Making money with your favorite photos

Alison Young
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June 22, 2007
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So, do you think you take awesome pictures, and often receive compliments on your photos? If the answer is yes, you could be the perfect candidate to make a small side career off your pics.

This whole concept is called microstock photography, which branches off stock photography (photos that can be used for books, magazines, advertisements, web-sites, etc.).


This concept is nothing new, but it seems to be booming lately. I’ve always wanted to submit my photos to some of these sites, but never made the time. When the moment came to write this story, I went ahead and created a few accounts at various web-sites to test out the services. At the time I’m writing this, my work has been online for a day and a half with no purchases yet. It’s such a short period of time, yet I only have three photos posted.

I’ll just have to be patient and see if I actually make anything. I honestly don’t expect much since I just did it for fun. That in mind, microstock’s namesake indicates you’ll make very little per sale (compared to more traditional methods). However, if your images are exceptional, you could possibly make up the difference by selling large quantities. I’ve heard of individuals earning their entire income by selling pictures through these online avenues.

However, if you’re on the other side of things (i.e., with an agency or publication), you probably already know this venue of stock photography could save your company money and is an excellent resource to find good images for less money.

Each microstock site differs in pricing and payment setups. You can upload the same pictures on multiple sites (as I did) with no fee to post your photos. Note that before starting this whole process you need to be pre-approved by each site’s team of inspectors. Not everyone will be accepted and even if you are chosen, all your photos may not be accepted either. Your work is typically judged on technical quality, artistic looks and commercial merit. You can add-in keywords to your photo descriptions to help yourself stand out to potential buyers.

Here are the most popular microstock photography websites out there:

* iStockphoto (www.istockphoto.com): This is probably one of the first ones around and based in Canada. It’s available in 12 languages, and has an image download average of every 2.5 seconds. I saw these guys at a trade show earlier this year, and a video service has been added since then.

* DreamsTime (www.dreamstime.com)

* ShutterStock (www.shutterstock.com)

* Fotolia (www.fotolia.com)

* 123RF (www.123rf.com)

* BigStock Photo (www.bigstockphoto.com)

Additionally, Corbis (www.corbis.com) just entered the micros-tock photography market earlier this month. This should be interesting because Corbis was founded by Microsoft’s chairman Bill Gates, and he owns 100 percent of its shares.


A hard-core individual looking to actually make serious sales off this would probably want to submit at least 300 images to each web-site (as compared to my very few three for giggles). With at least the 300, you can probably make about $500-plus a month along with constant uploading of more and more pics to add on to your site portfolios.

Just a tip for the beginners, I heard ShutterStock and Fotolia accept more images. It’s hard for me to gauge at this point since I only have three images in (but at least I made them in!).

For the students out there, this could be a good alternative to a summer job. Have fun with this and good luck!

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