Microstock Guide Contents
How To Find The Best Microstock Agencies
What Is A Microstock Agency?
As described in detail in our What is Microstock? article, microstock is easy to understand if you break it down. Micro is simply a term describing small (or micro) payments for images that are already part of a collection (or in other words, are in stock). Put the two together and you have microstock.
A microstock agency is the middle man between you, the creator, and the buyer of the image. It’s the agencies shelf that the image sits on, so to speak.
Should I Join Right Now?
It’s entirely up to you when, or if, you choose to sign up with any agency. But I’d say go for it!
Signing up also usually allows you access to the agency’s contributor forum, where you can get help from others about how to get succeed. These forums are invaluable and you should consider regularly reading through them once you have joined. That way you can learn from others and keep abreast of the latest news.
What About Going Exclusive?
Be careful in signing up that you don’t choose to be an exclusive contributor, unless you have given it some serious thought. We have a blog post that explains the pro’s and con’s of being an exclusive contributor in more detail.
To summarise it briefly, being exclusive means your images can only be for sale on that one agency. Years ago this was a good move on certain sites, but not so anymore. Being independent means you don’t have all your eggs in one basket if things go bad.
Plus with new agencies starting up all the time you have the flexibility of trying them if you wish.
In short, don’t go exclusive.
Will I Still Own My Images?
Each site will have a different Contributor’s Agreement that you should read if you are concerned in any way. Essentially most of them state the same fundamentals:
- You will ALWAYS keep copyright of the images (unless you specifically elect to sell it on individual files – Dreamstime offers this on a per-file basis)
- Your images cannot be used in a defamatory way
- You agree to their sales and royalty structure
- The agency has the right to use your images for promotional purposes
- The agency can change their contract terms as they see fit
Some microstock agency’s agreements also state that you agree to keep images for sale on that site for a period of “X months”, usually 6 months or so.
But again, if you are concerned, be sure to read the fine print.
Now, you’re all signed up and good to go. On to Chapter 2 then!
How To Shoot Great Images For Stock
What Kind Of Images Sell Well?
You’ve probably got a few hundred or even thousand images sitting on your computer and you’re wondering where to begin – do I submit them all? How do I choose? Which kind of images will sell as microstock photography? The first step in the process is the kind of images that you should submit as microstock. You might also want to check out what kind of camera gear is best for stock photography.
Let’s break this up into helpful sections for photographers, vector artists and finally videographers. After all, it is the DEFINITIVE microstock guide, right?
What Kind Of Photos DO NOT Sell Well?
Most agencies will tell you to avoid submitting these types of images…
- Travel snaps – happy snaps of you on the beach aren’t in high demand strangely enough
- Sunsets & clouds – lots of pretty colours, but little sales potential
- Flowers – anyone can do it, and everyone has
- Pets – sometimes they’re only cute to you
- Photoshop filters – anything that uses a basic filter easily found in Photoshop or the like
Bear in mind that these are general guidelines and not hard and fast rules. For instance, I have had considerable success with travel and nature related images. But in the end your time will probably be better spent shooting images that fit within the first group listed above.
What Kind Of Vectors DO NOT Sell Well?
Most agencies will tell you to avoid submitting these types of vectors…
- Auto Trace – photos that you have auto traced and then converted
- 1990’s Clipart – times have changed people, move on
- Overly Simple – remember, people are buying these so put some effort in!
What Kind Of Video Footage DOES NOT Sell Well?
Most agencies will tell you to avoid submitting these types of videos…
- Static Shots – lockdown shots that have little interest
- Converted Film – there is a market for it on certain sites, but in general crisp digital footage is what they want
- Shaky Shots – you’re competing with professionals, so make sure there is no shake or unintended movements
- Ambient Noise – footage that still has ambient noise included that doesn’t match the clip eg: people talking when the shot is of nature
How To Avoid Rejections & Get Approvals
Should I Submit Older Images?
Just because up until now you haven’t photographed any doctors working on the elderly (or some other concept of high commercial value), doesn’t mean that your existing images aren’t worth thinking about.
Some images online are better than no images online. So look through all your old files and pick the best of the best, the ones with real potential, nice lighting and in sharp focus. And then put them aside to fine tune to the point of getting your first submission ready to go online.
A good stock image is sometimes tricky to get your head around. If it’s an object on white, then don’t leave too much white around it as then buyers need a bigger size image which annoys them. But if it’s a portrait or a complex still life perhaps, then leave some room where a designer can add text over the image without it wrecking the shot. Always try to follow one of the major rules of composition, such as Rule of Thirds of something similar.
No Commercial Value
This one is pretty subjective, and probably the main cause of complaint from photographers. Microstock agencies want images they can sell, not just any old image that is technically sound. So make sure the images you submit have a clear message, concept, purpose or use and are the kind of image that a designer could incorporate into a design or use to illustrate a concept.
Can I Enhance Images In Photoshop or Lightroom?
Absolutely! In fact, not only are you allowed to do it, you are encouraged to do so to a reasonable degree.
If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend the Adobe CC Photography plan for photographers. You get Lightroom & Photoshop for $10 a month, plus some other goodies. Money well spent.
Even better, if you are a student or a teacher, you can access the entire Adobe CC Suite at 60% off!
