The world of commercial photography evolves at lightning speed, but you can anticipate the trends if you tap into what buyers want in real-time. Over on Getty Images, for instance, the start of this year saw a rise in searches for “family vacation” and “family reunion,” indicating increased demand for photos of people spending time together and reconnecting after the pandemic.

Meanwhile, searches relating to sustainable living, such as “energy efficiency” and “energy transition” rose, as did interest in new ways of working, with the term “hybrid work” spiking in popularity. We’re likely to see these themes continue to trend, with brand-new ones emerging along the way.

Understanding your clients and their (ever-changing!) needs is the first step toward building a successful portfolio. The team at 500px regularly fields questions and requests from buyers, and they agreed to share the lessons they’ve learned behind the scenes. In this guide, we’ll cover five key concerns for today’s content buyers—and provide tips for creating work that sells. Put yourself in the client’s shoes, and consult this list when conceptualizing and uploading your work.

Five questions image buyers ask themselves before making a purchase

Can I incorporate this photo into my creative assets?

For designers and marketing teams, practical considerations include whether or not a photograph will work across multiple channels, including print, social media, web, and more. For that reason, best-selling images tend to be versatile with plenty of space for cropping, overlaying text, or otherwise adjusting to suit a specific format.

“Much of the visual content we see daily is integrated into design work,” the team at 500px says. “Always consider taking a few images on every shoot that incorporate copy space, preferably to the left. Having some negative space to the left allows designs to add logos, text, or any other visual needs without cutting off important elements of the photo. Plus, having a balance of negative space in your images typically creates a cleaner look, making the finished designs look more polished.”

Your choice of background is essential here, so look for clean interiors, or open up your aperture to create an intentional bokeh effect behind your subject. You can always do some decluttering and strategic styling of a home before your shoot for more documentary-style shoots. Open up the windows for beautiful natural light and a bright and airy vibe.

For studio backdrops, lean toward something that complements your subject and feels timeless (e.g., steer clear of outdated patterned or brightly colored studio backdrops).

Does this photo illustrate my creative concept?

Whether promoting an eco-friendly skincare product or an adventure tourism package, advertising almost always speaks to larger themes. The first, for instance, might tap into ideas relating to self-care and wellness, while the second could spark feelings of wanderlust and personal growth. When shooting, consider the emotion and concept driving your work—and think about how and when brands might want to highlight those themes.

If a single photo can capture multiple themes, even better. “This is where Licensing Contributors can be creative and strategically plan their shoots to make the most of their time,” the 500px team says. “Images that can relate to and illustrate various concepts, in particular, can be used by many different content buyers.

“The landscape above, for example, depicts concepts such as ‘adventure,’ ‘travel,’ and ‘risk-taking,’ but we can also relate this photo to ‘personal growth,’ ‘balance,’ ‘meditation,’ or ‘inner reflection.’ Similarly, the portrait below speaks to overarching concepts relating to the mind, decision-making, or personal growth.”

Does this photo illustrate our brand values?

Earlier this year, research from Harris Poll and Google Cloud revealed that in the wake of the pandemic, today’s consumers are more interested in brands’ values than ever before, with 82% preferring consumer goods companies’ values to align with their own. In 2022, consumers value sustainability, with 52% saying they are especially interested in supporting sustainable brands.

Recent research further underscores the importance of championing diversity and inclusion, from the boardroom to a brand’s marketing materials. A different survey, this time from YouGov, reveals that 52% of consumers in the US (again, the majority) agree it is very or somewhat important for brands to commit to diversity in their advertising. For many of those, it’s important to support brands with a commitment to the LGBTQ+ community (75%) and for companies to support Black-owned businesses (78%).

In 2022, consumers value brands that display a commitment to transparency—and they can easily spot if and when a brand is “faking it.” For photographers, too, diversity and inclusion should form the foundation of your practice, rather than an afterthought.

Commit to championing and celebrating people of all backgrounds, gender identities, cultures, abilities, body shapes, communities, and more throughout your work. But, even more than that, commit to telling their stories collaboratively and authentically. “Highlight natural and unposed subjects; celebrate real skin, real bodies, and everyday ‘micro-moments’ that feel relatable and real,” the 500px team urges.

Will this photo help my brand stand out?

According to research from Google and Ipsos, almost three in four people who go online say they’re always on the lookout for relevant brands and products. Almost 60% discovered their favorite brands while browsing their newsfeeds, watching videos, or reading emails—when compared to 43% who discovered their brands while browsing in a store.

Today’s brands understand that in an increasingly saturated digital world, engaging visuals aren’t a bonus—they’re the foundation of a successful campaign. Whether it’s the Instagram flatlay phenomenon or the resurgence of old-school flash photography, they’re highly attuned to trends and movements in the industry, so you should be too.

“Research campaigns from your favorite brands and identify the styles, aesthetics, and other elements they use to communicate to their audiences,” the 500px team urges. “Also, keep in mind that the same content on different social channels might have different success rates.

“An image for Instagram may need to be different from an image used in a global campaign. Understand and educate yourself on the content that performs well on the major socials—content buyers and marketers already know and have this in mind when purchasing.” No single photo will appeal to all brands, but honing your style and understanding your ideal client—and the social channels they’re likely to use—will go a long way.

Is this photo authentic and accurate?

In the 2010s, several brands landed in hot water for using inaccurate stock photos: there was one time when a vegan magazine used photos of non-vegan food, and there was another instance where a tourism brand used a photo taken in one place to advertise a totally different destination. Fortunately, image buyers are more aware these days of the importance of using only accurate visuals in their marketing.

The 500px team regularly fields questions from image buyers relating to specific photographs. “Typically, we get questions pertaining to the authenticity and accuracy of the content in the photo, such as ‘Is this a photo of the French Alps?’ or ‘Are the plant species pictured a Rudder Ficus?’ To add more clarity to your content and give content buyers confidence in making a purchase from your portfolio, we strongly encourage you to make use of various keywords and include the location on all Licensing images.”

That brings us to one question you should always ask yourself, as the photographer: Am I ensuring to the best of my ability that my content is findable to content buyers? Take the time to add accurate, detailed metadata, descriptions, location information, and keywords to improve the visibility of your portfolio. Include a mix of conceptual keywords and literal keywords to surface in as many searches as possible.

Bonus question: Is this photo timely and relevant?

One final question on the minds of image buyers—and one you can ask yourself—relates to the timeliness of your work.

To familiarize yourself with the evolving wants, needs, and concerns of consumers, consider the news (what’s happening on a local and global level), browse campaigns by brands you follow, and take a look at how those brands are fostering relationships with their customers. Watching how trends emerge and how ad campaigns make a meaningful impression will help you tailor your portfolio to today’s clients.

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