You probably know about the different stock photography websites across the Internet. There are some major players like iStockPhoto which has options for photos, illustrations, video and audio, and which even makes an array of user scenarios available. For example, some images are meant for “editorial” while others are just stock images or files. There are also many lesser known stock sites, and many buyers gravitate towards them for the lower prices they might find.
However, did you also know that some of these sites, the big and small among them, refer to themselves as microstock photography sites, too?What is microstock? That is the purpose of this article.
In it, we are going to look at the many ways you can start to take the scores of photos you probably already have on your computer hard drive or saved to the camera’s memory card and turn them into profitable works.
But, back to that question of just what is microstock. In a nutshell, it is not referring to tiny photos but instead to the tiny payments you are willing to accept from the sites that put the images on their servers. By doing so, they make them available to millions of potential buyers (far more than you will ever encounter on your own) and whenever someone pays to use that file, you get a share of it – a micro share of an already small fee.
Does that mean that microstock photography income is not something you can retire on? Well, that could be a yes or no answer and it all really depends on the amount of research and work you are willing to put into the endeavor.
Of course, microstock photography sites are also called by this particular name because they use mostly royalty free images. As one photography expert explains, “buyers can use the photos they bought, without having to pay a royalty (or licensing fee) every time they use them.” And this just makes life easier for the bloggers, publishers and others who require good images relevant to their work, but who don’t have huge budgets or wish to track the number of times they can or have used a particular shot.
Getting Started in Microstock Photography
To begin, you need to choose the microstock photography websites of interest to you. The biggest names include iStockPhoto as mentioned as well as Shutterstock and Dreamstime, Fotolia, Freedigitalphotos and MicrostockPhotography, among many others. Don’t limit yourself to just this group, though, and do some research to find the sites that appeal the most to you, your esthetic and your niche (don’t worry, more on that shortly).
Keep in mind that every microstock photography site does have strict guidelines for the work it accepts. That means you have to have images and files of a specific quality, and that quality is dictated by the site. However, there are a few general rules to follow:
- Avoid bad lighting.
- Pay attention to the color cast of the image.
- Make sure everything is focused (unless blurry is the sort of theme).
- Pay attention to the graininess or “noise” in the image (this is often because you use manual settings and have the ISO or film speed too low).
Of course, one of the best things about exploring options for microstock photography income is that you might be able to use modern software on some of your vintage or found photos and turn those into marketable images, too. For example, you might find a fantastic image taken on a classic Kodachrome film stock. It might need to be touched up and enhanced, but if it works within the site’s guidelines, it could be a good seller.
Yet, true experts in the industry say that you should start small. According to one, it is best to, “Pick a few of your best shots and make a little portfolio. Think about relationship going on in pictures.” In other words, define a sort of niche.
A niche in photography, particularly microstock photography is really just a particular area of focus in your work. It might be that you do medical imagery, lifestyle, business, education, travel and so on. To narrow down the niche, though, you need to see if you already have images of a particular grouping. For instance, if you looked at my hard drive, you would see lots of photos from flea markets, loads of shots taken of the dahlias I raise each summer and far too many images of my cat.
However, within that limited range of existing images, it is likely that I could put together a portfolio and submit it to the sites of my choice to get approval as a contributor. Yet, as I know from the experts, it is of the utmost importance that anyone submitting an image ensure that it meets all of the standards and guidelines. It is entirely normal for a new contributor to be turned down multiple times before an image is finally accepted by one of the microstock photography sites.
Tips for Microstock Photography Success
Of course, it is not a matter of just sorting through the hundreds (thousands?) of files on your computer, camera or even your mobile devices. You must also take that time to find things that are super competitive. There are millions of photos already out there, and if you want to make income from your work, you need to be sure it is something with the quality required, but it must also put a unique spin on things, too.
Yes, it is described as micro STOCK photography, but there is no real income in generic or predictable images – as the word stock implies. Instead, when you provide a shot that makes browsers stop, click and take a closer look, it is far more likely to sell. Keep in mind that you don’t have to submit a dazzling image of the Taj Mahal like no one else has ever taken. No, it could be that you specialize in fruit and vegetable photos and you make truly amazing shots of cucumbers, slices of melon, fresh berries, piles of herbs and so on.
