Since I’ve been contributing to microstock the burning question of many people has been can I make a living doing this.  The simply answer to this question is yes, but most likely you won’t.  Now before my entire creative network of microstock buddy start jumping up and down shouting blasphemy!  Fact most people contributing will never make a $100.00 payout and others will not make any profit.  I know this flies in the face of many of the blog post you read on the internet, but here are some of the reasons you won’t be making a living any time soon.

 You’re late!  This game has been going on since 2000, with tens of thousands of contributors and millions of images it’s a real uphill battle for the newcomers.  On each site you’ll find many contributors making good money and some even make a living, but most of these people have been part of the game for years or have other factors working for them. 

 All the easy stuff has been already shot!  I bet if you have an apple laying around the house you also have an uncontrolled desirer to photography it on a white background.  So has every other photographer that contributes to microstock.  If I search on istock for isolated apple on white background the search returns 4694 images.  Try for yourself, search for something that’s easy to shoot and see how many thousands of images appear.  How ask yourself why would a designer look at a few thousand images just to find mines.

 You’re not a professional photographer.  Now I know what you’re thinking, but weren’t these sites created by amateurs for amateurs.  No these sites were setup by professionals for other professionals. It was the amateurs’ photographers that first saw the value of submitting to these sites. And by submitting to these sites the amateur help destroy part of the professional market.  The professionals now want that part of his/her business back.  The professionals are in this game to win, and why shouldn’t he/she try to win at this game, after all this is business and not a hobby for them.  To reduce the market share of the hobbyist and amateurs the professionals will shoot things that you find hard with an image quality that you will be hard press to match.  The upside is that the quality on most sites has been growing.  The downside for the newcomer is you better be ready to compete with this higher image quality from the start.  

 Your metadata is working against you.  To understand this statement we need to take a look now your images are found.  Best Match is a source of much discussion and no one knows how it really works but we can take a guess.  Some of the factors are most likely age, downloads, views, and keyword relevance.  The problem is your newly upload file doesn’t have any history assign to it.  The only way for your file to acquire enough positive data is for it to be found and downloaded. 

 Realistically what you can expect to make from microstock would be between $40-100.00 per month. How do you go about making a living, first plan on putting in a full time job’s worth of time to create your portfolio, learn photography, learn photoshop, study and understand the market, shoot what sells and shoot it better then others, set goals, become a pitbull.

To see some my stock images

  1. Adam says:

    Great article and blog, looking forward to reading more. I feel like you hit the nail on the head. Long gone are the days where you could just browse your library of images and find something stock-worthy. You have to be intentional about what you are shooting to see success.

  2. Hi Willie, i got to your post from a forum at istock – hmm the “i just joined” forum, so i guess i’m one of the “amateur late-comers” you’re talking about. But well, i couldn’t have been any earlier, i’m only 23 years old! i wouldn’t argue with what you say, spending the day browsing istock (i was just approved a day ago) i realized, wow, these are top-notch photographers, why are they in stock and not in their own studio selling their own prints? and i realized, well obviously they are as well. i don’t think i will make money doing stock. and i don’t intend to. i’m a freelance writer, so i use that for my steady bread, and have only been using photography revenue, oh maybe two or three months whenever i can secure a freelance job. but i photograph everyday. why? because i love it like a child. if i could be a full time photographer i would be. but not realistic at the moment. and i think you might be committing treason against our trade by saying that where stock is now is saturated – you’re a photographer! how do you neglect that photography is an art, and that each new photographer could be the one to run the fastest mile and put all those before him to shame. There are new singers and new actors at every turn of the head so why not photographers eh? for every 5000 shitty photos uploaded, i’m sure there is at least one new spark to the industry uploaded. maybe now all stock photography is just a jumping block for new photographers to practice and push to be better than the established ones already there. i mean, we all have to start somewhere don’t we.

    don’t get me wrong, i like your bold stance, i mean you have been photographing since before i was born. don’t think new photographers don’t respect and look up to established ones. and i see you’re in Germany – photography seems to be the one profession that people can do in any country as sight doesn’t need a language. i’m from seattle, and i live in brazil.

    Oh just one more thing, you’re established in the photo industry, but – it looks like this blog is a only a few months old. hmmm. hahaha! i’ve got you there!

  3. Roger says:

    I’m not a full time Istock-er, and agree. I uploaded a few (20-something) photos several years ago. I’ve made a few hundred dollars, but by no means replaced my full time profession income (non-photography source).

    I agree that the easy things have been shot, now it is up to the resourceful ones to find new ways to portray those concepts.

    BTW – great article on the specular highlights. Hope to see more posts.

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