead to those images reducing their value (how much is impossible to say).

If you feel that the information above and at other posts is useful and if you’re so included, kindly donate as much as you feel is reasonable by clicking on the following link below:

Donate Now!


Gui Siebert’s Sell Stock Footage & Photography from ZERO to SERIOUS Income

On an unrelated news, I’ve just finished watching and reviewing Gui Sebert’s stock photography and videography class on Udemy. Really excellent stuff and if you sign up in the next few days you’ll have 76% off at only $10!


His YouTube channel, CreativeIncome, has useful content and if you recall, I did a collaboration with him some months ago. We’ve been discussing about another collaboration soon on submitting editorial vs commercial photos.


About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images. I’m determined not to waste my life away as a corporate drone and have devoted five years to making it as a travel photographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others before it’s too late.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography

Check out my new photo review service, where I’ll help take your images to the next level and get them sold regularly!


  1. Very helpful, thank you for this post. Nice work too. I am curious about your “people” images though. No model releases are needed because they are considered editorial and not commercial but you can still be paid?

    Liked by 1 person

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