Why do you need it? Because no file straight out of the camera is absolutely perfect. Most will lack contrast or saturation or need a dust spot removed. So fire up your image editing program and fine tune your photo to the best possible result.
But be careful – you don’t want to overdo it and ruin the image. Too much editing can cause noticeable artefacts in the photo that will get it rejected. Also, you don’t want to spend too much time working on each image, as you won’t be able to make back your time quickly with microstock earnings.
So the best bet is to perfect a workflow that is good for you and your images. You can learn some valuable skills by viewing quality tutorials such as these:
- Super Photo Editing Skills – Get the best out of your digital photos quickly and efficiently
- Really Easy Retouching in Adobe Photoshop – Learn the art of fast, natural retouching for your images
- Before/After: Lightroom Workflow & Processing – Improve your Adobe Lightroom processes
- Black and White Photo Editing – Learn how to create stunning black and white photos in Adobe Lightroom
How To Become A Keyword Master
How Do I Add Keywords & Descriptions To An Image?
All microstock sites require you to submit your images in JPG format, the most standard compressed picture format around. This file type (like most others, but not all) can also hold reams of additional data that you may not have known even existed in your photos.
If you use Adobe Photoshop, the way to access this is by going File > File Info. Here you’ll be presented with a wealth of information that tells you everything from what aperture you used to take the photo, or even the GPS location of where it was taken!
But the ‘Description’ tab is what we are really interested in. Here you will want to fill in 3 fields of data: “Document Title”, “Description” and “Keywords”.
Are there good and bad keywords?
Remember, the more accurate your keywording, the better chance you have of making some money from your your photographs.
There are some handy tools out there to help with keywording images. They can grab keywords that others have used from similar images to yours and help you build your keyword list. They can be a good place to start, but of course you will want to ensure they are accurate for your particular image.
Here are some basic things to think about when selecting keywords for your image:
Think about adding keywords that describe the main objects, colours, concepts, feelings, lighting, people, proper names for plants & animals, location, etc. Basically anything relevant to the image that a buyer would search for.
Also use terms that are relevant to today. For example, terms like “selfy” or #metoo (minus the #) that are modern and relevant to what people may be looking for – as long as they directly relate to your image.
Do not get out your thesaurus and add anything you find.
Buyers will search for ‘man’, not ‘chap’ or ‘fellow’. Never include your camera brand, your own name, or keywords that have no relevance to your image. In some cases, less is more with keywording (as long as you have a minimum of about 10-15) as lots of irrelevant keywords will just dilute your image showing up in search results.
Ok so you’ve slogged it out and added all those pesky keywords to your amazing images. Keywording complete! Now comes the last part – actually getting them onto the stock library’s web sites.
Let’s get you uploading in the final chapter…
How To Upload & Start Selling
How Do I Upload Stock Images?
If this is your first submission, consider splitting the submission up into smaller lots – say 50 images per submission, or even less. That way, if you make any mistakes in the submission process, you wont get ALL your images rejected right away.
Now that you have a few smaller submissions ready in separate folders, get yourself a good FTP program.
Most people use FileZilla or Cyberduck (my choice for Mac) but it’s entirely up to you. FTP is the best way to upload many images at once, although all the sites do offer alternative methods such as Flash up-loaders or HTML5 up-loaders. These tend to be slower, buggier and always more cumbersome when dealing with more than just a couple of images. If you are uploading video then FTP is your only choice.
There are also some programs designed to help microstock contributors with the upload process. You can find some on our Microstock Tools & Resources guide.
Once you have signed up with a microstock agency, they will provide you with the relevant login details needed for FTP upload. Usually these are provided immediately. Bookmark these in your FTP program so that for each future submission you make it’s simply a matter of drag and drop onto your FTP bookmark to upload hundreds of photos at once. Grab a coffee and watch those images upload!
My Images Are Uploaded, Now What?
Each site is different from this point on.
Some microstock agencies handle everything from this point on, like PhotoDune for instance. Some require only a few clicks to simply select your files from your agency’s upload section and then submit them for review, eg: Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Depositphotos for instance. Others need more of your input before they review them.
If you login to your user account on each site after uploading your files (give it some time, your images sometimes show up immediately, but can occasionally take a few hours) on certain sites you will find you need to select categories for each image. These are simply content sections that your image best fits into.
You may also need to assign Model Releases (a signed legal document completed by both you and your models – you can download them from each microstock agency) and fix keywords if you have gone over the 50 keyword limit.
Generally speaking, after you have uploaded your images the process of submitting your files to each agency should take no more than 10-15 minutes per agency for around 20-30 images. Once you’re used to the process, you can speed through this part very quickly.
My Images Were Approved!
Celebrate! It’s a great feeling getting your work accepted by internationally renowned microstock agencies!
Once the back-slapping has subsided, you can check your files on nearly all the agencies’ sites to see how many views they are getting, as well as sales of course. Don’t expect sales too quickly – it will take time. But just think – with each image you get approved, the greater your chances are of selling your work.
Once you see your work starting to get some sales, that’s when the motivation needed to start producing more work will kick in. And with each new batch of images you submit, no doubt your skills will improve, as will your sales.
Need More Advice?
For an even deeper dive into microstock, check out these two great ebooks.
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