Tips for Microstock Photography

Tips for Microstock Photography

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A Guest post by Italian Photographer Giovanni Gagliardi.

I’ve always been fascinated by the endless different places we can see around the world. Undoubtedly this is one of the main factors that ignited my passion for photography.
Since I was a child my parents took me with them when traveling, and this thirst for visiting new countries grew inside me like a inherited gift.

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In the last few years I had the chance to make many journeys and as a consequence something in my mind told me not just to make pictures but to learn how to do it better.

This way I discovered the wonderful world of photography! I began to attend photography workshops, read magazines and books, and eventually decided to buy my first DSLR (Nikon D80).

When I returned from my fabulous trip to Australia last summer I was eager to rescan the images of all my last travels. At the same time I read a review about Microstock. These two events came at the right moment and intertwined perfectly.

I didn’t even know that I could sell my pictures over the internet and this news open a new road in front of me.

I immediately tried to figure out how to begin selling photos.

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The first thing I had to do was to select the best pictures from the thousands I shot during these years.

It was simple to begin but hard to go on because after a while you review the images you lose the capacity to correctly judge and select them.

The only way to do that is to leave some time every day to dedicate to this purpose. But this time must not exceed 10-20 minutes, otherwise it may become sort of boring.

From last September when I started many thing have changed.

At first my procedure was to select many pictures from a shoot and submit them to the microstock world. I even didn’t pay particular attention to keywords. I just thought about 5-10 keywords and write them in a hurry. Last but not least I went too far with Photoshop filters, eventually ruining potentially good shots.

After a few months of hard work I have constantly improved my skills and now I’d like to share with you what I learned and how my workflow is now organized: 

For every place I visited or every shoot I made I’ve created a different folder.
Depending on my inspiration I inspect one of this folder per day, selecting new pictures that could be sold.

I created a directory called bucket  with many subfolders where I put these selected  files. So for example I could have a subfolder “Australia”, another  one “Europe” and another “Harvest 2009”. I have many of them and they always contain files.

Every  time I have to submit pictures I select only one file from each of these  folders,  trying to make a group not exceeding 10-20.

This way  my submissions will contain images that are visible (as most recent) in a wider range of categories.

Remember  that some of  the main sites give priority to the last pictures submitted, so it’s a good idea to continuously send them new images in small heterogeneous groups.

This was the general idea which is behind my work, but keep in mind that there are 4 other main aspects that I will show you now.

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1. Keywording: if you want your pictures to be found you need accurate keywords to be associated with. Instead of thinking about them there are many sites that can help you. Picniche is one of them. You put a Keyword Phrase in the search box and it will come out with several words. Pay attention to select only some of them, because they may  not be pertinent  to the context. Stocktagger is another great site and I think is more precise that picniche. The principle is the same and you have to experiment a little bit to extract good keywords. Yuri Arcurs, the best seller artist of the moment has a great visual keywording site that I use the most. Here you type a word in the search box and it will come out with pictures of your subject. You select the ones that are most similar to yours and click on “accept chosen images and proceed to the selection of keywords”, sorted according to their supposed relevance. Now select the ones you think are right and it’s magically done.

2. Pictures Cleaning and Improvements: first of all your photos must not contain any people or trademark object. So with Photoshop or another software like Gimp you have to remove these potential problems. After that it is better to improve your pictures as much as possible, so they can stand out from the mass of millions. Obviuously It’s up to your creativity and imagination but there are a couple of Photoshop filters that may be useful. I’m not a true expert but I often improve or even save some of my files with Noise Ninja from PictureCode (smoothly removes noise) and Topaz Adjust from TopazLabs. The latter must be used with attention because it could generate too much altered pictures. The trick in this case is to apply the filter and then fade it afterwards with the Ctrl-Shift-F keyboard shortcut. Try it and you can really improve your shots.

