I started submitting images to microstock agencies over 5 years ago, and had a few sales but didn’t really pursue it, probably a mistake on my part, but I had other photography avenues that I wanted to follow. However over the last 2 years I have made a concerted effort to take and submit images to the 5 main agencies, Shutterstock, Fotolia, Istock, Dreamstime and Bigstock and I do sell images on a daily basis. I was also invited to submit my images to Getty Images a couple of years ago and have had some success, although images I sell at Getty are exclusive to them but typically you make more money from these images. However, before you get all excited and think yes I have hundreds of images I can sell, it is extremely competitive and time consuming work, and typically you only make sales on 20% of the images you upload!
The images have to be high quality, with lighting and composition being very important, and typically taken with a DSLR camera or one of the new mirrorless cameras, such as a Fuji X-T1. Saying that there are several companies, including Shutterstock, Alamy, Fotolia and Getty Images that have apps especially for mobile phone images. So there are many, many ways now, that you can start selling your images.
Before you can start selling your images, many of the agencies require you to send around 10 images which they look at for quality and a certain percentage of them have to pass their quality control tests before you can continue to add images. Some agencies are much harder to join than others such as Getty Images and Stocksy (who only accept a small number once a year).
When you have been accepted you then have the task of adding titles, descriptions and keywords to all your images, and how you do this varies from agency to agency, but remember that keywording your images is what gets them picked up by the agency’s search engines so make sure they are relevant to the image you have uploaded. If you use Lightroom this is a very good way of adding the information to your images as titles, descriptions and keywords can easily be copied between batches of images. There are also applications that allow you to upload your images once and then they will distribute them between all the agencies you belong to (although this is typically just the micro stock agencies).
You may be asking, well how much do I get paid for my images, on the whole ‘cents’ is the answer to this. The agency takes between 70-80% of the sale and you get the rest. Different agencies sell their images in different ways, some price them per image and others sell packages where you can buy credits either as a one off or monthly. For example Shutterstock, which I would say is currently the largest Microstock agency around, sell 5 images for £32, 25 for £139 or you can pay a monthly fee of £120 and get 750 images a month. So when subscription customers buy your images you as a photographer will get approx 33cents per image, this does go up the more images you have sold.
You will also find that you have to keep adding to your online portfolios otherwise your sales may go down and you also need to remember that thousands and thousands of images get uploaded everyday! Is it all worth it I hear you say, well actually I still get a little buzz when my images sell and once they are uploaded you do have the opportunity to make multiple sales. I have one image in particular thats has sold over 700 times with one agency!
If you are starting now I would imagine it would be very difficult to make a living at it and you would need to have thousands of images in your portfolios, but if you do it as a hobby, or part-time, or are retired then personally I think it can be very rewarding.
I hope this has given you a little glimpse of the microstock world, let me know if you have any questions and I will answer them if I can.