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.
When we began selling our photos online we only earned $16 in our first month. Given that this was something we were passionate about we persisted and, with lots of research we raised the amount to $270 in six months. Since it was only a part time hobby we honestly didn't expect it to earn so much money as soon as it did, but our early success convinced us of the possible potential and we immediately purchased in a digital SLR. It has been over two years later and we're now making around $600 each month with a modest portfolio of around 700 photos listed with eight agencies. We're still considered 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 work hours, no bosses and most importantly, no due dates. Microstock pays money which is great given that photography isn't a cheap endeavor. If you are interested in learning about the commercial side of photography Microstock is also a great way to educate yourself. What better teacher than a global market of photo buyers?
Isn't microstock ‘bad' for the industry? If you have been interested in selling stock photography for a while you may have already found that microstock is controversial. Since the concept works only with the Internet and high quality digital cameras it's still relatively new. Because of that there are still many professional stock photographers with strong feelings about the impact microstock is having on the industry.
Many of the world's most successful stock photographers that I have spoken with have said they're not noticing any impacts on their business from microstock. These professionals know that their photos compete on quality and not price (microstock photos sell cheaper but in higher quantity) and they also know that 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? The amount depends on both the quality and quantity of photographs you can produce. Those who work full time with microstock and have a portfolio of 7,000 high quality images or more can easily earn over $20,000 per MONTH! On the flip side, those contributors who have only a handful of images earn just a few dollars. Like me, you'll most likely find yourself between these two extremes.
I typically will earn a little under $1 per photo per month. On the internet you can find monthly earnings figures and links to portfolios. With some research you can easily compare your portfolio or photography skills with others 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 beginning, it isn't. Many online agencies require a test submission which is generally stricter than their typical review process. Microstock agencies also review submissions based on what sells, which is images that are super sharp, noiseless and commercially appealing. Because of this initial review many of the established and highly skilled photographers experience early rejections and quickly dismiss the microstock opportunity. You can start with some of the middle tier agencies which don't require you to pass a test. In doing this you can easily get an idea of what types of photos are being accepted and which ones sell well. After that, it's relatively easy to start earning money.
Doing some research you can find examples the best selling photos. Typically most are simple shots taken with the intention of selling for stock, but with no more preparation that being in the correct spot with your camera. Many photos can earn over $30 per month though the potential success will vary 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:
Managing your expectations can often sound easier than it actually is. A typical sales pitch might read, “click here to start earning money from the photos sitting idle on your computer”. That's not exactly realistic and you'll soon quit if you begin with this expectation in mind. Do your own research to figure out what sells, create these photos well, and be smart about how you 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.