Some microstock photographers estimate that you can make one dollar per photo per year per site. This means if you have 5 photos on three sites, you can expect to make 15 dollars a year on them. Of course, this can vary greatly based on the microstock site, the type of photos you submit, the size of the photos, the quality of the photos, the popularity of the subject, the number of other similar photos available, and other factors. In fact, some report numbers much higher than $1. I have heard numbers as high as $15.
All of the above factors aside, what you can make largely depends on the number of photos you have available for sale on the microstock sites. Now, of course if you have really bad pictures, having a 1000 of them might not be any better than having 10 of them. However, since microstock sites have a review process and only those they feel can make money are approved, this will not be the case for any pictures that make it through the review process. So, the more pictures you have approved, the better off you will be. Another important point is that it is difficult to predict how well a picture will sell (assuming it is good technically – in focus, low noise, good color, etc.). You will often be surprised by which of your pictures will be your best sellers. For example, when I submit pictures, some of the pictures I think are great and will be winners for me are just OK. Others, that I barely pay attention to shock me with their popularity. Because you cannot predict what will sell, upload all the quality pictures you have and let the reviewers and buyers decide. Your goal is to get as many approved pictures as you can.
Another interesting point is that my top sellers on one site are rarely top sellers on another microstock site. This reinforces the point that you have to go for the numbers if you wan to make more money. Don’t try to outguess the buyer and decide for him or her what he or she wants. Just shoot a lot of quality photos from different angles of different things.Now, this is not to say uppload everything you have. The keywords are quality photos. Processing and uploading bad pictures wastes your time and the site reviewers’ time. If you upload enough bad pictures, you can even be banned from the site. If you are just getting started into microstock, knowing what is good and what is bad might be a hard to determine. Try uploading a few pictures, let them be reviewed, and learn from the review and use what you have learned to determine what to upload. (Side note: some sites have a lot of inconsistency between reviewers. One reviewer will reject most photos in a batch while the same reviewer will accept most of the photos. This needs to be taken into consideration as you learn the microstock process.)
Regardless if the $1 per photo per year per site formula is true for you or not, there will be some number like this that is true for you., let’s be optimistic and say $5. In this case, if you want to make $5000 in a year and you are only working with one site, you will need to have a 1000 pictures approved on the site.
Finally, an easy way to get the numbers is to use more than one good microstock site. A poor microstock site is just a waste of your time uploading and managing your photos on the site. A good site basically doubles what you can earn with your portfolio. Add another site and you earn triple what you would earn with one site. The trick is to find those sites that are good and that will provide you with these good returns. This site attempts to help you with this by maintaining a list of what we feel are the best 5 microstock sites with which to work. See “Fab 5 Microstocks” for more information. We wish there were more good site around. We currently work with 7 sites. Working with multiple sites is a great way to leverage the hard work you put into each of your pictures.If you want to work with multiple sites, be sure you do not sign-up to work with one that is exclusive. if you are exclusive to a site, the photos you post on that site cannot be sold on any other site. If you have some photos that are not on the exclusive site, they can be posted on multiple other sites, as long as none of the rest of them are exclusive. For some sites, exclusive goes as far as saying you can only work with one site, regardless if some of your photos are not on their site, you cannot post those pictures on any other site.