3. Uploading: the last step is to submit your pictures. Basically you can do it either from your web browser or through ftp (istockphoto doesn’t allow ftp for all and is the only exception among the main sites). The second option is by far the best and allows you to transfer a great quantity of files without having to follow the transfer. You just put the files on a queue and make the computer do the hard work. At the end you’ll find your files on the destination site, ready for the final refinements. There are a plethora of ftp client softwares, some of them even free. Filezilla is of of the best option for the free branch, it is well known and continuously updated. In the shareware branch I spotted a great software called SmartFtp. You can try it for 30 days and then you pay about 50 bucks to keep using it.

4. Finish Submitting: after you upload your file to the variuos microstock sites you have to make the final refinements directly on site. Typically you have to choose the right categories for each image, as well as assign permissions for sale and upload a model/property release. Each site has a separate approach to this last step and if you decided to submit your files to several agencies you could find trouble remembering the whole path. Months ago I decided not to go exclusive and to send pictures to almost all agencies, just to see by myself what could happen. Time after time I build a table where for each site there is a quick reference of the last steps to complete. I hope it can help you: ? 

SITE PROCEDURE 

SHU Images stats, Waiting to be submitted
BIG Uploads, Pending your edit
CAN My portfolio, Submit images
CLI Media management
DEP Files, Unfinished files
DRE Contributors area, Management area, Select commercial pictures
FOTO My works
MOS My profile, Upload, Publish
POL My profile, Edit image
123 Sell images, Upload, Continue, Ftp settings / Check upload results
CRE Upload images, Attach model release-Review and submit
CUT Uploads, Process ftp uploads, Submit
FEA Manage portfolio, My new images, Look for not submitted pictures
GRA My account, Manage portfolio
MOO My collection, Edit every single image
MYS Portfolio, Process ftp files
PAN My Panther, My images, Image overview, My images, Image Upload Ftp/Psm
PIXM Sell photos, Unfinished
SCA Photographers, Upload images, Transfer files from my ftp account
VEE YourName, Profile, Contributor, Workspace, Prepare and submit
YAY YourName, Uploading

See more of Giovanni Gagliardi’s work at her site www.gagliardipictures.com.

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  • Nice article, but I would like to expand on a couple of points: “must not contain any people or trademark object” – You can include people in your photos, but for microstock where they are likely to be used in commercial circumstances (adverts), they must be unrecognisable or you can submit a model release (signed by people depicted the photo) with the photo. Most microstock sites supply their own release that you can print off and get signed.

    Yes, you also need to be careful with trademarked and copyrighted things with microstock – for instance, you can submit a photo of the Eiffel Tower as its copyright has now run out, but its lighting design is copyrighted, so you cannot submit a night time photo of it. However, you can also submit these things if you get a suitable (usually a property release) release (may not be easy, though).

  • Can you explain more about the process for getting model and property releases? I understand the former, but when would you need to get a property release? When photographing one particular property?

    To me, getting the model or property releases seems to be the biggest barrier for microstocking.

  • Martin

    Who do I have to ask for permission for a night time photo of the Eiffel Tower?! This sounds ridiculous…

  • How much money can one expect to receive for selling photos as you have described?
    Thanks.

  • Regarding how much money you can do…
    I can describe my experience…
    I began 1 year ago and dedicated most of my free time selecting photos and submitting to all agencies.
    At the moment I receive 300-500$ every month on paypal but I expect to earn more in the future.
    On my site I always put statistics about my sellings.
    Basically it depends on quality and quantity of your pictures, but the only way to find out is to try yourself at least with a few agencies. I surely can suggest Shutterstock that gives me about 60% of my earnings. If you have time you can try fotolia, istockphoto and dreamstime.
    If your work sells then try with the remaining sites.

  • I don’t understand the slightly harsh tone in the comments. I think this was an illuminating post. Ah, well, each to his own I guess.

    You can ofcourse take photos of (pretty much) anything, you only need permission if you’re gonna receive some kind of revenue from the photo. If you’re standing in a public space, you can photograph all the people and buildings within sight, even people inside their own homes. Just don’t expect to be able to sell stuff like that legally 🙂

  • @Martin please read my comment in context to the article. You don’t need permission to take photos of the Eiffel Tower at night for personal use – but because the lighting design is copyrighted, you do need permission to sell night time photos of it.

