Why images with people tend to sell better!

Hey fellow photography grinders,

One person today asked me what would be my number 1 advice to make my images stand out and be licensed regularly.  I thought about it for a little while…then it occurred to me – so obvious! Outside of technicals (lighting, composition, focus, etc), without a doubt my primary advice would be to always look to include people within your frame

Why do images with people tend to do better?

Advertisers have long known that images with people are powerful tools for promoting a product and/or service. Potential customers may identify themselves or aspire towards the person in the image, so if there is a genuine human connection, even better for downloads. In fact, on average they are licensed considerable more often than other categories.

Compare between the depressingly empty photos on the left and the ones with a person on the right to highlight the fact that images with people are more ‘interesting’ and thus potentially more lucrative

Yeah, OK smart guy, but don’t you need a model release?

Yes, model releases are required for images which the person is ‘identifiable’. These are not easy to obtain when shooting strangers. I’ve never gone up to a stranger to ask them to sign a release, have you?

However, fortunately, there may be some occasions when you may shoot people and not require to submit a model release. When I say ‘may be’, it’s really up to the subjective judgement of the individual reviewer.  More often than not, the following occasions won’t require a model release:

  • Silhouettes:
silhoutte in beach
In this case, I increased the shadows, taken in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Couple kissing

  • Person(s) have their back to you:

This one may be trickier to get away with, and it’s been ‘hit and miss’ for me with some reviewers at some agencies. Still worth trying your luck.

Keep in mind that tattoos are considered trademarks, so if you do see one in a model, clone it out. Here’s a few examples that should be OK. 

man on bench
Idroscalo, Milan
Lake Como, Italy
  • Cut off their heads:

Sometimes you have to get medieval / ISIS-style and cut off your model’s head, not literally. These will most likely be OK but make sure that there’s no trademarks in the persons’ clothing or identifiable people/trademarks in the background. Or get really close in shoot images of their hands, as I did here from one of my images from my trip to Jaffa, Israel.

  • Tiny people in the frame

I took this shot yesterday of some people wake boarding and since the people were so far away the Shutterstock reviewer had no issue (and the person in the foreground had his back turned to me).

water park2
Looks fun, I ought to try it one day!
  • It’s an editorial:

As perhaps a last-case scenario, submit the image as an editorial.

One of the main advantages of an editorial image is that even if there are identifiable people and/or property in the frame, model or property releases are not required. For some commercial images with unreleased people/property, it’s perhaps an easy ‘get out of jail free card’ to simply submit your image for editorial purposes by filling out an accurate caption. However, keep in mind that an editorial should depict a specific subject, such as a topic of a news story or piece of commentary on something that is of human interest.

Therefore, rarely does an unreleased commercial photograph translate into a good editorial image.

old man
I tried to submit this image as an editorial but was rejected as it failed the ‘illustrative editorial test’ in that the image didn’t depict a subject of enough human interest, such as a latest piece of technology. Taken in Canelli, Italy

Final Thoughts

Try to take pics of your friends and family as much as possible and have them sign a model release! Given the technicals are excellent and you have a clear idea of the message you’re trying to portray, these will tend to do much better than images with nobody on them. However, as discussed above, it’s not a lost cause if you do shoot people.

More information on obtaining the most value out of your commercial and editorial images, purchase a copy of my book, “Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography”:

To purchase a copy of this book, click on this link!

Also available on kindle:

Until next time!



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