Friday, March 20, 2009

Microstock photography thoughts

This last weekend I attended Photo Camp Utah. Over 300 photo enthusiasts attended the camp. It was an opportunity to learn from many excellent photographers who shared tips, techniques, many of whom I consider friends.

The presentations covered topics from technique to work flow. While I would love to be able to share everything I learned I wanted to touch one subject that has been of recent interest to me. Rich Legg shared insight from his experience as an exclusive Istock contributor. Rich now works full time as a Microstock contributor, and has learned to make a comfortable living doing so. Rich spoke about his getting to his current situation, and it did not happen overnight. It was insightful to see how many people are interested in selling photos through Microstock agencies.

Rich at the Photo Camp Utah

I started submitting to Microstock, the same way I learned photography, researching on the World Wide Web and then fumbling my way through the process. I know that there are questions about how the Microstock market has changed (I have many of the same questions). I noticed some indications that the Microstock market may have become more difficult to enter and has become more competitive, requiring much higher levels of quality to succeed. From Rich’s point of view, there is huge potential for growth in the Microstock community. Traditional stock is loosing ground due to the leaps in quality and breadth of material available from the Microstock sector. I am not saying traditional stock is going away, but royalty free images are the way things are moving. The lower cost is introducing new buyers, and an overall growth in the industry.

There are many contributors that see the growth (explosion of available material) as a dooms day scenario. These contributors only see the newcomers as competition. I am new to the Microstock world, and I see my entrance not one of being late, but as being right on time (I arrived at the party just when things are starting to get fun). The Microstock market is growing big time, and I am able to jump in when the different agencies have figured things out. The growth is available and I want to be part of the growth, recession or no.

I can’t give any insight into what it takes to succeed in the world of Microstock (except I realize it takes a lot of work). What I can do is share how my experience has been thus far. I plan on adding posts once a month to track how Microstock is panning out for me ( I haven’t found much info from new submitters).

So first things first, where I am submitting Microstock and what those agencies are like:

Istock: Istock is the most dedicated to training their submitters; there are numerous tutorials and a fairly rigorous process to gain submitter status. I think I lucked out in having picked Istock as my starting point. It was fairly easy to gain entry (only 3 photos needed to be submitted), and the review process though slow is really good. What I mean is that if a photo is rejected, Istock reviewers are really good at explaining why. I started out at about 30% acceptance rate (first dozen or so photos), but have made my way up to about 70% acceptance ratio (cumulative). I have been submitting to Istock since October (current tally is just over 100 files).

Sales from the different agencies.

Istock sales: Let me put this out there right out front, you might get lucky with a great photo that sells really well, but with most agencies having ~6 million photos in their libraries, volume is just as important as quality to make money. A huge part of the process is numbers, the more photos you have in your portfolio, the more likely someone is to notice you, and getting noticed is the first step to selling photos. I average slightly less than a dollar per sale at Istock (see the fancy plots).

Some things I don’t like about Istock, as a nonexclusive with less than 250 sales, I am limited to 15 uploads per week (translates into 60 uploads a month). This might seem reasonable but try waiting a week to upload additional images when you upload 15 images in the first 15 minutes of your week.

Uploads each month, (plot is not cumulative).

Fotolia: Fotolia has the quickest review process, but I find that the review process is a bit unpolished and not very consistent. The feedback on the rejects is poor to say the least, and this is the agency at which I have the lowest acceptance ratio. This brings up another item, submitting to Microstock requires a thick skin. It does not feel good being rejected when you upload a photo that you think is awesome only to have one of the agencies tell you that it does not meet their standard due to poor composition, lighting or the like (and that photo just happens to be what you think is the best photo you ever produced).

Fotolia sales: Istock sales started immediately though slowly, Fotolia, sales were non existent for some time. I kept uploading and recently I am beginning to see some activity. I am averaging about 60 cents a sale and have been uploading since mid December.

Dreamstime: Dreamstime has a longer review period for submitted content, but I am allowed to upload 75 images per day (yup per day). I can’t say much about the rejection rate. I have yet to have a photo rejected at Dreamstime. I started uploading to Dreamstime about a month ago. Future posts will give more detail about this agency, I have been uploading with Dreamstime since mid February.

Shutterstock: My first uploads showed activity which peaked my interest early on, so I have uploaded more to this agency than to Dreamstime. The average sale is 25 cents (part of their 25 per day subscription). Review time is pretty short and acceptance has been over 90 percent. If there is a limit to the number of uploads, I haven’t seen it yet. I have been uploading to Shutterstock since mid February.

My earnings are hardly enough to cover dinner (so far it is costing more to shoot than what I am earning due to props etc.), but part of going into working at microstock is that you are investing over a longer term of months and years. Time will tell how things pan out, but I plan on continuing working. Time to get back to shooting.

Additional microstock resources:

Microstock Diaries

Yuri Arcurs


Lee Torrens said...

Hey Nathan, it looks like you're off to a great start there. I like your perspective and positive outlook.

(and thanks for the link)


Nathan Marx said...

Thank Lee, of all the microstock help sites, yours is by far the best. I didn't mention it in the body of the post, but I have posted links to my portfolios for those that may want to compare (not much to compare against).

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