I have to confess, it took me a while to get myself to do the exercise of actually sitting down and filtering through my old photos, to find those suitable to submit to a microstock agency to start selling. Finally, I did it, but boy how I wished I did it much earlier, back when I heard about microstock photography, the very first time.
But wait a minute, what’s microstock?
Unlike large stock photo agencies like Getty, microstock agencies are where photographers can license their photos to be sold as royalty-free images. This means buyers can use the photos they bought, without having to pay a royalty (or licensing fee) every time they use them. I won’t get into much detail on this, as you’ve probably heard of thing called “Google” by now, go ahead and read more about it.
For us as photographers, what are the real benefits to selling our work as microstock? Below are seven benefits from my own experience. However, you may find even more benefits yourself. So here we go:
1. It improves the overall quality of your photography
The reason for this is simple: Microstock agencies have strict guidelines for accepting submitted photos, in order to maintain quality. Guess what that means? Yep, you will have to actually put some efforts into taking those photos.
Every microstock agency is different, but generally speaking, things like noise, bad composition, bad lighting, weird color cast (wrong White Balance), out of focus, and blurry are pretty common reasons of rejection. This will definitely keep you on your toes as a photographer, and will force you to pixel peep your images carefully before submitting them. If that’s what the reviewers do, why waste time submitting a photo that won’t get approved? I can’t tell you how much it improved me as a photographer.
2. It pushes your creativity to new levels
There comes a point as you go through a microstock website, searching for similar photos when you think, “oh man, is there any idea that’s not thought about already?” This will make force you to actually brainstorm more creative ideas, to come up with images that no other contributor has submitted yet. Do I have to tell you how drastically this will improve your overall photography thinking process? Forget stock, this trains your eyes to see differently, and your brain cells to sprint a little harder.
3. It makes use of unused photos
While some shots you will need to purposely take for stock, others are just what you can find in your archives. If you are anything like me, you probably have hundreds, if not thousands, of unused photos laying around, taking up more disk space, let alone backup drives and cloud services. While these extra hard drives and backup services are becoming cheaper every day, the cost still adds up with time. It won’t be long before you realize you have terabytes of RAW and JPEG files, not to mention the hassle of fiddling with many hard disks.
Have you ever thought about putting your unused photos to a good use? Well, you know the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. You won’t believe how many of those photos can be used by others. They could save someone’s day somewhere on this planet. So, instead of keeping them buried down in the hard drives, dust them off, polish them a little, and if you think they meet the criteria, put them to a good use. Who knows, they might end up paying for their own recurring cloud backup expenses.
4. It gives your hobby a purpose
Hobbyist or not, you are likely into photography because it’s what you love to do. If you are not a pro who is getting paid to do photography, justifying staying up late editing your photos to your non-photographer spouse, or explaining slowing down on that family dream vacation to your kids, can be a little too difficult to do.
Let’s be honest, this is an expensive hobby, so selling your photos to microstock agencies is probably the easiest way to not only make a few extra bucks on the side, but to add a goal and purpose to your photography. On the other hand, if you are a pro, I’m sure those extras shots that you couldn’t sell and don’t need anyone’s approval to use, will hold some commercial value, so why not?
5. It is as demanding as you want it to be
Selling your photos as microstock is, well, almost like running your own mini-business, minus all the struggles that come with a full-blown business, while keeping some of the advantages. As is the case with running your own business, it’s up to you how much time and effort you want to pour into it, and subsequently, how much return you will get. The good news is, you can speed up or slow down as conveniently as you want. You are in complete control of the process, especially when this is not your main income. What’s not to like about it?
6. It can bring you satisfaction and fame
Have you heard of Google Images search? Once you started selling your photos, go ahead and search on Google using one of your images and see for yourself where, and how many times those photos of yours are being used. Your mind will be blown away by the places that your photo might end up. Don’t be surprised if a friend one day sends you a snap of a famous magazine with your photo beautifully used in it. Go ahead and brag about that to your heart’s content, use it to your advantage, and show the world that you have published work.
7. It gives you a little bit of extra cash on the side, almost indefinitely!
I kept this for last for two reasons:
- I didn’t want you to just focus on the money part and miss the other amazing benefits.
- I wanted to keep the best for last! Not only will selling your photos as microstock make you a better photographer and bring you satisfaction, it will also give you a few extra bucks on the side.
Did you notice how I bolded and underlined the word “few”? Unless you have a big team of professional models, makeup artists, wardrobe artists, and are doing this as your main job, you will probably not make that much money, because after-all, microstock agencies in general don’t pay very much. For instance, as a contributor to shutterstock.com, I only get paid 25 cents per download. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, in fact, if you think about it, this is only per download per image. If you have enough high quality images, with high commercial value, you will soon witness the numbers add up.
To put things in perspective, if those few extra bucks at least pay the cloud backup charges instead of draining you, or give you some extra cash to buy some accessories online, then this whole thing is very much worth it. Here’s the good news, your portfolio will continue to grow over time and with that, your photos will continue to bring you cash during your sleep almost indefinitely.
Why almost, you ask? Well, because some photos may go out of style, or will be overused by so many designers, blogs, and publications, so you will need to keep updating and adding more photos to your portfolio to keep it fresh. This should keep the income flow somewhat steady, if not improve it over time, especially when you start to analyze and learn the ins and outs and what sells more than others.
I wish I had someone open my eyes to these benefits a long time ago – so here you go, I hope I’m opening yours. If you are already a microstock photographer, or can think of other benefits, I would love to hear and discuss them with you in the comments section below, maybe you will open my eyes to something I’ve not seen before myself.