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AustralianLight - Landscape Photography is my new site with my good mate Bernie. If you have found my blog posts useful over the years, then how about giving us a hand to promote AustralianLight.

We are doing everything we can to get our australian landscape photography out there and guess what..... it's bloody hard work!! So please visit the gallery and if you like what see, share it with your friends.

Thanks, we really do appreciate your help. - Russell

Saturday, 28 March 2009

So you want to sell stock images online?

So you want to sell stock images online do you?

First I must ask you.... "Wouldn't you rather join the circus and jump through flaming hoops?"

At least that way the gratification is instant when the audience applauds (especially if your pants catch fire, as audiences just can't get enough of someone's flaming backside, just watch any "home video" show and you will see). With photography stock however, getting feedback, views and most importantly sales, requires patience and a LOT of hard work.

To be honest, joining online stock agencies is a lot like joining the circus. There are still hoops that you have to jump though everyday (especially on your first upload), some of your performances will be better than others, sometimes the audience will go home unimpressed (unless you do the flaming pants thing! me, they will LOVE it!) and there are many other circus' out there all competing for the same audience... and like stock, some days you will wonder if it's all worth the effort.

So what do I know about online stock & microstock agencies? Honestly.... Bugger all!

But I am learning quick. My background in stock was always supplying images direct to the end user, or graphic artist, as I shot commercially and had contact within the industry. But these days I am retired from commercial shooting and my industry contacts have long dried up, as they too have mostly retired or moved on to new ventures.

So now I have an ever increasing library of images here and I am doing nothing with them.... sure I get the pleasure out of shooting them, but if they are going to do nothing but live in a box, what's the real point?

Enter "online stock" & "microstock". Firstly, whats the difference? Well both are online stock agencies who sell images via the web, but "microstock" sell them for bugger all ....As low $1 bugger all! BUT, they hopefully sell many times over and this makes up for the small sale price.

Regular online stock agencies still charge much higher rates and volume is not the objective here, as quality and service are of great importance.

I read a comment from someone on a blog (or in a forum... I forget where actually) where this person was a member at Alamy (online stock agency) and six sales, just six, netted him USD1250. To gain a similar result from his microstock agency would have required some 1000-1250 sales. (there is a sliding scale on microstock sales that is dependent on image size purchased, so exact number is impossible to determine)

So where do we put our images, regular stock or microstock? Both perhaps?

There will be many out there who feel that microstock has bastardised the industry. There will be many who feel that regular stock agencies have had their day and that microstock is the way of the future (if not the present). So with that in mind, I will leave it up to you to decide what is right for you.

Personally, I think microstock has bastardised the industry, BUT, I also think it's a runaway train that can't be stopped. So if I don't want to be left behind I better jump on that train and see where it takes me.

Luckily for me I have a hard working wife, so it's not really about the money (although she would love me to share the load), or the industry for that matter, it's simply about getting my images out of the box so that they can be seen. Perhaps the artist in me is now coming out and it's about sharing my vision of the world... cough, cough ...yeah right!

What do I know about microstock that I didn't know a few days ago?

Quite a bit actually. Here are a 10 pointers that I hope will help you if you choose to jump on that train....

1: Research the agency.

Read forums, learn from other people's experience, find what agencies they like and why, find out which agencies pay the best and make the most sales. Don't waste your time on the duds, as it's hard enough submitting to the others.

To help you get started here are what I have found to be the most popular...,, & Another interesting one is's a newbie, but I like their interface and they are a young bunch of kids with fresh ideas. They are still small at the moment, but I think they may be a force in the future. Plus they list their dog as part of their team.... I like that. ;-)

2: Generic images sell best and are accepted readily.

Try and provide images that are sooooooo generic, that they can be used in a whole manner of ways. This will mean more sales... simple.

3: Remove ALL reference in your images to logos or trademarks.

It doesn't matter how small, they WILL see them when inspecting your images and your image WILL be rejected 100% of the time.

4: Inspect your images at 100% and CLEAN them.

Again.... expect to be rejected if your image contains dust bunnies or goobers.

5: Don't over filter your images.

Agencies like them natural, so no heavy noise reduction, no paint effects etc.

6: Keep noise to a minimum.

It's a fact of life, digital images contain noise. Too much and your images will be rejected. (remember #5 above) This is a touchy one with some agencies and don't be surprised if an image is rejected for noise and upon resubmission, it get's rejected for noise reduction. Go figure??

I think many of the IQ experts that these agencies employ, must have grown up in the digital era, as even most "noisy" files these days, are soooooo much cleaner than film scans and all that film grain. How on earth did we cope back then with film? How did we produce all those great looking images in magazines and posters? Arrggghhh!

....Oops! Sorry. I think I just slipped into my "old man cranky pants" then for a sec.

