Sunday, November 16, 2008

Getting Started in Microstock Photography

What is Microstock? In a nutshell, you sell your pictures (or 3D images or vector images, etc) on one or more websites, and for most of them, you get from $0.25 on up to a few dollars each. While that doesn't sound like a lot, it adds up pretty quick. And if someone wants to use your photograph in a magazine or something like that, you get an extended license that usually goes for $25-$30, but they can also buy the rights to it outright which go for $350 on up. I don't have the camera or the photography chops to do that side of it, but I've been doing graphics over the last 7 months and have made about $400 doing this on this side (i.e. in addition to my normal 8-5 gig) over the last 9 months. I know that you're probably thinking "a quarter for an image? no thanks" -- but this doesn't cut into your normal photography
business, it's more of "in addition to" -- it's selling pictures of things (or people) that you wouldn't normally be able (or have the time) to sell. And I've got one image that's earned me almost $50, most of that on one site. Most of the places pay you via paypal and do it once you hit a certain payment threshold, like $75 or $100.

If you're interested in doing this, please use these referral codes listed below -- I like to keep up with people and help them as I can, and I'll get a couple of pennies each time you sell a picture or image... And over time, that adds up :)

Here are my 4 favorite sites, in order (and order of profitability!)
Shutterstock -- this one pays $0.25 each sale to start, but the quantity of sales makes up for it. I sell LOTS and LOTS of images here.
Dreamstime -- that one takes you to my
portfolio.. this is prob my favorite of the bunch, though I don't earn
quite as much. All their images show how many downloads one has had.
123RF -- this is my third best earner, but I don't have a lot of images there.
Cutcaster -- this one is newer,
but you can set your price and you get 40% of the selling price. The guy who runs the place, John, is a super cool guy and you're typically going to get very fast feedback/responses from him (as opposed to another site which will remain nameless that, months later, I still haven't heard back from their tech people... but I guess when you're that big, you can ignore the normal people). There are definitely more than these 4 out there, but of the 10 or so that I've tried, these are the only ones that I've found to really be worth my time and effort. You can, of course, upload the same images to all of the sites you're on.

Some people do it as a hobby, some people grow to the place where they can do it for a living. I think most people use it to supplement, though if you're already doing a business that somehow involves photography or graphic design, it's a nice way to do what you're doing and earn a little passive income on the side. The larger your portfolio, the more money you'll make, of course. Some people are making hundreds (or more) a month, though they have large portfolios.

Don't think it's just all about the money, either. My images have gotten much
better by most accounts since I've been doing it. There are some
great forums with extremely helpful people (esp. on shutterstock) and
I've learned a lot from there, too.

It's also important to note that there are restrictions placed on the usage of your images. First, you retain *all* rights and ownership (unless you sell those away for several hundred dollars or more). Second, they cannot (at least on the sites mentioned and on most of the others I've seen) use your photos or images on cafepress, for example. Many people doing the graphic side of it (myself included) have a cafepress shop where we're selling the same images on our own t-shirts and items, and we don't want to be competing against ourselves! There are also usage restrictions as far as if it's print publication over x thousand issues, they must purchase an extended license (which goes for more) and so on. It's good to read through the usage rights of the end user and the things that are specifically disallowed (print for sale items life cafepress are usually mentioned by name in the "these things are not allowed" area) and know what you're getting into before you do it. Overall, though, I'm quite pleased with what I've earned (gives me some spending money) and I think there are a lot more possibilities. I imagine I would have earned a lot more money over the last 9 months if I was doing this fulltime (or doing graphics fulltime, which I'm not) but like anything else, you get what you put into it.

And again, here are the links to use to sign up. I also get credit if you use these links and purchase stock images, photography or footage (i.e. video), so please consider that as well.

Anyway, I hope you now know a lot more about Microstock and how it can help you than you did when you started. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in comments and I'll help you any way I can.
Also, here's a link to my "microstock" entries on this blog which may be helpful:

So what's the cup of coffee at the top have to do with anything?  That's my latest 3D render that's about to be my newest microstock image.  Oh, and I love coffee :)

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