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 the 500px Marketplace to start making a bit of cash on the side, or maybe even a substantial revenue stream, but they don’t want to waste their time submitting work that just won’t sell; so they ask us great questions like “what do buyers actually want?” and “what kinds of photos sell?”

Simply Sellable is our attempt to answer this impossible question… weekly.

Since the answer to this question changes week in and week out as trends, seasonality, and other factors continue to shift, we are answering the question regularly. Every week in fact. Each week one of our expert Content Editors picks one of their favorite photos that has sold recently, and explains exactly WHY it sold—what makes that photo “simply sellable.”

Simply Sellable #7 features a portrait that proves you can’t always plan your best-selling shots. An unexpected moment lead to a great portrait and, ultimately, a sellable shot. 500px Content Editor Alejandro Santiago dives deeper below:

500px Photo ID: 97540031 - Windy beach. Unexpected shot.  Re-edit.

Simply Sellable #7: An Unexpected Moment

by Alejandro Santiago

“Julia” by Denis Dmitriev looks simple; however, it shows an authentic moment full of details.

Julia wears her iconic leather jacket like a coat of armor—zipped to the top and hands tucked away—protecting her from the cold. She is a complete mystery except for the huge smile and golden hair dancing in the wind. It’s as if her hair is an extension of her smile, and although we can’t see her face we know how she is feeling. Nothing in this photo feels forced or rehearsed. It is unique yet relatable and conveys multiple themes: joy, natural beauty, spontaneity, HAIR, youth, laughter, love, weather.

Apart from the authenticity of the image, there are other features that make it an excellent candidate for the 500px Marketplace. The muted tones of the beach are the perfect juxtaposition to her warm smile. Because the background is clear of distracting elements it can be easily cropped to work with many compositions and can serve as copy space.

Three lessons that can be learned from this shot:

1. Expect the Unexpected: The photographer describes this shot as an “unexpected moment.” One of the challenges of photography is to capture those fleeting moments that are simply too real to be staged. As a photographer you must be fully present when you are behind the camera so you can catch those unexpected moments like Julia’s.

Don’t miss the moment by worrying about technical settings, live in it. While its important to have a plan, you must always be open to the happy accident, and learn to ride with it.

2. Less is More: Sometimes the details you choose to leave out have a greater impact than the ones you include. Julia’s face left partially obscured by her hair is a great detail, because it draws the focus to her authentic expression in this candid moment instead of any other aspect of the image.

AND… It’s easy to get carried away with filters and post-processing, but when it comes to Marketplace photos, the less processing the better. This image originally had a vignette; however, the Marketplace version has the vignette removed:

The photographer was wise to remove the vignette because it limits the uses of the image. Without the vignette, the buyer can more easily crop the photo to fit their needs, or add any effect they choose. Also, filters and visual trends are constantly changing, so applying a filter can really reduce the longevity of your photo.

3. Concept is King: Buyers are interested in selling a concept, not just a pretty picture. A sellable image must convey more than just a person, place, or thing. The fact that we can’t see the model’s face makes it more engaging, as it forces the viewer to fill in the blank about who this person is. While capturing a concept is a challenge to achieve it opens your image to a wider market.

Photographs of people sell well, but always remember to get a model release from any recognizable people in your image. Without a signed model release, your image cannot be licensed commercially. 500px has created an iOS app to make it easier for photographers to save & submit their releases to Marketplace and, best of all, it’s FREE!

Often the winning shot is not one you can plan. Next time you’ve got your camera in hand, try to slow down and be present so you can catch an unexpected moment, like Julia’s.

And that is why this photo is ‘simply sellable.’ The photographer was ready to capture a simple, genuine, unexpected moment that he couldn’t have staged if he’d tried; and when he submitted his shot to the Marketplace, he removed any sort of editing that might discourage a buyer from licensing the image with further crops and edits in mind.

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