A Question for Designers: Is Variety Good?

By | 2016-12-18T17:01:24+00:00 February 4th, 2010|3 Comments


When I choose images to upload to my stock portfolio on iStockphoto, I do my best to not upload images that are too similar. Sometimes (in the eyes of the inspector) I do, and those images don’t go through … but my philosophy is that if I can see something significantly different in the image then I will upload it. My guess is that if a designer likes the look of an image (the model, setting, subject, lighting, etc.) but are looking for a composition or element in an image then it’s always better to include as many variations as possible.

The two images above are an instance where I made my own judgment call and was wrong. In March 2008, almost two full years ago, I uploaded the image on the left. I had assumed that the other image, the one on the right, was too similar to the one on the left because the only difference was that the boy is in focus on the first image, so I figured that would be more “sellable”. I also assumed that one of the images would have been rejected for being “too similar”, and so I picked the one that I like the best.

Fast-forward 1.5 years to September 2009 when I received and email from a designer who absolutely loved the image on the left but wondered if I had the same shot with the baby chick in focus. After going through my old files I was able to assure him that yes, I did, and I even edited it and uploaded it to iStock for him to download. If he had not emailed me then it’s possible that he would have moved on to find a different image that maybe wasn’t exactly the one he wanted but worked for his design, and I would have lost a sale.

Because I shoot stock and don’t work with art directors or designers who have a precise idea in mind for how they want the image to look then it’s up to me to think of what potential buyers might want. I do my best to shoot from as many angles as possible and also include/exclude things in the images to give as several options to the buyers. So my question to all the designers out there who use photographs in their designs is … how much variety do you want to see? Do you want several variations to choose from, or would you prefer that the photographer only selects their favorites (which might mean only a handful of photos from each shoot)?

Please feel free to leave your comments below … gaining insight from people who actually search for and use images on websites like iStockphoto.com is very valuable information and usually ends up helping out both the photographers and the designers. IMO win-win scenarios are always the best outcomes. :)

About the Author:

Nicole S. Young is a professional photographer and published author whose love of photography and teaching has grown into an online business where she creates training materials and resources for other photographers. Nicole is best known for her books on food photography, but is widely versed in a variety of photographic genres, including landscape, travel, lifestyle, and even underwater photography. You can learn more about Nicole's work on her website, nicolesy.com.


  1. Jeremy Hall February 4, 2010 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    What you bring up is a great point to consider from the designers perspective. In the example you show above, the change of focus can be considered to have changed the subject of the photo, and in many cases that matters. Sometimes the change in expression can be a determining factor of the usability of a photo; think of the obvious example of someone holding a fan of cash in front him with various expressions. Those variances often will play directly into whether an image is usable because it immediately tells the story of the marketing piece, site page, banner, etc.

    Taking that money holder example further, if you were to have composed an image with the hand holding it out and a shallow DOF, then having two choices with the person and money alternately in focus would again be desirable because depending on my specific use, it may be the hand with the money that is the subject or the person’s expression may be key.

  2. Kristi @ Life at the Chateau Whitman February 4, 2010 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    I use stock photos as a web designer, and honestly – the more variety, the better. Sometimes I have a graphic in mind with text in a certain area, and I love finding the right photo to accommodate the design. It’s nice to sort through shots from the same shoot to find the perfect shot. It never annoys me when shots are too similar.

  3. Jim Felder February 27, 2010 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    I totally agree with the designers. I am a newb photographer to iStockphoto. I have a few images there. But the frustrating thing is the fact that I know as a graphic artist myself that I would like to see variations of a photo for the right design. But when I have uploaded several of the same subject at different angles, iStock rejects them because they were too similar. How do we get past that or convince them to accept the various images?

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