Why are we interested in microstock photography? We might want to grow our reputation, gain exposure, or even improve our skills, but the main reason we are going to all of the effort is to make money. We want to make some or a lot of money doing something we enjoy. The following are some tips on how to do well in microstock stock photography.

1. Upload too many pictures to microstock sites

When it comes down to it, you really cannot truly predict what a buyer wants or needs. You might have some good ideas, but it is surprising what sells. Also, what sells well on one microstock site often does not sell nearly as well on another site, so error on uploading too many pictures opposed to too few. Now, if a picture is technically bad or is just obviously not a stock photo, don’t waste your time or the stock site’s time. However, if you have a good picture that you just aren’t sure who will buy, don’t worry about it. Let the stock sites and the buyers decide. Now, having said this, keep in mind that if you submit too many pictures to some stock sites that they do not want, they might ban you or greatly restrict the number of pictures you can upload. Do not go to this extreme. Use good judgment. If you are new to microstock, start by only uploading a few pictures. As you upload pictures, have them reviewed, and get feedback, you will get a good feel for what is acceptable and what is not.

2. Take great pictures

Taking a great picture of something will make you a lot more money than an OK or fair picture. Do all you can to take the best pictures you can; this includes practicing, learning about the different aspects of photography,using good equipment, and properly processing photos. Take photography classes, read books, study what others have done, ask questions, find a mentor, or learn how to better use photo editing software. Once you are on location and taking a picture, it often takes just as long to take a bad picture as a good one. Make sure you understand how to take the good one. This will bring far better returns on the time you invest in your business. Also, it is usually easier to edit a good photo than a poor one (because there are fewer things you are trying to fix), so taking good pictures will save you a lot of time in the digital darkroom.

3. Edit your pictures

Very few pictures cannot benefit from some editing. Just as Ansel Adams once stated that much of the work in a photograph is done in the darkroom, much of the work can be done on the computer. This is especially true if you are shooting in RAW format, which you should if your camera is capable of it. Take the time to take your beautiful photos and make them even better. This might require that you learn PhotoShop or some other picture editing software. Can you get away with not processing your pictures, sure, but you will have less competitive pictures and they will not be all they can be.

4. Properly keyword your pictures

Keywords are the mechanism by which most pictures are found and subsequently purchased. A great picture that is poorly keyworded will rarely be found and purchased. When keywording, make sure you use relevant keywords. Also use synonyms for the main subject of the picture. The more synonyms you use, the greater the chance someone will find your picture. Also, some sites rank the importance of keywords by the order in which they are listed, so list the most important keywords first. Many sites require at least ten keywords, so have at least ten words. If you need ideas for keywords, find a picture similar to yours on a microstock site and look at the keywords for that picture.

5. Know your audience

Your audience are print designers, Web site designers, publishers, magazines, and so forth. What kind of pictures might they want? How might they want the picture cropped? The more you understand those purchasing your pictures, the better you can meet their needs. An easy way to see what customers want is to look at he best sellers lists on the microstock sites. This tells you what the most popular pictures are. This should give some ideas on what is in high demand. Perform a search on a particular subject you are thinking about shooting. Some sites will provide you statistics on downloads or tell you which pictures are “hot”. Look at these pictures and learn from them. Also notice which pictures are not selling.

6. Market your photos

Take every opportunity to market what you are doing. Add links to your stock photo areas at the bottom of your emails. Tell your friends what you are doing. Participate in forums and get known. Consider putting up a Web site that highlights some of your work and directs people to your stock photos. It is hard to promote your pictures on a stock site with the search engines, but you can very easily promote your own stock photo site. Even if it is a simple Web page, go for it and don’t forget to promote your Web site in the search engines.

7. Refer others to microstock photography sites

Some make half of their microstock stock photography income from people they have referred. All you do is sign up your friends and then when they sell a picture, you make money. You only make a small percent of what they make, which doesn’t seem like much, but if you refer 20 or 50 or 100 people that are actively selling photos, the money adds up quickly. Not all microstock stock photography sites offer money for referrals, so be sure to do your research. As a start, see “Fab 5 Microstocks.” This page indicates whether some of the more popular microstock sites have a referral program and how much they pay.

8. Keep working on your portfolio

To really start making some good money, you will probably need at least a 1000 or more photographs. This might seem huge, but give it time. Just keep working at it. Keep taking pictures and keep uploading. Uploading frequently keeps you listed on the recent upload lists of many sites, which helps to bring customers your way. Set a goal of so many pictures a month or every two weeks or so. Remember, all of your hard work will pay off, because once you are up to making a few thousand dollars a year, you will make that same thousand year after year, on top of what you make when you add additional pictures.

9. Upload to many sites but not all

The work required to upload to one site is the most work. The second, third, forth, and so on site does not require as much work as the first because the work is mostly done. However, uploading to additional sites still takes effort. You need to take the time to upload, choose categories, and possibly keyword. This might not seem like much, but when you multiple this effort over 5 or 10 or 15 sites, it all adds up. If the site brings in enough money, it is worth it, but many smaller sites will barely bring you a few dollars a year. This is probably not worth your efforts. Start with quality sites that have the potential to make your work worth the while. Consider the following sites:

10. Don’t give up – this is a long term business

This is a business. If it were easy to do, everyone would do it. Work at it. Learn all you can about taking good photos, stock photography, and other things that will help you be successful.

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