So, think outside of the box and make images that push the boundaries in terms of creativity.
Also, I did already mention that you want to dust off those unused shots. As that old saying tells us “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and the fireworks photos from the 90s or the seashells you obsessed over on holiday could be repurposed and used to establish your portfolio or build an audience.
That means, use all that you have even if it means cleaning up and converting files to meet quality standards.
To bring in the highest microstock photography income, you should also consider the gear you use. I did say that some people take iPhone or cell phone images to post for sale, but this is not always the best approach. It is best to work with a true DSLR and guarantee that everything is a sharp and clear as possible.
Using a high quality camera is often a much shorter path to success, plus it can let you shoot in modes like RAW that provide the utmost in quality and flexibility.
And if you don’t know a lot about the technicalities of photography? It is a good idea to become more than just familiar with file types and file specifics like pixels, color and so on. Yet, not having a lot of working knowledge in photography has rarely stopped anyone determined to make it work in the world of microstock photography.
And to be sure you make the greatest amount of microstock photography income, you have to think in terms of numbers, i.e. quantity and quality matter.
Let’s look at that in a bit more depth.
How to Develop a Lucrative Microstock Photography Portfolio
If you don’t think that a few cents off of a photo is worth the effort, consider this simple example:
You have an image that seems to strike a note with lots of buyers. You make just under $1 on each sale. Over the course of a month, that image sells almost 100 times, earning you around $100. This pattern could be repeated again and again with multiple photos. And this is particularly true if you build a reputation among buyers as well as a portfolio of similar work.
That means you’ll want to think of several streams or approaches to photography you will use in your portfolio. For instance, you might have initial success with travel shots or nature images. You should aim to continually build on that success by adding more, similar images to the portfolio. However, you also want to create additional portfolios with other themes to build on the income.
A good idea is to set a goal for the number of images you are going to add (in total) to all of the portfolios per month. Then, do some research to see what, in your niche, seems particularly “hot”. As an example, you might see that images of solar panels, family portraits and snow scenes are appearing at the top of the site’s searches. Shutterstock is great for indicating the most popular photo searches and this could inform your work for the week or month.
Yet as one expert warns, “Choose your best work to upload, and try and develop your own style.Don’t look too much at what other people are doing. It’s really important to say, ‘This is me, this is how I’m going to do this’, and create a style.”
Yet, another professional photographer insists that microstock photography is really only “as demanding as you want it to be” because it is entirely up to you just how much time or effort you are willing to put into the endeavor. However, it makes an excellent “side gig” for many because they can do it with all of their energy and time when that is an actual option, but they can also dial back whenever work or life gets in the way. By using the microstock photography sites, there is nothing to do once an image is uploaded and approved.
Does that mean you should load up the portfolio and just forget about it? No, again, as one expert advises, “Photos may go out of style, or will be overused by so many designers, blogs, and publications, so you will need to keep updating and adding more photos to your portfolio to keep it fresh. This should keep the income flow somewhat steady, if not improve it over time, especially when you start to analyze and learn the ins and outs and what sells more than others.”
Of course, one way to really boost your stock photographer salary is to go exclusive. For example, some sites will offer much higher rates on each sale if you agree to be among their exclusive photographers or contributors. They might also pay bonuses for exclusivity.
Remember that I always advise readers eager to work independently or develop a reliable stream of supplemental income to consider blogging. If you are working as a microstock photographer, it is the ideal topic for a blog. In it you can start to talk about the subjects and techniques you use, the gear and equipment you prefer and the world of microstock photography itself.
And that means you can integrate affiliate marketing into the whole thing. You can earn by recommending certain cameras or devices. You can do tutorials using software that gives you a kickback for each sale. You can even create a how to guide for would be microphotographers and sell it via sites like Amazon.
So, if you are at all interested in earning a relatively easy income on the side and you also love to take photos, the world of microstock photography awaits. Take time considering your niche and style, choose a site with good terms and opportunities (and one that matches your particular interests) and start small. Build a good portfolio, watch what’s trending and earn even more by blogging and affiliate marketing about your hobby that can become your full time career.