Microstocks : Blessing or Curse

Microstocks : Blessing or Curse

By Stefan Hermans

Selling your photos at stocksites – Microstocks : Blessing or Curse ?

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1.The Question

The following question keeps returning on photo forums :” Who sells his photos at microstocksites, and how much does it earn ? ” Therefore I thought it would be interesting to write an article about selling your photos at those sites

2.Times have changes

Before we look into microstocks itself, lets see how the photographic landscape looks like nowadays and how it has changed over the last years. The changes of the past years, more specific the rise of digital photography, are closely related with the existence of microstocks.
In the past, before there were decent digital camera’s, photography was an art. Exposure and composition had to correct on the negative itself. Developing your own film wasn’t possible for everyone and it certainly wasn’t cheap either. Digital photography has changed this.

Nowadays, taking a picture doesn’t cost you anything anymore (except the wear of your camera and lenses) and if the photo isn’t good, you can throw him in the electronic dustbin with just one click. Now you can experiment with exposure and composition as much if you like, without having to pay for film and developing.

Post-processing is totally different too.

In the dark room there was also a lot of ‘photoshopping’. But that wasn’t easy and required a certain skill and expertise. Today, photoshop is the dark room of the digital photographer. But it offers many more possibilities than a traditional dark room, and it is also much more within range of the average photographer.

Besides that we can’t ignore the technical improvements in camera’s and lenses.

Today even ISO400 is useable in most cases whereby in the past the photographers had to worked with ASA64 or similar. Many lenses do have IS/VR and/or USM/HSM nowadays. And they all have autofocus, this in comparison with the manual lenses of the past.

These improvements mean that today almost everyone can make a decent photo and therefore prices of photos in general have gone down dramatically.

This is why microstockssites had a chance to set themselves into the market.

3.The success of mictostocks

3.1. From a designers point of view
Because of the low prices and the royalty free licenses, no need to tell that microstocks are very popular with designers and publishers. There was a whole new market waiting for this kind of model.

Just think about the designers who make websites, brochures and such. I can imagine that they had a hard time in past obtaining the desired images. The traditional royalty based photo’s were in most cases to expensive for them or the procedure to obtain them was to long, to complex and/or to difficult.

Because of this it was tempting to obtain those pictures in an illegal way (read : just grabbing it from the web). The chance of being caught and punished was very small (especially with web design).

Or you saw the same pictures over and over in publications of a certain publisher, very annoying if you bought several books from them.

With the introduction of the RF model, the increased availability of this formula through websites and the low prices, those designers and publishers are less tempted to grab images from the web. They can now download them for a very reasonable price.

3.2. From a photographers point of view

The advantage for buyers seems logic, but strange enough also a certain group of photographers benefit from the microstock-model.

Microstocksites are much more within range of the amateur photographer than the traditional stock agencies. Stock agencies often used to have very strict rules regarding image quality,image size and the subject being covered. They also only allowed photographers who could make a decent amount of pictures, and they mostly required exclusivity.

Because of these requirements, especially amateur photographers often couldn’t sign up at those big stockagencies.

Microstocksites are a lot more flexible. They don’t require exclusivity (this is just an option) and they don’t have a limit regarding the minimum amount of pictures you must submit. So most amateurs will have no problem submitting to these sites.

Finally, traditional stock agencies only accepted CD’s or DVD’s to submit your pictures (this seems to be changing at the moment). Which can be a little slow.

All microstocksites have an online upload system, which works much more rapid than shipping a DVD by mail.

4. Who is losing

One of the arguments against microstocks often heard is that photography in general and the submitters in particular are the great losers of this new model.

But is this really true ? Why would they be the losers ? And if they aren’t, who is ?

4.1. Photography in general
How can photography be a loser just because you’re asking less for an image ?

Honestly, I’ve have no idea. It’s not because you pay or get paid more for an image that this image is better. Besides, ´photography in general´ doesn’t care about the prices paid.

