Make Money From Your Photography (Microstock)

By: Dan Feildman

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.

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?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 reasons microstock is so great for students: 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'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 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 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 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.

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.

Creating above average success is not that easy. Average per-photo prices of top microstock contributors can literally 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 some hints for those who are interested in 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 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. 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.

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