What makes a photo popular on Model Mayhem 100 Plus Lists

Sitting here in Phoenix putting together a Glamour Photography Studio, it is very interesting to me what makes a photograph popular. There are photographs many would consider great, and yet they are often not so popular… why? I wasn’t so sure and loved to know. So, I set about to learn a bit about what makes a photograph popular.

I consider lists on Model Mayhem (MM) to be indicative of how much people like a photo.  Why?

While comments are like sharing appreciation for how you look and sweet to be sure, listings are a “gimme your number and I’ll put it in my phone” kind of commitment.

Listing a picture on MM  is like linking to it, book marking it and advertizing it.  Lists are a way of saying, “I would like to see this again and will show the world this picture too.”

Being an avid lister on MM, I created a list of popular shots, which called “Viewers Choice Awards.”  The baseline criterion to be on this list is:  a photograph must be on over 100 lists minimum to be considered.

Subjectively, I also have to like the shot somewhat or be able to put my finger on some feature which made the shot popular, so it can be a kind of popularity learning tool for me.

Also, if I already have several samples of the same artist’s work on the list, after say 3-4, something comes off to put something new on.

So, what I have a learned?

By the Numbers (as list stands October, 2010):

  • 5% are posted by Stylists and Photoshop Wizards
  • Half by Models
  • 45% by Photographers
  • 1/10 are cropped and posted Landscape to Squarish in Orientation
  • 9/10 are Portrait Orientation (Longer in vertical direction, some few of these are collages of several shots joined together vertically)
  • 5% have two people in them
  • Less than 5% include an animal
  • 3/4 are full color & 1/4 some form of B&W
  • 2/3 are waist up to full length shots
  • 1/4 are tightly framed, bust up to head shots
  • 1/6 are bits of faces or bodies
  • 40% are adult or “Mature”
  • 80% had some form or combination of cool props, wardrobes, location, wildly cool styling, fantasy post processing or freakish physical skill
  • 40% of the color shots had definite Visual Attractors (ie: bright, vivid or contrasting colors and/or patterns like stripes)
  • None of the B&W’s had any definite Visual Attractors (like stripes or other geometric eye grabbers)
  • 20% were common location or studio shots
  • 99% have at least one (1) Woman, Plus a man, woman pet or wildlife
  • 95% have only one (1) Woman
  • None have only a Man, the only shot with no woman has a Dog with the man
  • 10% have just two living creatures (Man, Woman, Women, Snake, Spider, Dog, Tiger, etc.)
  • Less than 1% have more than two living creatures, the sole example being a woman with a bird flock


  • The tight shots and tightly framed shots of face parts, have Great Hair, Makeup and Post Processing.  The faces and features pop, on thumb scales, and draw the viewer in
  • Almost all shots are captivating as thumbnails.  There is something that draws one in
  • 95% of the shots, as thumbnails, show no need for additional post processing
  • 90% would not seem post processed, as thumbs to the lay person, and 5% are obvious only because they are fantasy
  • Every shot with a face has good expression
  • Most shots are kind of different… unique, not overly familiar
  • Landscape Thumbnail Orientations on MM are about half the size of Portrait Thumbnails.  Portrait thumbs are same width and often over twice the height of Landscape Thumbs.

So… what makes a shot popular on MM?

The quantitative numbers suggest the shot can be any color and of any part of the body with one or two subjects, nude or not …  Portrait Orientation is probably a boost.  Color shots may get some boost using Visual Attractors.  Sorry guys, the numbers seem to say, at least one of the models must be female or a pet…

The qualitative observations suggests that given great hair, makeup and post processing, if you have the right concept, that is unique enough not to have been over done, the right camera technique and model and catch the right expression or cropping, you are at the bar to perhaps have a popular photo.

For the discussion so far, the data and conclusions are of course limited to MM only.

For example, many shots which are excellent seen full sized are boring on MM (because their thumbnails are not so attractive seen small).  These shots never achieve popularity on MM.  Outside the MM universe, say at a gallery, a shot like our example may go flying off the walls.

Shoot and plan according to your tastes and intended audiences.

While some of the MM popularity factors may translate well here or there, others may not.

Love to hear opinions on what makes a photograph popular.



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2 Responses to What makes a photo popular on Model Mayhem 100 Plus Lists

  1. LaVette says:

    I took your advice (based on the stats) about switching my avatar from a landscape to a portrait orientation; I truly noticed a difference! I rec’ved more attention almost instantaneously– and this was w/o making an announcement, etc. The avi also changed as far as a headshot to a 3/4 – (almost) full-body shot, and, had a splash of a bolder color.

    These seemingly small things can be the difference btwn making a lot of connections and having a much smaller network- which is very important in the modeling world!!

    Thanks, again!!

  2. John Foley says:

    Everybody over 14 has some kind of camera. What separates them from a serious photographer? For me it’s obvious what they want to take a picture of, poor framing, no regard to the background or setting, just a random point and shoot.
    For me, when you look at a serious photographers image, if it’s good, you can’t take it all in with just a glance, you want to stare at it and drink it up. For me a successful image is one that there are many things to consider before you move on.

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