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Should You Even Bother Photographing These 5 Locations?

December 15, 2011 Business 8 Comments

Written by: Charlie Borland

For nature photographers who compete in the business of licensing stock photos, the question should be asked regularly: “what should I be shooting?”

With more photographers than ever competing and the markets saturated with nature imagery, photographers should be researching the markets to assist in determining what subjects will have a fighting chance in those markets.

I ask myself this very question when I plan each year for the locations and subjects I think will succeed in the markets.

While I answered this question I also wonder just what subjects and locations I should not shoot and the easiest way was to search various websites and evaluate the results.

So, I randomly selected 5 locations that I have seen widely published and regularly online when I look at others websites.  These locations are:

  • Delicate Arch in Arches N, Utah
  • Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota
  • Half Dome in Yosemite Np. California
  • Mesa Arch in Canyonlands NP, Utah
  • Schwabacher Landing in Grand Tetons NP, Wyoming

While there are many, many, popular and widely photographed locations across the country, I just selected these 5 as examples of very popular locations with nature photographers.

The question is whether those in the business should go to these locations so widely photographed when the amount of images already available is substantial.  I am not talking about shooting for joy or markets like fine art prints or eBooks, etc., rather the online stock photo markets.

I am also not suggesting that if you visit these locations that you wont have an image that will be licensed because I am a firm believer in: “it is not whose got the image, it’s whose got the client!’

The Search and Results

The next step I did was search three online websites and all three were Microstock sites. The reason I did this was to see how many images are available in these lower cost sites. I did not look at Rights Managed sites or individual nature photographer’s sites, just the micro sites to evaluate the competition from that sector.

The three micro sites are: iStockphoto, Dreamstime, and Shutterstock.

Delicate Arch

  • Istockphoto  has 400 images
  • Shutterstock  has 975 images
  • Dreamstime has 719 images

Mt Rushmore

  • Istockphoto 800
  • Dreamstime 61
  • Shutterstock 145

El Capitan Yosemite

  • Istockphoto 593
  • Dreamstime 1600
  • Shutterstock 868

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands

  • Istockphoto 101
  • Dreamstime 309
  • Shutterstock 109

Schwabacher Landing in Grand Tetons NP

  • Istockphoto 1764 (Not accurate as results showed all Tetons images)
  • Dreamstime 42
  • Shutterstock 60

I will say that there is nothing scientific here in these results. They were not 100% accurate with some searches providing results that include images related but not the same. And I was not interested in being 100% accurate. The goal here was to evaluate the competition within the market for specific locations that are hugely popular with nature photographers.

The results say a lot and that is if you sell your work and want to shoot what the market demands, these 5 locations are real long shots. These results represent only the three of the many Microstock sites and don’t show what individual photographers and RM agencies also have in the market.

For myself, I take this as proof I need to look at my stock image plans for locations that are not so popular with photographers and instead seek more newsworthy locations since that increases demand.

If the opportunity presents itself, I will shoot every one of these locations if I am in the area but wont spend time and money to specifically go shoot them.

If you think I am right on target or full of it, please share your opinion by leaving a comment.

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Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Bullard says:

    The other half of the equation is knowing what search terms buyers used most in the last year, demand vs supply. Shoot where the demand is highest in relation to the available supply.

  2. Phill says:

    It is funny you bring this up as I was just thinking about how I need to focus on non-icon locations for 2012. Of course these are awesome locations, and if you are there, it’s a “must have” to shoot them, but I think shooting new locations equally as beautiful and much less under-appreciated can really set a photographer apart. Here is to making new icons for 2012!

  3. Jakub says:

    I think, it is important not to be stuck in famous locations and discover new ones. But if, then it is crucial trying to find a new perspective and develop photo that is different from thousands taken before. That is the challenge.

  4. Although I prefer shooting little known or photographed locations, iconic locations like the ones you highlight always sell first for me.

  5. Les Voorhis says:

    I fought with myself for years avoiding shooting the icons. My train of thought was that everyone had been there and done that and I needed to do something different. Boy was I wrong. I think you need to look at HOW you are marketing your work and then make the decision. If you are just dumping your images onto a website (yours or someone elses, stock agency etc.) I think it would be tough to get strong sales on the real icons like the ones you listed. However, if you market very pointedly and specifically then people finding you on a generic google search becomes less of an issue and I think most buyers expect you to have the icons. THey are looking for the icons because they need to show known and relatable places in their adverstising (editorial is different obviosuly) so that people can relate to them. I went to Utah and shot many locations both lesser known and more iconic, one of which is Mesa Arch. I didn’t shoot Delicate and I am now regretting it as it is asked for more than any other. Clients hear I went to Utah and made the assumption that I have great Delicate shots. Sometimes they settle for Mesa (or another lesser known location) and sometimes they look to someone else. Mount Rushmore for me is the same way. I need to shoot MORE Rushmore, and I live here.

    All of this rambling has a point I gues in that you need to know your market and how you want to market before you make the decision on whether or not to shoot the icons. I for one love to find lesser known or never seen locations but make many more of my trips destined to shoot the icons. The money is better! :-)

  6. admin says:

    Great points from everybody including a few thoughts I did not think of. There is a market for the icons no doubt and the real issue is what is your market and how do you market to it? If you do shoot iconic locations and then dump them on a website and do little more, the odds would seem poor. But if you live in Jackson, WY for example, and have a gallery or sell in someones elses gallery, then the Tetons and Yellowstone are your obvious subjects , including a Old faithful shot many times. Your main market will be tourists looking for those subjects. Would my Oregon Coast images sell in a Jackson gallery? They might but not as well as Schwabacher Landing, in my opinion. I think dumping more of these mentioned iconics on the stock agency websites, as the main marketing strategy, seems ‘iffy’ at best! Charlie

  7. Linda jones says:

    Thank you Charlie, for sharing your marketing information. I often change theories and desires for fullfilling sales, and its very competitive out there these days. Many times the key is getting in on the market early on, and knowing the right people. I have a hard time marketing myself because I don’t like the phoney concept of the ladder climb. I really need direction other than that, because it’s playing it low key that isn’ t working! I do prefer local connections. And the time consumption is overwhelming when outdoors is where I want to be. Any ideas? Thnx

  8. admin says:

    Thanks for stopping in Linda. You have to first determine what your favorite subject is to shoot and then evaluate the markets that sue that imagery. If that market is fairly open jump in, but if it is really crwoded then re-evaluate what you like to shoot. If you need to earn an income then balancing between what you want to shoot and what you must shoot is paramount.

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