    The following is from the Tower’s official web site:
    http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/pratique/faq/index.html

    Q : Are we allowed to publish photos of the Eiffel Tower?
    A : There are no restrictions on publishing a picture of the Tower by day. Photos taken at night when the lights are aglow are subjected to copyright laws, and fees for the right to publish must be paid to the SETE.

  • @Mark – a lot of photographers use paid for models in microstock images and getting them to sign a model release is easy (it’s pretty standard thing). But you’re not likely to be able to get a release from a stranger you just shot in the street, but this is not a problem if they are not recognisable and are not the main subject of the photo:

    See the following link for more details on what iStockphoto expects: http://www.istockphoto.com/article_view.php?ID=648

    Properties/buildings are not so clear cut. If the building is the main subject and not part of a city scape photos for instance, and it is subject to design trademarks or copyrights, then you will need a property release.

  • Microstock, no doubt, fetches some money. But I personally feel it kills the artistic part in a photographer. After joining a few microstock sites, I soon realized that I was clicking only commercial things. I was no more interested in clicking landscapes or birds or portraits. I just came out of the micro thing. If you want to take photography as an art, microstock is not the place. If it is just another business, go for it. There are many other ways to earn with your own-type of photography, if you are ready to wait until it all happens.

  • claude etienne

    This was an informative post. For those who might want more information on stock photography, there are a couple of books on the subject that came out this year. I haven’t read them yet, but they have received very positive reviews and they were written by experts in the field. The first one is called Taking Stock: Make money in microstock creating photos that sell by Rob Sylvan. Sylvan happens to be an iStock inspector and contributor. The second book is Microstock Money Shots: Turning Downloads into Dollars with Microstock Photography by Ellen Boughn who used to own a top agency in the west coast.

  • The issue with the Eiffel Tower lighting copyright is a curious one. By branded property, it is usually meant that there is a protected brand name or symbol on the photo (Starbucks, McDonalds logo), that can experience reputation damage. The owners do not want to get accidentally associated with whatever else is going on a photo. For example, if the focal point of a photo is a street riot and there is a Starbucks logo in the background, Starbucks would protest. But with a night lighting design of Eiffel Tower, I don’t see any harm a sold photo can do to the designers’ rights. In this way, any single building could probably claim damage, forget about landmarks like Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty. Yes, they say on the Eiffel website that their night views are copyright protected, but I don’t think it will honestly fly in a court. Although anything is possible in this world.

  • The article is wonderful. I learned something new.

  • Speaking of Australia, The Sydney Opera House is another building that has a copyright.

  • Thanks Celesta!
    I hope you’ll find my info useful and let me know how sellings are going if you begin with microstock.
    Feel free to ask me if you need advices.

  • Giovanni’s I found your article really interesting and inspiring, your pics on your site are stunning and I was impressed by how well organised and researched you are. Your work is extremely professional and beautifully presented and I can see how the agencies would go for it.
    I specalise in birds and wildlife and would like to find out if there are any agencies that are better for wildlife than others?

  • Thank you,Giovanni – your post reached me at the right time. I am working on my shutterstock gallery daily 🙂

  • Good job Anna!
    It’s very important to work every day for your collection and submit some pictures continuously.

  • Tim

    Very nice article, especially the key wording information. I find the reference sites useful. Can you tell me how often you upload new photos. Do you leave the old ones up or do you constantly update with new ones periodically? Thank you.

  • I recently submitted my first 10 images to shutterstock for review, and every single one came back ‘Not approved’!!!
    The reasons given were poor lighting, composition, and potential copyright or trademark infringement.
    I guess everyone reading this now will be thinking “well they must have been crap photos” but I really don’t think they were. But it seems (I have found from talking to contacts who earn from stock) that you have to be very careful about your selections. 3 of the shots I submitted were of Christmas decorations with a bokeh background, which I thought would be perfect images for Christmas cards, but they were marked as ‘potential copyright infringement’. I’ve since found out that if those objects were spotted by the manufacturer it could mean trouble! Another was of a horse, and there was some shadow in the bottom left corner. It seems they don’t like any shadow.

    So what I was getting at really was, put your thick skin on when submitting for the first time and think hard about what you submit. They do seem to be quite picky!

