The question we get asked more than almost any other here at 500px is a deceptively simple one: “What kinds of photos sell?” People want to take advantage of our marketplace to start making cash from their photography, but they don’t want to waste their time submitting work that doesn’t sell, so they ask us great questions like, “What do buyers actually want?” and “How do I capture photos that sell?”

Simply Sellable is our attempt to answer these difficult questions weekly. Each week, one of our expert Content Editors picks their favorite photos that have sold recently, and explains exactly WHY they sold—what makes those photos “simply sellable.”

In this week’s Simply Sellable, we’ll take a closer look at the idea of conceptual context. Want to get insights on photos that can get your conceptual work in front of photo buyers and brands? Scroll down for tips by 500px Content Editor and photographer Brian Wilson.

This shot by TJ Drysdale is a perfect example of how conceptual content can provide incredible context to a photo. Creating a story with multiple interpretations is a great way to ensure a sale for your image. This means that when it comes to licensing a photo, the wide variety of meanings that this photo could take makes it applicable to an array of different buyers.

Another Story by TJ Drysdale on

In this example, the book is slowly being engulfed in flames and smoke implying an erosion of the written word or destruction of the bound novel. These types of concepts could apply to a buyer in publishing licensing this image for the cover of a book extrapolating the history of the written word, or to an online magazine with an article about the 1st amendment and censorship. Not only does this image create multiple story lines and impressions, but due to the conceptual nature, can also be seen as a bit controversial.

Adding to the elements above, the fact that the subject’s face is hidden helps with the illusion found buried in this image. If the model was looking directly at camera, for example, her face and acknowledgment of the viewer could have distracted too much from the burning book. Because she’s looking away, though, the viewer retains the human element, which is always appealing. By not allowing the model to be the main focus in this way, the photographer truly focuses the eyes and attention of the buyer on the open book, the flames and the dark, fairytale feel of this photo.

When capturing this type of conceptual content, keep in mind to include contextual keywords! This can help a buyer who may be looking for a broader range of subjects and who may be uncertain about the exact image that may be of interest. Include emotions (i.e. happiness, sadness, joy, peace, etc.), character descriptions (i.e. gloomy, fairytale, fantasy, etc.), backgrounds, conditions (i.e. filtered, dark, stormy, dense, etc.) and/or circumstances. These conceptual keywords will only help to increase the saleability of your photo when placing this type of image into the 500px Marketplace.

And that is why this photo is “simply sellable.” It is all about the image’s unique concept executed with a compelling story. This photo works on multiple symbolic levels, while its minimalism allows ad designers to put it to an infinite number of creative uses.

If you have any more questions for Brian about the photo above, don’t hesitate to drop them in the comments below. And don’t forget to check back in for the next installment in the series!