As far as the mechanics of getting started in microstock, it is easy. This is the good and bad thing about microstock photography: it is easy for you to get started and it is easy for anyone else with a camera to get started. There is a lot of competition, but there are also a lot of pictures that are needed, so if you can take good pictures, you can make money.
Get the right equipment
To start with, you need to have a camera, access to a computer, and photo editing software. Of course, there is a huge range within these requirements. You can spend thousands on a camera and lenses or you can spend less than $200. You can also spend a substantial amount on software. Let’s talk about each of these items specifically.
Of course you need a camera. You don’t necessarily need an expensive, high-end camera, but you do need one with a quality lens that can take good pictures. The better the camera, and in some cases, the more megapixels it can capture, the better. All microstock sites have minimum photo size requirements. In general, do not go any smaller than a 4 megapixel camera. This will meet the requirements of most microstock site for now (requirements will probably go up in the future as camera capabilities increase). However, if you need to crop your pictures at all (we all need to crop at times), you will want to have 6 or more megapixels. The more megapixels you have, the more you have to work with. Also, some microstock sites sell different sizes of the same picture for different prices. The bigger the picture you submit, the more you can make. One word of caution, image quality is very important. The more megapixels you have, all else being equal, the more noise (graininess or pixelation) you will have in your photos. In many cases, if you want to go up in megapixels, you also need to go up in sensor size. This might mean moving from a point-and-shoot to a digital SLR camera. Also, keep in mind that a 12 megapixel point-and-shoot camera will generally not produce as high a quality, and therefore sellable image, as a 10 megapixel digital SLR with a quality lens, so it isn’t always just about megapixels. If you cannot afford the nice equipment, start at the low end and make some money. With the money you make, you will be able to upgrade your equipment.
Computer and software
You need to have access to a computer and a high speed connection to the internet. The computer is used to process the pictures you take, to upload your pictures to the stock photo site, and to manage your photos on the stock site. You don’t need the latest and greatest computer, but some photo editing processes are very computer intensive, so the faster the computer you have, the more quickly you will be able to process these pictures. As for a high-speed internet connection, the pictures you upload will often be several megabytes for each picture, so unless you want to spend hours uploading your pictures over a dial-up connection and hoping you don’t lose your connection halfway through, a high-speed connection is a must. If you are working on the low-end of stock photography, you might be able to get away with a dial-up connection.
When it comes to maintaining your photo information on the microstock photo sites, you just need to be able to connect to the interent. Having a fast computer will not do a whole lot more for you here.
You need photo editing software. It would be rare that you take a picture and the picture cannot be improved somewhat with software. You can skip this step , but remember, you are competing with thousands of other photographers, so the more appealing you can make your pictures, the more likely they will be to sell. With software, just like with camera equipment, you can spend a little or you can spend a lot. However, just because you spend a thousand dollars on software doesn’t mean you are going to have that much better of pictures. You need to understand the software you use and learn how to use it. If you are just adjusting levels or cropping your pictures, there are many programs that can do this. Some of them are even free. Whatever you choose, be sure you understand how to use it to do what you need to do to your pictures.
Join microstock photo sites
Choosing a microstock photo site is not hard, but you will need to do a bit of homework. Some sites require exclusive commitments; this means if you choose them, you cannot choose other sites to work with. Other sites require a fee to host your pictures (we do not recommend sites like this unless there is a strong reason to join them) on their site. In general, most microstock photographers want to work with several non-exclusive microstock sites that have reasonable payout amounts and generate good sales because they have good traffic to their sites. The same pictures are sent to each of these sites. This allows photographers to leverage the work they have done taking pictures, editing, and preparing pictures for microstock sites. Again, the important thing here is that you do your homework and carefully evaluate the sites you are considering working with. Now, since there are hundreds of microstock sites out there competing for your business, and you do not have the time to investigate them all, the following is a list of sites with which we work and have had a good experience:
For more information on sites, see the link to Top 5 Microstocks on this page.
You need quality photos. Of course, with the best equipment in the world, if you can’t take pictures that people want to buy, you can’t be successful. You need to learn to take quality pictures. This means proper focus, proper exposure, proper composition, and appropriate subjects. If you do not know about these things, learn about them before you continue; otherwise, you will be taking a lot of pictures you cannot sell and wasting your time. Invest the time to learn how to be a good photographer. Study what others have done, read books, take a course, work with a mentor, or search the internet.
How do you know if your pictures are good enough? This is a tough question. Browse some microstock photo Web sites and see what is out there. If you feel your pictures are as good as the ones on the site, you probably are ready – give it a try. If you can’t take pictures like the ones on the site, improve your skills and then do it.
Beyond taking good pictures, you need to take pictures of things that stock photo sites want. For example, you might have a good sunset picture, but the microstock sites already have a thousand equally good sunset shots, so you need to choose subjects that are needed by stock photo sites. Often times, microstock sites will have a section of their site that lists what types of photos they are looking for. Sites also often have a list of their top selling photos. Look at these and learn what is selling. Some sites, list the number of downloads of a picture. Go to one of these sites and look up the type of pictures you are considering taking and see how popular they are. This is another case of the importance of doing your homework. Use the microstock sites to help you decide what to shoot and to get ideas.
Prepare pictures for submission
Picture preparation includes converting photos from an unsupported format, such as RAW, to a supported format, usually JPEG. Preparation also includes cropping pictures, adjusting levels, erasing trademarked items, touching up problem areas, and so forth. On top of all of this, you need to give titles, descriptions, and keywords to your photos. Most sites allow you to do this after you submit your pictures through their site interface, but it is much easier to add this information to a picture before submitting it. This is because you are adding the information a single time to the picture, instead of adding it multiple times to each microstock site you are submitting to. In order for a site to get the needed information from your pictures, the site must support IPTC data. IPTC data allows you to use a software program, such as Adobe PhotoShop to add information to a picture. There are numerous fields of information that you can add, but the ones the microstock sites are looking for are the title, description, and keywords for picture.
After your pictures are submitted, they will be reviewed by reviewers at the microstock site. If they pass, they become available for purchase. If not, you might get some feedback on how to improve the picture so it can be fixed.
As people find and buy copies of your pictures, you make money. the more pictures you have, the better the pictures, the more effectively you have keyworded the sites, the more traffic to the site, the more money you will make.