  • Really nice advice here – I have always gone back and fourth with stock and micro stock.

    Thanks for sharing.

    DSP

  • Very informative article and good comments. Good to be positive when offering comments. We cannot agree all the time but we should be willing to share our ideas and advice in a professional manner. Janet

  • Erin McLeod

    Thank you for this article! I am a newbie and have just had my first 10 images accepted on microstock site. Your information regarding keywords was especially appreciated, and the webiste you referred us to is excellent! I find this a challenging aspect of photo submission.

  • Thanks.
    I’m writing a new post about Microstock earnings and advices based on my experience.
    I hope it will be published soon.
    Giovanni

  • Selling stockphotos is a lot of work. From the moment you take the image, till its approved and added to your portfolio. may be several days or weeks. You will need a large amount of images (5000+) before you can speak of a real income.

    Several sites are less picky about quality but the revenue is about the same. Some want you to upload some of your work before you can upload. Some work with a reject/approved rating, the more you get rejected the less you can upload.

    You will be frustrated at times when you upload your images and they get rejected for some reason.

    But once you have this done, it may add a few bucks extra in your pocket. And you do not have to do anything for it. Don’t speak of proffit yet, first write of your time, equipment and what else.

  • Kyle

    Thanks for the informative post Giovanni!! I just learned about the microstock industry recently, and have been doing research about getting into it the past couple days. Although, I’m finding the legal issues (in regards to properties) rather intimidating, as most of my photos are from my recent trip to Europe. I’m also concerned about my lack of skill when it comes to improving my photos using computer programs. Are either of these issues really problematic? I’m not looking to make a ton of profit off this, just pocket change.

  • Hi Kyle!
    You must not be intimidated by these issues, as they’re not so problematic.
    Regarding property releases it’s a odd thing to think at the beginning but after a while it will be normal.
    Basically if you take a picture of someone you have to make him sign the release or you can sell the picture without the release (this is called editorial).
    When I began I knew only some principles of Photoshop but if this is your passion you’ll sell your pictures and you’ll continuously understand new tips and tricks about photo retouching. It surely will be a great experience and you’ll learn a lot of new things!
    You can ask me whatever you want should you have doubts!
    Ciao
    Giovanni

  • Thanks for this post, I am looking to explore this as a potential new income source and really appreciate the keyword resources 🙂

  • This is great article. I did not know about some of this keywording web site. Thanks!

    http://shutterstock.com/g/stockphotographer

Some Older Comments

  • Giovanni April 27, 2011 05:27 pm

    Hi Kyle!
    You must not be intimidated by these issues, as they're not so problematic.
    Regarding property releases it's a odd thing to think at the beginning but after a while it will be normal.
    Basically if you take a picture of someone you have to make him sign the release or you can sell the picture without the release (this is called editorial).
    When I began I knew only some principles of Photoshop but if this is your passion you'll sell your pictures and you'll continuously understand new tips and tricks about photo retouching. It surely will be a great experience and you'll learn a lot of new things!
    You can ask me whatever you want should you have doubts!
    Ciao
    Giovanni

  • Kyle April 26, 2011 01:58 pm

    Thanks for the informative post Giovanni!! I just learned about the microstock industry recently, and have been doing research about getting into it the past couple days. Although, I'm finding the legal issues (in regards to properties) rather intimidating, as most of my photos are from my recent trip to Europe. I'm also concerned about my lack of skill when it comes to improving my photos using computer programs. Are either of these issues really problematic? I'm not looking to make a ton of profit off this, just pocket change.

  • Jeroen van Oostrom April 8, 2011 03:25 am

    Selling stockphotos is a lot of work. From the moment you take the image, till its approved and added to your portfolio. may be several days or weeks. You will need a large amount of images (5000+) before you can speak of a real income.

    Several sites are less picky about quality but the revenue is about the same. Some want you to upload some of your work before you can upload. Some work with a reject/approved rating, the more you get rejected the less you can upload.

    You will be frustrated at times when you upload your images and they get rejected for some reason.

