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Make Money From Your Photography (Microstock)

Jun 6, 2008
By trade I'm a web developer and my wife is a graphic designer. Together we began selling our photographs through the internet over two years ago as a way to earn a little extra cash from something we enjoyed doing. At the time we only had a little 4 megapixel point-n-shoot camera but my wife knew about editing photos from studying Design in college. At the time we thought we knew about photography as well, however we now know what we didn't know then.

In our first month we only earned $16, yet with some persistence and a lot of internet research we raised this amount to $270 in six months. Since it was only a part time hobby we certainly weren't expecting it to earn so much so quickly, yet this early success convinced us of the potential that was there and we quickly invested in a digital SLR. That was 2 years ago and we're now earning around $600 per month and have a modest portfolio of approximately 700 photographs listed with eight agencies. We still consider ourselves hobbyist photographers who create stock photos in our spare time.

Who sells photos in the microstock market? I've reached hundreds of other microstock stock photo sellers through the internet and have been amazed at the variety of individuals who are contributing to this market, each with a similarly impressive variety of reasons. There are retired couples who simply want to see their photos published and I have met people who make tens of thousands of dollars each month. For some microstock is their job and for others, like myself it is simply a portion of my overall income. Amazingly, one of the largest groups of contributors are photography students - both those who have chosen photography as their career and hobbyists who study for fun.

Why is microstock so good for students? There are three main reasons: freedom; money; and education.

To participate with Microstock is free and there are no set working hours, no bosses to order you around and no due dates. Microstock actually pays you money for your photographs, which is really great since photography is not a cheap hobby. Most importantly, if you're interested in learning about the commercial side of photography Microstock is a great learning tool. Who could be a better instructor than a global market of photo buyers?

Yes, Microstock is a controversial endeavor. You may have heard it is 'bad' for the industry. The microstock concept is relatively new as it only works with the Internet and high quality digital cameras. Because of that there are many professional stock photographers with strong feelings about the impact microstock is having on the industry.

I have personally spoken with some of the world's most successful stock photographers and they tell me that they're not noticing any impact on their business from microstock. Photos compete on quality and not price (microstock photos sell cheaper but in higher quantity) and there will always be buyers interested in the top level of the market, regardless of the price.

It's also makes sense to assume that the hundreds of photographers who now earn a living with microstock have displaced some 'traditional' stock photographers. This is a natural phenomenon and happens with any technological change as big as the Internet and digital photography and it's completely understandable that those on the receiving end are not happy about it.

To be sure, Microstock has brought new buyers to the market. Prior to Microstock small businesses, charities and bloggers weren't big purchasers of stock photos when each image 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 just a bit under $1 per photo per month. You can find monthly earnings, figures and links to various portfolios with a quick Google search. With this information you can quickly compare your portfolio or photography skills to figure out, more or less, how much you could expect to earn with your photos in the microstock market.

Is it easy to get into microstock? Not at the start. Many agencies require a test submission which is generally stricter than their usual review process. Microstock agencies also review submissions based on what sells; typically these are images that are super sharp, noiseless and commercially appealing. Because of this process many established and highly skilled photographers experience early rejections and quickly dismiss the microstock opportunity. By beginning with the middle tier agencies that don't require you to pass a test, you can easily get an idea of what types 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 to create above-average success. The average per-photo earnings of many of the top microstock contributors can be up to ten times what I currently make, so you can imagine the difference in the quality and appeal of the photos they produce. They also need to repeat this success 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:

It is important to manage your expectations. I know this sounds easier than it actually is. A common sales pitch generally will read, "click here to start earning money from the photos sitting idle on your computer". This is not very realistic and chances are you'll quickly quit if you begin with this expectation. It is important to 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 wish to contribute many photos it makes tons of sense to have an efficient workflow so you don't waste time doing unnecessary and repetitive tasks. Do your research and refine your process so you can put a quality product into the market as efficiently as possible. Microstock is business. If you're more of an artist than an actual commercial photographer you may want to seriously consider if you and microstock are a good match. Don't get me wrong, artistic photos will sell in the microstock market, but not nearly as well as commercial photos.

Research. Don't stop with the few ideas I have already given you. It is important to get all your questions answered before you begin so you save time and don't accidentally do anything that doesn't work to your advantage. There are blogs written for people selling photos in the microstock market, read these as well as other sites.

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: Shutterastock, Dreamstime, Crestock, fotolia, 123rf, Stockxpert.
About the Author
Looking into digital photography, ever want to start Learning Digital Photography? Get Great Tips on how to take Digital Photographs with This Free Report
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