Why a toll booth image is probably worth more than 10 fine art shots

Other Microstockers often ask me, which types of images sell and why? I do my best to answer as specific as possible, but often I just reply “whatever is useful to a buyer!”. This includes the boring / generic images of mundane stuff, such as toll booths! Allow me to explain further…

Probably soon to be on my top-5 list

The world doesn’t need more artists

13 months ago I wrote a blog post entitled, “Why nobody cares about your photography, unless it’s useful” and it’s worth a (re)-read. One of the key takeaway quotes is the following:

“The world doesn’t need any more photographers. It doesn’t need anymore musicians, writers, filmmakers, artists or actors either. We have enough. Its over-saturated…BUT, the world’s survival is completely dependent on work that matters.” – Ted Forbes in the The Art of Photography

J0C08R (1)
Probably another struggling artist, unless that painting is useful to someone!

Creating work that matters

Now this is really difficult for someone to assess, so it helps to have an outside opinion. This includes the marketplace. I’m sure many of you have experienced the following scenario:

  1. Upload a beautiful pic to various stock agencies;
  2. Frustrated it doesn’t sell;
  3. Moan about it on “Doom & Gloom” threads at forums.

On my first leg of my Iberian adventure road-trip, one of my most beautiful pics was the following:

Carcassonne, France

I love the composition and especially the colours since her jeans match the blue sky and the yellow matches the bands. Plus of course the exact moment. You know how many times this image has sold? FUCKING ZERO. Why? Probably due to a combination of the following factors:

  • Editorial (perhaps a client is looking for a commercial image);
  • Difficult to fit into a story (too artsy-fartsy);
  • Confusing purpose/message (ballerina in castle???);
  • Lost in never never land in the keywords (who know how these algos work these days);

It’s only been two months so perhaps it’s early days and sales will pick up, but the point is that it’s simply not a strong stock image, even if it has beautiful aesthetic elements. It’s just not that useful to a buyer. As a wall-hanger fine art print, that’s another matter and of course I have put it up for sale as such at Photo4me.

Another pretty, yet probably useless, stock image in an already crowded marketplace – Plaza de Espana, Seville, Spain

Something useful, at least

On the other hand, the following two images were uploaded at similar days (from the same trip) to the above and have sold 3 and 5 times respectfully. For subs but have sold, nevertheless. Therefore, they’re showing promise on these early days.

Not beautiful shots or wall-hangers by any stretch of the imagination, but the point is that they’re useful and may be used in a variety of different ways different concepts. Particularly the stop sign which may be used metaphorically (i.e danger, careful, recession, seek help, warning, etc). Perhaps as an ad by a public body warning the general public to have a regular medical check-up to avoid XYZ.

The toll booth, which is how I opened this piece, is the most boring piece of junk there is. An embarrassment of a photograph when there is so much beauty in the world. Perhaps there is some logic in the following madness as to why an image of a toll booth may soon be one of my best-sellers:

  1. Who the hell goes on holiday and takes pictures of toll booths? I do!
  2. Why? Because they sell!
  3. Why do they sell?
  4. Because who the hell goes on holiday and takes pictures of toll booths?
I must be the only tourist taking such images at Pisa, Tuscany, Italy

You see the logic there, I hope. Most contributors overlook the mundane, albeit useful everyday stuff. Which means that there are fewer such images, even if buyers are searching for these types of images. One more reason why I enjoy shooting at airports, especially while waiting for connecting flights.

Here’s some more ticket machines that do OK, certainly much better than my “beautiful fine art stuff”. Other types of images that do OK are related to transport links.

ticket machine

Focus on its potential usefulness

What do you think of the following image? Probably nothing special, right? Blown highlights, awkward expression, faded colours, weird composition. One of the trash, right?


Indeed, it almost went into the trash. But I’m glad it didn’t since last week it sold on Alamy for $89 gross. I have no idea about it’s end usage other than it’s “Single company – multiple use editorial only”, but something about it made it stand out to the buyer. Could be that it has an iconic Quito, Ecuador landmark and a sign saying where it is, or perhaps it’s a local type of food. Who knows!

By the way, the above image is available throughout the micros, so just goes to show that, contrary to popular belief, Alamy buyers don’t shop around that much.

Key lessons

  • The mundane stuff, such as toll booths, may sell even more than the “pretty stuff”, so always be on the lookout for these types of everyday opportunities – in fact, take your camera everywhere with you, just in case;
  • Hold onto technically poor images if the content is strong. In a way we’re fortunate that these agencies are letting in so many technically inferior images that would have been rejected just one year ago;
  • Track your sales and look for patterns. In my case, I’ll be taking more shots of toll booths 🙂
  • Fine art stuff has value and are still worth uploading but look to place them at other agencies, if possible, that may be more adequate.

Best of luck on your search for the mundane yet useful!

Until next time – Alex

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. Thank you Alex, this post has a practical info as it gives us inside to real micro information and makes us compare it with our own line of work, making it easier to find answers when in doubt with what to do with our own pics.

    Liked by 1 person

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