    But once you have this done, it may add a few bucks extra in your pocket. And you do not have to do anything for it. Don't speak of proffit yet, first write of your time, equipment and what else.

  • Giovanni March 6, 2011 10:26 pm

    Thanks.
    I'm writing a new post about Microstock earnings and advices based on my experience.
    I hope it will be published soon.
    Giovanni

  • Erin McLeod March 6, 2011 08:01 am

    Thank you for this article! I am a newbie and have just had my first 10 images accepted on microstock site. Your information regarding keywords was especially appreciated, and the webiste you referred us to is excellent! I find this a challenging aspect of photo submission.

  • Janet November 26, 2010 12:59 pm

    Very informative article and good comments. Good to be positive when offering comments. We cannot agree all the time but we should be willing to share our ideas and advice in a professional manner. Janet

  • home_office_inspirations November 24, 2010 07:45 pm

    Really nice advice here - I have always gone back and fourth with stock and micro stock.

    Thanks for sharing.

    DSP

  • Sara Hazeldine November 6, 2010 06:32 pm

    I recently submitted my first 10 images to shutterstock for review, and every single one came back 'Not approved'!!!
    The reasons given were poor lighting, composition, and potential copyright or trademark infringement.
    I guess everyone reading this now will be thinking "well they must have been crap photos" but I really don't think they were. But it seems (I have found from talking to contacts who earn from stock) that you have to be very careful about your selections. 3 of the shots I submitted were of Christmas decorations with a bokeh background, which I thought would be perfect images for Christmas cards, but they were marked as 'potential copyright infringement'. I've since found out that if those objects were spotted by the manufacturer it could mean trouble! Another was of a horse, and there was some shadow in the bottom left corner. It seems they don't like any shadow.

    So what I was getting at really was, put your thick skin on when submitting for the first time and think hard about what you submit. They do seem to be quite picky!

  • Tim November 6, 2010 12:07 pm

    Very nice article, especially the key wording information. I find the reference sites useful. Can you tell me how often you upload new photos. Do you leave the old ones up or do you constantly update with new ones periodically? Thank you.

  • Giovanni November 5, 2010 07:18 pm

    Good job Anna!
    It's very important to work every day for your collection and submit some pictures continuously.

  • Anna Moritz November 5, 2010 07:00 pm

    Thank you,Giovanni - your post reached me at the right time. I am working on my shutterstock gallery daily :)

  • silva November 5, 2010 04:21 pm

    Giovanni’s I found your article really interesting and inspiring, your pics on your site are stunning and I was impressed by how well organised and researched you are. Your work is extremely professional and beautifully presented and I can see how the agencies would go for it.
    I specalise in birds and wildlife and would like to find out if there are any agencies that are better for wildlife than others?

  • Giovanni November 5, 2010 08:43 am

    Thanks Celesta!
    I hope you'll find my info useful and let me know how sellings are going if you begin with microstock.
    Feel free to ask me if you need advices.

  • monkeyinabox November 5, 2010 04:06 am

    Speaking of Australia, The Sydney Opera House is another building that has a copyright.

  • Celesta November 5, 2010 12:30 am

    The article is wonderful. I learned something new.

  • Celesta November 5, 2010 12:29 am

    The issue with the Eiffel Tower lighting copyright is a curious one. By branded property, it is usually meant that there is a protected brand name or symbol on the photo (Starbucks, McDonalds logo), that can experience reputation damage. The owners do not want to get accidentally associated with whatever else is going on a photo. For example, if the focal point of a photo is a street riot and there is a Starbucks logo in the background, Starbucks would protest. But with a night lighting design of Eiffel Tower, I don't see any harm a sold photo can do to the designers' rights. In this way, any single building could probably claim damage, forget about landmarks like Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty. Yes, they say on the Eiffel website that their night views are copyright protected, but I don't think it will honestly fly in a court. Although anything is possible in this world.

  • claude etienne November 3, 2010 04:12 am

    This was an informative post. For those who might want more information on stock photography, there are a couple of books on the subject that came out this year. I haven't read them yet, but they have received very positive reviews and they were written by experts in the field. The first one is called Taking Stock: Make money in microstock creating photos that sell by Rob Sylvan. Sylvan happens to be an iStock inspector and contributor. The second book is Microstock Money Shots: Turning Downloads into Dollars with Microstock Photography by Ellen Boughn who used to own a top agency in the west coast.

