Is Microstock Photography a Viable Source of Income Photographer?

Shooting photography is an art in itself, shooting stock photos to be used by marketing people around the world is a completely different art form. Yes, every now and then you hear people say that they earn a living shooting stock, or microstock, photography. But what about the everyday travel photographer? Is it possible to earn a share of income by this means? This is my appraisal.

How to Do Microstock Photography

  • Learn the Art: Stock photography requires one to take a different approach to shooting an image than many photographers are used to. Images need to be tack sharp, noise free, and have some sort of marketing potential. Simply tossing your vacation photos into the program isn’t going to do the trick. There are lots of forums out there to help you get a hang of the system.
  • Look for Images Everywhere: Stock images can be as simple as a dinner setting. If you have the right lighting you can get a stock image from just about anywhere, including your home or hotel room. Obviously the more you shoot the more images are going to be of acceptable quality.
  • Shoot Different Things: There are already 4 million images of oranges in the stockpiles, so you need to shoot different things. Try exotic fruits and vegetables. Go and shoot the fruit in the orchards. One of my highest selling images is a pineapple I shot still growing on the bush.
  • Follow Stock Photography Shooting Practices: Getting a sharp image in the right light is the name of the game when if comes to microstock photography. Shoot everything on a really good tripod, have the mirror on your camera body locked up and shoot with a timer. Shooting hand held midday probably won’t do the trick, not consistently anyways.
  • Only use the Best Stock Agents: There are so many microstock sites out there that the value of an image sale is very small. I have stocked for about 10 different microstock sites over the past couple years and have settled on three as my favourites. ShutterStock might be the busiest microstock site online and thousands of images are downloaded every day. Although they have some seriously low incomes for download sales, the sheer volume they sell makes it worth it. One of the under-the-radar stock sites I’ve seen success with it Dreamstime. They have a simple process for getting images through the screening, and the price of images depends in part to how popular it is. Obviously, the better the image the higher the value. Also, iStockPhoto is a great site and the fact it is Canadian owned only makes it more appealing.

How Much am I Earning from Microstock Photography?

The truth is that you need to be patient with stock photography. It is a residual form of income that should grow slowly over time. For example, let’s say that you have 40 images in three different stock portfolios which are earning you about 50cents a day, or $15 a month. Well, as you grow that portfolio so will your income. At 400 images you’ll be earning $5 a day or $150 a month. If you can get those portfolios to 4,000 image you may be one of the lucky few that earns about $50 dollars a day, or $1,500 a month. I personally know a couple people who have been doing this for years that earn more $5,000 a month, but I’ll be honest in telling you that they have put in more work than you can ever imagine and they do nothing but shoot stock images all day.

Me personally, I don’t shoot stock. I recognize stock images within my every day photography and then submit them. Most of my stock images are landscapes, urban scenes, and a lot of wildlife. I have been submitting stock images for the past 6 months or so and have bumped by daily income from it to about $6 dollars a day, or just under $200 a month. It might not sound like much, but the fact is that $6 is about 15% of my daily spending while I travel. It pays for about half my food bill every month. And who knows, in 6 months time I might be able to double that number and pay my entire food bill through microstock.

Rare, and cute, animals in the wild always make good sales as well. Shots of your dog or cat… do not.

Best Place in Africa to see lions

Conclusions on Stock Photography?

Although it is easy to become disenfranchised with shooting microstock photography it works well as a side project. Also, I find that like anything it is one of those things that you just need to keep slogging away at. Sure if you give up after a couple of months you may never see a paycheck (most sites payout once you reach 100$ of earnings). But if you keep submitting images, and keep plugging away that monthly income will only grow. If adding $6 a day to your income hardly sounds worth your time, then it might not be for you.

I suppose like anything photography-related to really make the most of stock photography you need to be shooting images all the time. If photography is a hobby for you than submitting images to the stock agents probably isn’t worth your time. However, if you are shooting photography that fits the stock mould on a regular basis then by all means why not push for a new source of income?