If this whole ´micro-thing´ influences the photography at all, I think it would be in a positive way. The more people trying to take better pictures and trying to improve themselves, the better it is for ´photography in general´

But honestly, I don’t care about ´photography in general´. This isn’t a breathing thing and it has no feelings, so why would we care about it ?

Update : I must admit that taking pictures of object on a white background or of a girl working on a laptop isn’t the most creative activity, this can be seen as a disadvantage. But this isn’t a disadvantage of the microstocks alone, it is one of the whole stock industry.

4.2. The photographers who contribute
The reason for saying this is obvious. Microstocks don’t pay well, this is no secret. If those who submit would calculate their earnings per hour, I think you could hardly speak of an income. I won’t deny that. But are they therefore losers ?

If someone would quit their job or would buy an expensive body or lens just to take pictures for microstocks before they really know if they can make a living out of it or if they could earn that body or lens back, I guess you can say they ´lost´.

But I don’t see why an amateur (and most who submit at those sites are amateurs), who tries to sell his pictures can be a loser. They only thing he can loose is his time, and being an amateur, time is free 🙂 .

I would take it a step further. I think someone submitting can only win !! Why ?

Because a submitter wants to make his pictures as good as possible so they will sell well. By doing this he will/must improve himself on the technical aspect, in post-processing and any other aspect which makes a photo a good one. The money which can be earned stimulates this process. Therefor I think an amateur submitting to these sites can only lose his time, but can certainly gain a lot of experience.

4.3. Who are the real losers ?
I don’t think anyone submitting nor photography itself is a losing party in this. But I can think of one category of people who don’t like these developments.

In any segment were amateurs take a piece of the cake, professionals aren’t too happy because they fear to lose customers. Micro’s are certainly taking a big bite out of that ´stock-pie´.

If you know that mostly professionals submitted to traditional stockagencies, then you can understand that some/most of those pro’s aren’t to happy with the rise of microstocks. There are very few who can make a living out of micro’s, therefore joining the micro-legion isn’t an option for most pro’s. I think any professional who specialized in stockphotography is feeling this bite into his pockets … and in my opinion this is just the beginning.

Digital photography did hurt many professional wedding- and portrait-photographers. Now microstocks are doing the same with the average professional stockphotographer. The only way they can stay successful is to specialize, but those who can’t distinguish themselves from the crowd will certainly have a rough time ahead.

5. Conclusion :

5.1. The cons of microstocks :

Low payout : Although some people make a considerable amount on micro’s, to average price for an image is low. You need to upload and sell a lot of images to make more than pocket money. Because of the low payout, you could feel abused / exploited.

Time consuming : Because micro’s are a numbers game, you need to shoot, process and upload in general a lot of images. Especially the post-processing and keywording takes a considerable amount of time.

Mind killing : You can’t deny that stockphotography is mind killing in a certain sense. Shooting people with working on a laptop, an orange on a with background or just ordinary street life can hardly be seen as ´artisctic´. Because most of us photographers do have that artistic edge (that’s why we were attracted to photography in the first place), stockphotography can hardly be seen as ´achievement´

5.2. The Pro’s of microstocks :

You can earn something : Despite what people say there are people who do earn a reasonable amount of money. If you look beyond the low fees at your bottomline, micro’s aren’t that bad. Especially when you look at your other options : where else can you sell your pictures ?

Becoming a better photographer : Because you want to sell as many images you can, you quickly learn that you need to deliver good quality. Therefore you are motivated to learn new things. To do your post-processing in different ways.

Doing new things : Because you’re stimulated to deliver photo’s which sell, it’s likely that you will try new kinds of photography. Or you’ll go to places where you normally never had gone to.

5.3. In the end :
Everybody needs to decide for himself if the pro’s are larger than the cons. Some some they will for others they won’t.

Note : The was a very short summary of a 26 page long article. The whole article, where I compared the different sites and give some examples of good selling subjects can be found at : at this page

Stefan Hermans is better known under his nickname ‘Perrush’. His main field of work has been macrophotography and specially Butterflies. But the past months he has been trying out different subject. One of them was stockphotography.

You can visit Stefan’s site at http://www.perrush.be

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