  • GaneshPrasad November 2, 2010 11:06 pm

    Microstock, no doubt, fetches some money. But I personally feel it kills the artistic part in a photographer. After joining a few microstock sites, I soon realized that I was clicking only commercial things. I was no more interested in clicking landscapes or birds or portraits. I just came out of the micro thing. If you want to take photography as an art, microstock is not the place. If it is just another business, go for it. There are many other ways to earn with your own-type of photography, if you are ready to wait until it all happens.

  • Andy Mills November 1, 2010 03:10 am

    @Mark - a lot of photographers use paid for models in microstock images and getting them to sign a model release is easy (it's pretty standard thing). But you're not likely to be able to get a release from a stranger you just shot in the street, but this is not a problem if they are not recognisable and are not the main subject of the photo:

    See the following link for more details on what iStockphoto expects: http://www.istockphoto.com/article_view.php?ID=648

    Properties/buildings are not so clear cut. If the building is the main subject and not part of a city scape photos for instance, and it is subject to design trademarks or copyrights, then you will need a property release.

  • Andy Mills November 1, 2010 02:48 am

    @Martin please read my comment in context to the article. You don't need permission to take photos of the Eiffel Tower at night for personal use - but because the lighting design is copyrighted, you do need permission to sell night time photos of it.

    The following is from the Tower's official web site:
    http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/pratique/faq/index.html

    Q : Are we allowed to publish photos of the Eiffel Tower?
    A : There are no restrictions on publishing a picture of the Tower by day. Photos taken at night when the lights are aglow are subjected to copyright laws, and fees for the right to publish must be paid to the SETE.

  • Robin Oberg October 31, 2010 09:32 pm

    I don't understand the slightly harsh tone in the comments. I think this was an illuminating post. Ah, well, each to his own I guess.

    You can ofcourse take photos of (pretty much) anything, you only need permission if you're gonna receive some kind of revenue from the photo. If you're standing in a public space, you can photograph all the people and buildings within sight, even people inside their own homes. Just don't expect to be able to sell stuff like that legally :)

  • Giovanni October 31, 2010 05:59 pm

    Regarding how much money you can do...
    I can describe my experience...
    I began 1 year ago and dedicated most of my free time selecting photos and submitting to all agencies.
    At the moment I receive 300-500$ every month on paypal but I expect to earn more in the future.
    On my site I always put statistics about my sellings.
    Basically it depends on quality and quantity of your pictures, but the only way to find out is to try yourself at least with a few agencies. I surely can suggest Shutterstock that gives me about 60% of my earnings. If you have time you can try fotolia, istockphoto and dreamstime.
    If your work sells then try with the remaining sites.

  • R. Martin October 31, 2010 12:09 pm

    How much money can one expect to receive for selling photos as you have described?
    Thanks.

  • Martin October 31, 2010 11:06 am

    Who do I have to ask for permission for a night time photo of the Eiffel Tower?! This sounds ridiculous...

  • Mark October 31, 2010 06:48 am

    Can you explain more about the process for getting model and property releases? I understand the former, but when would you need to get a property release? When photographing one particular property?

    To me, getting the model or property releases seems to be the biggest barrier for microstocking.

  • Andy Mills October 31, 2010 06:40 am

    Nice article, but I would like to expand on a couple of points: "must not contain any people or trademark object" - You can include people in your photos, but for microstock where they are likely to be used in commercial circumstances (adverts), they must be unrecognisable or you can submit a model release (signed by people depicted the photo) with the photo. Most microstock sites supply their own release that you can print off and get signed.

    Yes, you also need to be careful with trademarked and copyrighted things with microstock - for instance, you can submit a photo of the Eiffel Tower as its copyright has now run out, but its lighting design is copyrighted, so you cannot submit a night time photo of it. However, you can also submit these things if you get a suitable (usually a property release) release (may not be easy, though).

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