TOP 10 Tips for New Microstock Photographers

If you’re new to stock photography in general, or even if you’re a seasoned traditional-stock veteran and looking to move into selling your images through microstock photography agencies, there are a few simple tips your really should keep in mind as you start.

There are many who will tell you you’re already too late to the game, I started in 2006/7 and even then a lot of subjects were significantly oversupplied. Partly this is truer now than it was then, and the opportunites in microstock are being eroded every day, but keep in mind… 99% of people selling photos as microstock havn’t a clue how to do it the right way, and even many of the big guys who have been around since 2001 are just ‘keeping the engine running’ by doing exactly what they did before.

The microstock image marketplace has changed, and technology is raring ahead of even the microstock agencies. If you want to sell more images, and really get into microstock to earn a decent income, follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way:

  1. Do your research. Knowing what sells, what’s being searched for by buyers and what performs well in your existing portfolio is one of the best ways to build a market for yourself and create images that can help you get more sales.
  2. Shoot to your strengths. This is critical, if you’re highly technical, focus on those types of shots and aim for the best quality, if you think logically focus on output and targetting niches, if you’re a scatter-brain then embrace it and go for variety, hit a little bit of everything.
  3. Find a market. There are still a huge selection of undersupplied topics, subjects and photo concepts where image-buyers needs are not being satisfied.
  4. If you can’t do it better, do something else. Mediocre images just don’t cut the mustard anymore. If you’re selling images in competitive subjects, you MUST make better quality images than are already there.
  5. Diversify. Unless you have a substantial portfolio (2000 great-quality images minimum), exclusivity with a single agency isn’t likely to do you any favours: sell through every microstock agency you can get accepted, and be sure to apply to them all as soon as you can, some take a while to review and your first couple of applications will almost certainly be rejected (if not outright, at least partially).
  6. Eyeballs bring Dollars. ‘Views’ as a stat on their own aren’t particularly useful, but the more people you can get to see your work the better. Use social media, setup a photoblog and make sure you link to your portfolios, get your friends and associates to link-exchange and recommend/like your site and optimise your photos for search engines.
  7. MORE is NOT better… BETTER is better! It’s as simple as that. Think quality, both for your photos, illustrations or footage, AND for your metadata (see #1 & #7). Fire-and-forget is a failure… Structure, target, plan tweak and review for the next cycle and you will carve out a market all your own.
  8. Metadata is CRITICAL. Many (probably most) photographers who have been selling microstock since the start have developed a true hate for their keywords and titles, it’s seen as a ‘necessary evil’ of the photographers workflow. Learn to LOVE your metadata (or outsource it to someone who does), the internet is still a text-based medium, and (despite some great steps in the right direction) will stay so for a LONG time.
  9. Stop whining. There are many photographers who will tell you not to bother with microstock… because they failed. This is not traditional stock photo market and never will be, do your research and produce quality, or shut up and go away. Microstock needs WINNERS, not WHINERS.
  10. Tweak  your workflow. Shooting is fun, preparation and submission is not so fun, but aim for as much quality in your microstock workflow as you do in your images, and you’ll really feel the benefits in your bank balance when your portfolio works it’s way to more and more image-buyers.

I started writing this post with the objective of a (slightly shouty) TOP 10 list so I’ll stop right there, though I have about 1000 others, maybe I’ll do a follow-up. In the meantime, you may also want to check out my previous post on the nuts & bolts of improving your microstock workflow.

If you’re a microstock photographer already, what’s your tip for new microstock contributors?

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  1. Posted March 2, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    REALLY good post! I like as much for confirming my head’s on straight as well as some better ways to approach what I’m doing.

    It is easy to be discouraged in the beginning, especially when each agency has different standards, ways of treating metadata, and niches to fill.

  2. Posted September 13, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, your post is very informative. I am thinking in getting into stock photography and now I have a bit more information to go on…or may be that I am too late. Who knows?
    The owner of photographers in Watford in Watford Uk.


  3. Adam
    Posted October 1, 2015 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Well, great article, however adding keywords to your images may take a lot of time and be very frustrating. I recently have found great website for all Microstock Photographers that can (-link removed-) I strongly reccomend this one 🙂

    • bobbigmac
      Posted October 1, 2015 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      Maybe check which websites your randomly-emailed auto-poster is batch-posting to next time 🙂

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