Top 5 Best Selling Stock Photos / Concepts and Why (October 2021)

Back in mid-2017, I published a popular post: “Top 5 Best Selling Photos and Why“. Four years later, I’m happy to re-visit my top-5 best Microstock photography sellers since that iconic blog post.

On my subsequent post I’ll discuss my top-5 best-selling clips on all agencies I upload to. But before we get started…

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As you may probably appreciate, in this post I’ll be discussing some quite sensitive and even confidential information (who knows, those turds at SS may decide to shut me down). I know full well that anybody is free to use such information and create concepts to compete against me and thus diminish the value of my best-sellers listed below.

Therefore, I ask you to continue supporting to blog any way you feel you can, including a small donation which would be most welcome.

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Introducing MicrostockRa desktop app that lets you track your stock earnings in real-time

Long time coming, I finally signed up to MicrostockR to obtain a better statistical feel for my sales. The app looks great and has greatly helped me to compile some stats for this post for your viewing pleasure. I’ll be also using the visual info on upcoming monthly earnings reports.

Here’s a preview of the app:

In this analysis, I’ll be grouping together similar images of the same concept and combining their respective earnings as I believe this would be the most appropriate way to report.

Best-sellers from Mid-2017 until October-2021 (Present-Day)

5th place – $233

What was first place up to July 2017, has since been naturally relegated to a respectful 5th place.

What’s the story behind the image?

A visit to Budapest Keleti Station at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015.

What’s so special about it?

Although the peak of the European refugee crisis was around the Autumn of 2015, coincidently when I was visiting a friend in Budapest, this image continues to sell quite often. The pace of sales have even increased recently ever-since the swift Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, which has contributed to a new refugee crisis.

Perhaps this image is timeless since the people depicted could be from anywhere within the Middle East and even the Central Asia, which will continue to be hot-spots for refugees the next who knows how long.

4th Place – $241

What’s the story behind the image?

Basically a spontaneous snapshot at a bar captured with natural light and hand-held, within literally 30 seconds.

What’s so special about it?

I’m really not sure.

Perhaps it looks sort of amateurish / instagram-ish and it appeals to some buyers. Bet you that if I captured it within a studio with all the perfect lighting it wouldn’t have sold as much, go figure! Suffice to say that it has paid for the bittenballen 200x over, so it’s a good lesson to take your camera everywhere with you as who knows what you may capture that would sell.

I’ve searched at Shutterstock for the keyword: “bitterballen” and although there isn’t too much competition at only 793 hits, it’s ranked a very respectful 6th.

Since I’ve witnessed the success of this image, I’ve tried to emulate it with other types of exotic food (basically hand-held, natural light at restaurants, high ISO, etc.) with some success, including the following captured at a Lebanese restaurant which has earned me $63:

3rd Place – $262

What’s the story behind the set?

Captured at Israel’s Yad Vashem within the Hall of Names.

What’s so special about it?

The set is firmly ranked among the top-ranked for “Yad Vashem” within the likes of Shutterstock and Getty In itself, the images are timeless as obviously the Holocaust should be remembered forever. Interestingly, every year since there has been an uptick of sales around the beginning of the year as the Holocaust Memorial day is on January 27th.

2nd Place – $279

What’s the story behind the set?

Nothing really, was a beautiful warm early-Summer sunset in Seville, shot with an ultra-wide angle lens. Lucky those turds at SS didn’t make a fuss by rejecting the deliberate sun flares.

What’s so special about it?

When I captured it I never thought it would sell so well, after all it’s a very popular landmark in the centre of Seville and already heavily featured.

Nevertheless, soon after uploading it started selling regularly, particularly at Shutterstock and has consistently ranked highly for the highly-competitive keyword: “Seville” (87,000+ hits) in the search engines. For the more specific search of “Torre del Oro, Seville” (3,265 hits), it’s in first place.

Perhaps because it’s a commercial image may add to its value…as you can see it has sold quite well over at Adobe Stock as well.

Profitable Seville

Seville has been profitable to me, on top of being one of my favourite cities to visit. This other image, captured on the same night has earned me $164.

1st place – $399.68

What’s the story behind the set?

Around June 2018, before a Chinese virus took over the world, one of the biggest worries within the aviation industry were drones within airports’ perimeters. In fact, London’s Gatwick airport was shut down for three days because of a drone sighting within its boundaries, leading to severe disruptions.

Around that time, I decided to create some digital composites of images I already had of both drones and airports and suffice to say the concept has been a success, eventually being featured as a leading image an article published by the Guardian newspaper.

What’s so special about it?

I’m no great Photoshop artist as you can see there is much work to be done to isolate images. Nevertheless, I hit the zeitgeist on this concept quickly and took full advantage of an emerging trend, something which I believe gives me an edge on the competition.

Honorable Mention

Inspired by the Pre-2017 5th place entry…

….although this concept wasn’t the best-selling, it was still my favourite as I literally got drunk ordering all those drinks while enjoying a great afternoon in Porto after being knocked out of a poker tournament. My investment was only some 30 euros and I’ve easily made it back plus some good memories, which I wrote about on this blog post. Next time I’ll order a Francesinha!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post and now check out my top-5 best footage sellers and why.

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Madrid, Spain, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage, when things go back to normal (Late-2021??). I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer (however, had recently go back into full-time office work to make ends meet, although happy to report that it’s coming to an end soon). I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.

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


  1. Thanks for sharing Alex. Can I ask a question about Alamy please. Do you leave your images on sale with “poor discoverability”, or do you do the laborious to have them show as “good or optimized”. I love reading your posts.


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