Microstock- Selling Your Photos Online

If you consider yourself a photographer, or just love taking photos, you have probably considered making money with your photographs.  It is common for people to look for ways to make money doing something that they like.  After all, who wouldn't want to earn a paycheck while doing something they enjoy, rather than
There are many, many ways to sell photographs.  They range from selling portraits to individuals, to suffering a boring job.  So if you take great photos, but have never made a penny on your photography, how to you get started? 

businesses trying to produce multimedia presentations, to online sales.  While dozens of articles could be written about different methods, in this post I want to address one in particular, using a Microstock Agency to sell your photos.

What Is Stock Photography?

When companies are in need of photographs, for anything from advertising campaigns to in house power point presentations, they need a way of obtaining those photographs.  The original way was to hire a photographer to take specific photos for the need at hand.  While there is still a need for this, especially on very specific or rare topics, many subjects are more common.  The other option is to just copy the photo from somewhere else online, but that would be illegal.

Maroon Bells, Colorado.
Let's say that an outdoor clothing company wants to use a picture of Maroon Bells in an ad campaign.  Maroon Bells are photographed regularly, if you have ever been to a gift shop in Colorado, you have probably seen dozens of postcards featuring Maroon Bells.  So why hire a photographer to go take photographs of that mountain range, when there are more than enough photos out there, from all seasons.

Stock photography companies maintain a database of photographs that can be "purchased."  I used quotation marks around purchased to emphasize the actual transaction.  Typically a company would pay to use the image, but there would be a contract that specifies how the image can be used and how long it can be used for.  Outside of the contractual use, the company would have to pay to use the image again.  Typically stock agencies charge a fairly large fee for the royalties to an image.  Because of the costs associated, traditional stock agencies typically cater to larger companies.

What Is Micro stock?

Micro stock agencies evolved to provide stock photos to a broader customer base.  Instead of costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars, micro stock photos are often offered for just a few dollars.  They also typically allow the purchaser to use to photos indefinitely and for more applications than just a single use.  This makes photos easier to use and more available to the average user.  Now a smaller company can use photos, or a blogger can afford to buy that perfect image that compliments their post.

How Can I Make Money With Micro stock?

The bigger micro stock agencies have databases with millions of images.  To continue to provide up to date, interesting photos for their customers, micro stock agencies rely on contributors to add those photos.  Some micro stock agencies are harder to get accepted into, but with a little research, practice and patience, you could start seeing your images for sale.

Most microstock agencies have some sort of application process.  This usually starts with creating an account (which is typically free).  They are of course hoping that once you have an account, you will want to purchase photos from them, but instead of buying the photos, you will add photos for others to buy.  Once you have created an account you may have to submit some sample photographs before you can be accepted as a contributor.  If these images are rejected, don't take it personally.  The larger microstock agencies already have large databases with photographs.  They don't want just another picture of your dog, or Maroon Bells.  They want photographs that are technically perfect, yet unique. 

When you are selecting photos to submit as an application process, make sure that the photos are properly exposed, with good lighting and focus.  Also, if the agency requires ten application photos, try to offer them ten different photographs.  This will demonstrate that you have more range and experience than ten photos of your dog would suggest. 

What if the microstock agency rejects my submissions?

If the agency rejects the phots, or some of the photos that you submitted, use it as a learning experience.  It took me two tries to get accepted at Istock, usually when they reject images they will give you some reason as to why they made that decision.  Use that criticism to benefit you when you go to choose your next photos for submission.

Once you are accepted.

Once you are accepted to a microstock agency you get to start uploading photos that will actually be available for sale.  These images will still be inspected, so don't skimp on the quality.  Take the time to examine each image for exposure, focus, name brands and anything else that will detract from the quality.  The inspection period can last anywhere from a couple hours to several weeks, depending on the agency.  It is easy to check every day to see if your images have been approved, but try to use that time to take more photos and get them ready for submission. 

A Digital SLR, the backbone of stock photography.
 More photos equals more sales.

This point may seem obvious, but the search algorithims that are used by many of the top microstock agencies tend to favor newer images and those that have sold well.  If you have a portfolio of only a few images and you only upload a couple new photos a year, believe me, I've been there, you won't make as much money, because your photos won't be seen as often.  As you upload more and more photos, the search algorithims will pick up your images and buyers will be more likely to see them.  Another advantage is that if someone likes one of your photos, but it doesn't quite fit their needs, they might be more likely to look at other images in your portfolio.

Whenever I take a break from uploading photos I see a drop in sales.  When I start uploading more photos I start to see an increase.  The size of your portfolio isn't the only thing that matters, it is important to add fresh, new content to attract new intrest.

Stay Motivated.

This ca be the hardest part for me.  As I mentioned above, volume plays a huge role in success in Microstock photography.  If you're like me at all, it can be hard to continue to come up with new ideas and concepts to photograph.  While I wouldn't suggest copying another photographers work, you can certainly research what topics are selling well and try to use those as inspiration to create something new ad unique.

Scratching The Surface.

Hopefully after reading this post you will have a little better idea of what is involved in the Microstock industry and that should help you decide if it is for you.  I will post some links to some of the Microstock agecies that I contribute to, they aren't the only agecies out there, but they are some of the larger companies.

Let me know in the comment section below if you have any tips or advice of your own.  Also, if you decide to sign up with an agency, let me know how it goes.  Good Luck!!!

Microstock Agencies that I contribute to:
<a href="http://refer.istockphoto.com/ta.php?lc=058611040938004651&atid=53585%7CBannerID%3D53585%7CReferralMethod%3DBanner&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.istockphoto.com"><img src="http://refer.istockphoto.com/traffic_record.php?lc=058611040938004651&atid=53585%7CBannerID%3D53585%7CReferralMethod%3DBanner" border="0"/></a>


Check out some of my other photography posts:

Cold Weather Photography
Creating Time Lapse Videos


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