This guest post was written by Lee Torrens, a student of digital photography who is blogging about his adventures selling photos online at Microstock Diaries.
I’m a subscriber to Digital Photography School and quite a few other resources which educate me about photography. I need to do this because I’m still a hobbyist photographer despite earning hundreds of dollars every month selling my photos. I’ve seen the opportunity of selling stock photos come up in the DPS forums so I thought I’d address some of the most common questions about microstock from the perspective of other digital photography students.
What does it take to get started?
I’m a web developer and my wife is a graphic designer. We started selling photos online over two years ago as a way to earn a little extra money out of something we enjoyed. We only had a little 4 megapixel point-n-shoot camera but my wife knew a little about editing photos from studying Design. We thought we knew about photography then, but now we know what we didn’t know then.
We only earned $16 in our first month, but with persistence and lots of research we raised this to $270 in six months. As it was a part time hobby we didn’t expect it to earn so much so quickly, but this early success convinced us of the potential and we quickly invested in a digital SLR. Over two years later we’re now earning around $600 each month with a modest portfolio of around 700 photos listed with eight agencies. We’re still hobbyist photographers creating stock photos in our spare time.
Who sells photos in the microstock market?
Through my blog I’ve connected with hundreds of other microstock contributors. There is an amazing variety of people contributing to this market and with a similarly impressive variety of reasons. I know retired couples who just love to see their work published and I know people who earn tens of thousands of dollars each month. There’s also a variety of people in the middle for whom microstock is their job or who, like me, have microstock as part of their income. However, one of the biggest groups are photography students – both formal students with photography as their chosen career and hobbyists who study for fun.
Why is microstock so good for students?
There are three main reasons: freedom; money; and education.
- Microstock is free to participate and there are no work hours, no bosses and no due dates.
- Microstock pays money which is great given photography isn’t cheap.
- Microstock is also a great way to educate yourself if you’re interested in learning about the commercial side of photography. What better teacher than a global market of photo buyers?
Isn’t microstock ‘bad’ for the industry?
If you do any research about microstock you will quickly find that it’s controversial. The concept only works with the Internet and high quality digital cameras, so it’s still relatively new. Subsequently there are still many professional stock photographers with strong feelings about the impact microstock is having on the industry.
I’ve personally spoken with a few of the world’s most successful stock photographers and they’re not noticing any impacts on their business from microstock. They know that their photos compete on quality and not price (microstock photos sell cheaper but in higher quantity) and their will always be buyers interested in the top level of the market, regardless of the price.
It’s also logical to expect that the hundreds of photographers who now make a living with microstock have displaced some ‘traditional’ stock photographers. This happens with any technological change as big as the Internet and digital photography and it’s understandable that those on the receiving end are not happy about it.
Microstock has also brought new buyers to the market. Small businesses, charities and bloggers weren’t big buyers of stock photos when they cost $350 or more. Now that blog size images are $1 and print size images are $10, you can imagine how sales have increased.
So how much can I earn in microstock?
That depends on both the quality and quantity of photos you can produce. Full time microstock contributors with a portfolio of 7,000 high quality images earn over $20,000 per MONTH! At the other end of the scale some contributors with only a handful of images earn just a few dollars. Like me, you’ll most likely find yourself between these two extremes.
I earn a little under $1 per photo per month. On my blog I publish my monthly earnings figures and links to my portfolios (About page). With this information you can easily compare your portfolio or photography skills to determine more or less how much you could expect to earn with your photos in the microstock market.
Is microstock easy?
Not at the start. Some agencies require a test submission which is more strict than their usual review process. Microstock agencies also review submissions based on what sells, which is images that are super sharp, noiseless and commercially appealing. As a result a lot of established and highly skilled photographers experience early rejections and are quick to dismiss the microstock opportunity. By starting with the middle tier agencies that don’t require you to pass a test, you can quickly get an idea of what type of photos are accepted and which ones sell well. After that, it’s relatively easy to start earning money.
Here’s two of my best selling photos. Each is a simple shot taken with the intention of selling for stock, but with no more preparation that being in the the necessary place with my camera. Both these photos earn over $30 per month though their success varies between agencies.
It’s also not easy creating above-average success. Average per-photo earnings of top microstock contributors can be up to ten times what I earn, so you can imagine the difference in the quality and appeal of the photos they produce. They also need to repeat this many times to create a portfolio large enough to raise their earnings above average.
How can I improve my chances of success?
These are my top tips for people getting started selling their photos in the microstock market:
- Manage your expectations. It can often sound easier than it really is. A common sales pitch reads, “click here to start earning money from the photos sitting idle on your computer”. That’s not realistic and you’ll quickly quit if you start with this expectation. Do your own research to figure out what sells, create those photos well, and be smart about how your contribute.
- Concentrate on workflow. If you plan to contribute lots of photos it makes sense to have an efficient workflow so you don’t waste time doing unnecessary repetitive tasks. Do your research and refine your workflow so you can get a quality product into the market as efficiently as possible.
- Microstock is business. If you’re an artist more than a commercial photographer you may want to seriously consider if you and microstock are a good match. Artistic photos will sell in the microstock market, but not nearly as well as commercial photos.
- Research. I’ve already given you a few things to research but don’t stop with those. Get all your questions answered before you get started so you save time and don’t accidentally do anything that doesn’t work to your advantage.
My blog is written for people selling photos in the microstock market, so I invite you to continue your research with me at Microstock Diaries. If you have any other questions or would like more details, you’re also welcome to ask me questions directly via my Contact page.
PS from Darren: Interested in making money from your photography? Check out the Earning With Photography section of our forums.
6 Microstock Sites Where You can Make Money from Your Photos
Here are a number of Microstock programs that offer photographers money for their images: