My experiences with microstock photography

I thought I would write up my experiences with microstock photography so far, for those who are interested in getting into it.  I first started with the microstocks around March of last year and I started with Shutterstock, then added Fotolia, and most recently I started submitting to IStockPhoto.  Here is a quick list of what I have found out.

First, it is very unlikely you will make a lot of money with microstock unless you spend a lot (meaning a full time job) of time.  My goal was to help buy new camera equipment, but as my tastes increased I found the money helpful, but not entirely sufficient.  Some people have the goal of taking care of their monthly car payment - which is still a tough goal itself.  Most microstock photographers do not want to disclose how much they make a month, but I have no problem doing this.  With 15 shots on IStockPhoto, 250 on Shutterstock, and 120 on Fotolia, I made until recently about $150 a month.

The following are what I think of the current microstock sites out there.

Shutterstock - Until recently I really liked this site.  I spend the most time submitting there and it was my biggest income earner, though IStock caught up very quickly with far fewer shots.  IStock uses a subscription model, where subscribers pay a monthly fee (about $200 I think) to be able to download 25 shots a day.  Each time they download one of your shots, you are paid 25 cents, or 30 cents after you have made $500. 

The result of this subscriber model is the vast majority of your shots will be downloaded at least once.  I had horrible shots that were downloaded several times.  In terms of submissions standards, Shutterstock is moderate.  They are tougher than Fotolia but easier than IStockPhoto.  They are also not very uniform - shots in the same series will be rejected or accepted by different reviewers.  The best thing though is to get used to it - most of the rejections I later agreed with and I think the case was more often shots that should have been rejected were accepted by inexperienced reviewers.

In terms of getting accepted, Shutterstock is the toughest of the microstock sites because if you are not accepted on the first try (a certain percentage of your submitted shots must be accepted) then you must wait a period of time to try again.

My biggest issue with Shutterstock is they are horribly managed and have horrible customer service.  Recently my entire gallery was deleted by Shutterstock with no explanation.  I have tried e-mailing them but so far they have not responded.  I tried calling them and they said they do not accept calls from their submitters - submitters must only get support through e-mail.  Right now it looks most likely that I will take my money, close the account, and go exclusive with IStockPhoto.

Because of my experience with Shutterstock, I do not recommend them in the strongest terms .

Fotolia - With the exception of IStockPhoto, it seems the microstock industry is an example of poor IT management.  Such is the case with Fotolia.  A few months ago Fotolia was the brightest star among my microstock galleries, as sales there were improving quickly.  Alas this was not to be permanent as they decided to upgrade their systems to Fotolia 2.0.

The upgrade was a disaster in as many ways possible.  Uploads no longer worked and my existing images lost their keywords, making them unsearchable.  The upgrade itself left the system down for both buyers and sellers for several days and there were myriad bugs when it returned.  Supposedly the main goal of the upgrade was to make the site faster and easier to use, but today it is still almost as slow as it was. 

After the upgrade, my downloads went to nil and have only marginally improved.  On the positive side, it is very easy to get images accepted here.  This isn't a bad site for beginners, but I wouldn't expect very great sales.  Very soon I will likely remove my gallery here and go exclusive with IStockPhoto.

Dreamstime - I only have limited experience with this site.  I joined some time ago and started submitting pictures, which were all rejected for reasons to this day I find invalid (all 3 other sites accepted them and they sell well).  I read a bit more about them and found that most photographers do not make a lot of money there, so I cancelled my account and submitted elsewhere.

IStockPhoto - The first time I submitted here I wound up cancelling my account.  The thing is, IStockPhoto is the toughest of the microstock sites in terms of reviews.  If there is something wrong with the shot, no matter how small, they will find it.  I started by submitting my most popular pictures from Shutterstock, which at that time were isolation shots, and they were all rejected.  Angrily, I did not understand why shots that sold well on Shutterstock would be rejected by IStockPhoto.

Now that I have more experience in photography, I realize that the reviews were correct.  The only mistake that IStockPhoto probably made was making the review e-mails rather rude.  They have since fixed this and I find all levels of interaction with IStockPhoto very polite.  Of course, I still get a number of shots rejected, but when I take a deep look about the shot I find that the reviews are almost always correct.  The nice thing as well about IStockPhoto is they are very specific about what is wrong with the shot and often give you the chance to correct the mistake if they think it is correctable.

I currently only have 15 shots up there, but my income is now almost equal to what it was at Shutterstock.  The main reason for so few is not just the tougher acceptance standards, but also because I always submitted to Shutterstock first and only rarely to IStockPhoto.  I am strongly leaning towards going exclusive with IStockPhoto, which will improve my commissions and I hope also my sales.

IStockPhoto also has the most advanced search and site in general.  Getting accepted is not easy, but is fair.  You are allowed to keep submitting shots until you have submitted a certain number of acceptable ones.

That is my experience so far with the major microstock sites.  Tomorrow I will discuss what these sites are looking for in pictures and some techniques I use.