2017’s Biggest Creative Trends According to Stock Photo Sales


2017’s Biggest Creative Trends According to Stock Photo Sales

Trends come and go. Being aware of the design trends that are currently gaining popularity can make your brand look more modern and with the times.

While redesigning your website around a current trend may not be the wisest choice – especially if the trend is here today and gone tomorrow – there are still a lot of ways to tap into current design trends.

Social media graphics and blog post featured images are a great way to tap into current styles in a more temporary way than a website design.

So how do we learn what trends are on the up and up?

Of course, we can simply observe what trends we are seeing more and more, but we are biased by the sites we choose to frequent.

By observation alone, you are also more likely to only catch wind of certain trends when they are at their peak, at which point it may be too late to use them to their greatest potential.

One way to find the trends as they are gaining momentum that works surprisingly well, however, is to take a look at trends in stock photo sales.

From this more impartial data we can see commonalities between the base elements that designers are bringing to the table, and draw conclusions about how trends will catch on.

Each year, Shutterstock releases its annual Creative Trends Report compiling data about stock photography purchases.

Let’s take a look at some of their findings for 2017 and how they have translated to real-world creative trends in brands’ Instagram posts.


The 90s may be dead and gone, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost that wistful nostalgia for days gone by.

Crazy patterns and bold neon prints are alive and well, and making a splash in our Facebook and Instagram feeds.

According to Shutterstock, nostalgia imagery is up in sales by 213% over last year.

Headspace is a meditation app popular amongst the same twenty-somethings who are nostalgic for simpler times.

In this image, they use a crazy background pattern made up of a variety of simple shapes tossed together to draw attention to a limited time offer. It worked, earning the app over 400 likes on this image alone.

Top Down

Flat lays have already been popular with lifestyle bloggers for some time, but maybe this is the year we start seeing them in mainstream media.

Shutterstock highlights this trend as being on the rise particularly where video is concerned.

Who doesn’t love a beautiful flat lay? Anthropologie shared this image back in January alongside a blog post about tidying your workspace.

Some of the items shown are pieces from their desk collection, which is good news, since it earned over 14,000 likes.

Top down views – both still images and videos – are perfect for showcasing products and collections.

Organic Texture

According to Shutterstock, organic textures are having their day right now, up by 74% from last year. These are the patterns found in nature, such as marble swirls and tree rings.

The Plant Society is a business all about organic texture – after all, they sell plants. I love this speckled pattern from an Aspidistra Shooting Star.

Even if you’re not in the potted plant business, you can use organic backdrops for your product shots; Starbucks does this all the time on their own Instagram feed. Here’s a shot with a sea of lush mint in the background to introduce a limited edition mint mocha drink, which is at 475,000 likes and counting:


Maybe it’s just riding the heels of the first hints at summer weather, but tropical imagery has definitely been more and more on the radar.
Shutterstock describes it as “a feel-good trend inspired by vivid colors, lush vegetation, and exotic fruits.” Overall, according to the service, sales of tropical-themed stock imagery are up by 44%.

I’m loving this shot by Method promoting a tropical dish soap, with pretty palm fronds in the corners. It earned nearly 300 likes from their followers.

It’s the perfect relaxing, jewel-toned palette to get you imagining ocean breezes – exactly the sort of associations they want you to have with their soap.

Muted Color Palette

In addition to tracking stock photo sales in different categories, Shutterstock also tracks what images see the most popularity on their social accounts.

Muted color palettes were the foremost social trend by their measure.

If you look, you’ll see this trend almost everywhere on Instagram right now, but I wanted to highlight this customer image Airbnb re-shared to their followers. It’s the exact sort of serenity many of their customers hope to find on vacation, and earned 21,500 likes.


Another social trend that ranked highly was Reflection. This trend also ranked in the report for sales, increasing by 140% over last year.

But what is “reflection,” when it comes to stock photos? It means taking the time to “contemplate and appreciate the moment,” whether that is through meditation or just stopping to smell the roses.

This image shared by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel is actually another re-share from a customer. It pays to have artistically talented customers! The image earned over 2,400 likes.

Wrapping Up

From nostalgic neon patterns to stoic self-reflection, the Shutterstock Creative Trend Report paints a picture for us of what trends are on their way up, and what is absent tells us what is on its way out.

I saw no signs of last year’s watercolor textures or glimmering metallics.

How you choose to use these trends is up to you. Using them in your social media branding, blog post images, and social images is a great way to briefly indulge in a trend without committing to it, like you do a website re-design.

Doing so will make your imagery more appealing to your audience – these things are trends for a reason, after all – and make your brand feel more aligned with the times.