What sells best – Travel or Studio stock?

I was asked, in a comment on my October earnings, what percentage of my sales came from travel stock photos rather than studio images. I’ve often wondered that, but it is quite hard to estimate now that I have so many images for sale (over 14,000). But it is an intriguing question, all the same. I struggled a bit with definitions – is an image of a previous house I lived in a studio shot or a travel shot? As I didn’t have to travel anywhere, I called it a studio shot, but who knows if that is right! So with that proviso, lets jump straight to the answer:

What percentage of earnings come from travel versus studio stock photography work
Percentage of earnings from Travel and Studio photos and videos

Overall, it seems to be 50:50! But let me explain how I got this. Microstockr Pro is a great little app for tracking all your sales across the biggest agencies. It doesn’t cover Fine Art America or similar print sites, which overwhelmingly would feature travel shots, but it does cover most stock sites. There is a Best Sellers section where it matches the same image across different sites so that you can track overall earnings for each image (or video) across all sites and so I took that and restricted it to 2019. Even so, there are 6000 different unique images that have sold so far in 2019! No way could I go through each of those and categorize them. So I used the pareto rule – 80% of the benefit comes from 20% of the effort and categorized the highest earning images and I went through the first 200. Four of those were people shots, but I added those into my Studio totals. The table above for still images gives the earnings for those top 200 images. To give you an idea of the importance of these – my total earnings in this period from still photos was $21,000 so I’m capturing about 50% of the potential earnings with this analysis. As I’m a stickler for accuracy, I went to page 6 (of 60) and did a count of travel versus studio images on that page (they all earned around $8 each) and found that the same percentage applied – 45% travel to 55% studio, so I feel pretty comfortable with that.

Videos were different – there were only 92 unique clips so I was able to count them all – 55% travel to 45% studio. Overall (and this is not strictly mathematically accurate), I get closer to the 50:50 mark.

My best selling shot was a travel one, earning $581 this year.

Sunrise illuminates the Jefferson Memorial during the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC
Dawn light over the Jefferson Memorial at Cherry Blossom time

For a long time I had this image as RM on Alamy, hoping for high priced sales, but of course they didn’t happen. I decided to change it to RF and upload to all the micro sites and it has earned a total of $1014 now. Lots of smaller sales, but some nicely priced ones as well.

Best selling studio shot was, of course, my cat:

Bengal kitten or cat with a plaintive expression isolated against white background
Lonesome Bengal Kitten isolated against white background

This one earned $474 this year and $3098 over its lifetime. Third in my list of best sellers in 2019 was one I uploaded last August and was an edit of an old photo of San Diego with an artificial water reflection. This one earned $451 this year and $536 in total. Just goes to prove that new images uploaded to the agencies can still catch fire.

Sunset or dusk over the city of San Diego with an artificial water reflection
Sunset over San Diego city skyline with artificial water reflection

My more typical studio shot with the highest earnings was an opioid image:

Macro close up shot of oxycodone tablets to illustrate opioid epidemic in the USA
Oxycodone tablets to illustrate Opioid epidemic in the USA

It was interesting that the videos switched the percentages – 55% travel to 45% studio. I must admit to being a photographer at heart and I find videos harder work to create. Studio shots in particular are tricky to get some movement, although the Edelkrone Dolly One does make a big difference. I’ve written about this before on my blog.

I think I find it easier to take travel videos because the scene generally moves and the ones I have taken from cruise ships seem to be the most popular. Fireworks videos also seem to sell well. My best earning travel video was one of me looking meaningfully towards the sunset. Could be used for all sorts of uses – loneliness, single person travel, cruising in general etc. It is always best to try to come up with shots and videos that tell multiple stories if you can. This earned $212 this year and $234 in total – another new upload.

Single man looking at the sunset from deck of cruise ship

The best selling studio video was, of course, another opioid shot earning $283 this year and $522 in total.

Oxycodone tablets on glass table with USA flag reflection

I hope this helps give an insight into how best to use your time. Certainly studio shots take a lot less time but you have to have saleable concepts. Travel shots are expensive to obtain (and more fun perhaps) and certainly round out a portfolio. I would find it very hard to justify an expensive trip just for the earnings I might get from stock photos and videos, but, over time, they can go some considerable way towards covering the direct costs of the trip.

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6 Responses

  1. erdinc says:

    thanks for article, its full of useful informations

  2. hatman says:

    Nice article. Yes, travel can sell but one then has to deduct the cost of travel. I always enjoy your articles.

  3. victor says:

    Steve, great post, however based on the title i anticipated a write-up about shooting lifestyle with hired actors. I suppose that kind of stuff is not your thing. However I’ve always wanted to know if it still makes sense to hire models or it’s done to death already and your investment will never pay off. I guess it depends on the subject, there might be subjects that aren’t covered well enough just yet. Anyways if you have some insider info on this, i’d be glad to hear.

    • Steven Heap says:

      Hi Victor – yes, I am not that good at people shots! There is a real skill in making people images look natural and I don’t think I am very good at that. I believe the shots with people are the highest earning ones, and also there is a demand for new shots as styles and fashions change. So it is definitely a big area. It is probably best to start with friends and models who are looking for portfolio shots of their own and see if you can take some at relatively low cost to see if you are hitting the right market and style. But definitely worth doing if you are good at working with people to get that “realistic” look!

  4. Miro says:

    Hi Steve,

    nice article again. I agree with you it was around 50/50. I love travel but many stills ,,home made,, sells well.

I'm always interested in what you think - please let me know!