7: Keyword,Keyword,Keyword,

Study other images that get top billing in the stock searches and look at their keywords. Keywording is an art in itself and vital to success in online stock searches. (I am still crap at it, but will learn)

8: Submit HEAPS!

Don't think that you are gunna upload 3 or 4 images and sit back on Easy Street. I have been to Easy Street (just for a look while driving one day) and it's not a place that you want to go.... sure they all sit back and do nothing, but the cheques roll in from the Government and not from satisfied image customers.

Set yourself a goal of at least 50-100 images to start. You don't have to upload all these from the get go, but if you really want to test the waters, you need to jump right in rather than do the girlie "toe" thing.

9: Revise & update.

Keep improving those keywords as your skill increases. Keywords are the secret to successful views and with views come sales. Not only your keywords but your images as well. Some of the agencies provide a feature that allows an image to be updated to a new version. So as your Photoshop or RAW conversion skills increase, redo your images and make them even better.

10: Keep track of your images.

Create a database of your images and input things like title and keywords directly into the image EXIF data. If you are submitting to a number of agencies, you will get very sick on manually inputting the data and automagic reads from your images are sooooo much nicer.

If you can't do this, create a simple spreadsheet and list your title and keywords against each image. This way you will at least be able to cut & paste them into the uploads as required.... it's still a lot easier than pulling them out of your head and it will keep things uniform from agency to agency.

A good record will also help prevent double submissions. As your library grows, it will be harder and harder to remember what images you have submitted to where. Visiting each library before uploading, just to see if the image is already there is a huge waste of time, so it's best to know beforehand.

Well there are my first 10 pointers for you. I say "first 10" as I am sure there will be many more to come. I am a newbie to this and will admit that at this stage I am not far past just dipping my "girlie toe" in the waters. ;-)

If you have microstock experience that you would like to share, please comment below as I would much rather learn from your experience, than from my mistakes.



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  1. UPDATE: It seems that just about all of these microstock sites have delays with dealing with uploaded images.

    Images & photographer both, must first go through an approval process, this takes DAYS. Then it's most likely that all images will not be approved, so you are invited to submit more AFTER A FEW DAYS.

    If they still don't get through, then you are invited to resubmit other images IN A MONTH!


    Once accepted as a photographer, each and every upload must go through an image approval process... this takes DAYS!

    Once approved, the image is pushed to your gallery and it becomes available for sale.... BUT THIS TAKES MORE DAYS!

    Then some images just vanish, or sit awaiting approval FOR EVER!

    I understand that there would be an enormous amount of images being uploaded and this makes a delay inevitable.

    But it also seems that in many cases the system simply can't handle the data. This leaves the photographer wondering if any images will ever become publicly viewable. :-(

    As I said above in the original post.... Are you sure that you wouldn't rather join the circus and jump though hoops there? lol ;-)



  2. Having jumped on the microstock train only recently, I now find myself thinking about jumping off.

    Crikey it's hard work!

    No it's not hard taking the pix.... heck, that's enjoyable.

    No it's not hard preparing the images.... again, enjoyable.

    No it's not hard uploading them. OK let me stop myself right there. Yes it's bloody hard uploading them as it's BORING and TEDIOUS and CONFUSING!

    BUT.... thanks to a good friend of mine who happens to be a computer uber-geek, I have learned a quick and simple way to take the pain out of the uploads.

    First I have to say that you need your own online server for this.... probably not many reading this will, but if you are lucky enough to have one, or have access to one, this makes things better.

    Rather than uploading each and every image to each of the microstock sites and using up a LOT of time and my internet quota in the process, I upload each image to my server ONCE.

    I then log into my server and FTP the files direct to the microstock sites. This saves heaps of time, as the server (which has bulk data allowance btw) transfers the files around 300kbs and it saves heaps of my 6gb monthly internet allowance, as I am not sending the same file multiple times.

    6gb? Yeah I know.... it sucks living in the bush when it comes to internet availability. I cant get ADSL or cable and only because I have elevation can I get mobile broadband. If not for that, I would be stuck on the old dial-up.

    Anyway, back to microstock....

    So having your own server is a BIG plus. If you were to get into microstock seriously and be making some coin, I would highly recommend getting your own server. This would not only speed up the process as above, but it would also serve as an off-site backup for your files. (I can't stress enough the importance of backups!)

    Here's another big tip to save you time and reduce the pain. Modify your EXIF data in your images and store the image title, keywords, description, location etc in the file itself.

    Most microstock sites read this data and automagically fill in the information on upload. Without this, you will be spending ages filling in the details and keeping track of what keywords you used etc is a huge PITA.

    Now not all sites read the EXIF data the same and you may find that you need to fix keyword spacing or some things like that now and again. This is still way better than starting from scratch believe me.

    Also.... Keep a spread sheet of files, upload destinations and approvals. This will help you keep your head around where you are at and with whom.

    WARNING: The following paragraph may turn into a "Rusty's Rant"

    Rant? I'm not going to rant..... to hell I ain't!

    Bloody image refusals!!! This is the biggest turn off for anybody wanting to sell stock. I know, we all think our own photography is great and that we are better than that other bloke. But geez!

    Everybody gets knocks backs and we simply have to have a thick skin. To stay in this game you will need to learn to brush it off, modify the image as they suggest, resubmit and move on.

    I have been able to do that and my resubmissions have generally been accepted.

    But what gets my goat is when an image is accepted without issue at 3 or 4 microstock sites, but it gets knocked back over and over from another for some reason that leaves you scratching your head.

    I have no problem if a library tells me that they don't think an image is suitable for their market... that absolutely fine, as they know their customer best.

    But some of the BS excuses like "your image is over filtered in Photoshop, please upload the original" when the original is no different and like the uploaded version, is quite an accurate representation of the scene. This really gets me going. Grrrrr!

    So it has quickly become evident to me, that some of the people with the finger on the eject button, have no idea about low light nature photography and/or the use of graduated neutral density filters.

    They just don't seem to understand that scenes can really look like that!

    "Brush it off and move on" I hear you say.... Yeah I know, but when some guy starts giving you Photography 101 lessons, you just want to jump through the screen and ... well you know the rest.

    "Brush it off and move on"... to what, your next image? Yes if that's what you want, OR "Brush it off and move on TO THE NEXT MICROSTOCK SITE"

    If I was to listen to one site in particular, I must the the worst photographer in the world and know nothing. So bye-bye to them, we obviously have.... let's say.... "creative differences" and there are other sites who are happily accepting, and "selling", those very same images.


    So what's the alternative.... leave my pix in a box?

    Perhaps some for now, or go with a more traditional stock library. As I talked about in the original post, Microstock primarily sells "royalty free" and for next to nothing. To make a go of it will require a large gallery of images and lots of sales.

    Traditional "Rights Managed" libraries sell images for "controlled use" and at MUCH higher prices (we are talking $1000+ in some cases)

    So rather than selling 1000 images to make a few hundred, we have the real opportunity to sell 1 image and make $1000.

    Plus, with the "right images" we don't need to have some insanely huge library.... 'cause if it's the right image, it will sell.

    So that's what I am also test driving now. I am being super selective and supplying some of my favorite images to

    It MUST be remembered that if you choose to sell "Licensed" images, they CANNOT be available for sale ANYWHERE else. This is hugely important!!

    Just imagine selling a "World Exclusive" licensed image on Alamy for a couple of grand and the purchaser sees the very same image available for $3 on a microstock site.

    Your professional name would vanish in an instant and your backside would be spending some time warming a seat in court I would imagine.

    Well that's it for now. I am still riding that microstock train but the track divides up ahead and I may go either way, or both. ;-)



  3. Well it's 2010 and how is my microstock going?

    I am now of the opinion that if you can't get 1000+ images online, don't bother.

    Yes you will get sales with 50 or 100 images, but the $$$ won't be much. Perhaps every few years you will have enough for a new lens (not a pro one) or a flash or something.... and that may be enough for you, but if you want to earn a quid and give up the day job, then you will need thousands of images online.

    So microstock is not for me. I will leave what images I have online and perhaps cash out in a few years time and take the wife to dinner.

    ...I might even pay for it too! lol

  4. Another update:

    Well.... I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of sales and $$ return that I am now getting at

    iStock is the hardest microstock library to gain membership to (as a photographer/seller) and it is the hardest to have your images accepted to (they are picky and you need to make each and every images the best quality possible).... but the return is the greatest by far!

    I have 1/2 the amount of images at iStock than I have at the other libraries, but iStock is returning more than double the next closest library (Dreamstime).

    In fact, I am at the point now where my microstock image sales over this past year could buy me my next point & shoot waterproof camera!

    Ok so this is not the "big time", but for NO work (once the images are uploaded) a new little cam or perhaps a DSLR lens or flash each year is nothing to be sneezed at.

    Looks like I may give iStock a bit more of a go. I will forget the rest, as they are not worth it.... but iStock has earned another look I reckon.



  5. One year since my last update, so how is the microstock going?

    Microstock? ...What microstock?

    Oh yeah that's right, I have some microstock stuff online don't I.

    Well it really s a bit like that. I have totally lost interest. Sure you can make money from microstock, but as I said earlier in the blog (somewhere.. I think? I am too lazy to go back ad read it), to make real coin you need BULK images. At least 1000+ would be an initial goal just to make it interesting.... and quite frankly, you would need a hell of a lot more to give up your day job.

    If I devoted the time needed to make microstock truly work, to other regular photography projects, then I would be making hand over fist more money.

    What I have in microstock I will leave sit, but I won't be adding any more. Perhaps in five years I will remember about them and have a nice Christmas bonus sitting there that I will put on the bar for the boys. :-)