A Guide To Getting Started In Selling Microstock

There are two ways to make a full time income. Price your services high and select a few customers to cater your services to. Or price your services low and work for volume.

Increasingly people are looking at the low price high volume model, and seeing how lucrative it can really be. You can build apps (I would love to be a part of Angry Birds model), ebooks (think Kindle and Nook), or in the photography world, microstock.

How Does It Work?

If you want to sell microstock, the best place to start is with microstock agencies. There are a number of great agencies, and more are being created every day.

Dig Deeper: 65 Stock Photography Sties To Find And Sell Photography and a couple of new ones



As you visit an agency, head to their photographers section, and find out what it takes to build an account. Each agency has their own set of guidelines. They want serious photographers only, so you will have to meet their requirements. They usually do that in two ways:

1. Give you an entry exam, usually with a photography submission process and a series of questions

2. Limit the amount of submissions you can make upon acceptance based on sales and approval ratings.

The larger the agency, the harder the submission test will be. If you fail with some of the big ones, start with a smaller one to gain experience and exposure, and try again based on their criteria.

Content and Portfolios

If you look at the most successful microstock photographers, you’ll see they all have one thing in common – a theme. When they shoot, they know what their customers want, and they provide it again and again. With many stock agencies, they allow you to build portfolios and group them together. If someone needs “wedding photographs” and you have a “wedding” portfolio, its easy for them to browse that section and by multiple images.

Successful microstock photographers understand this, and plan their photography sessions around it. They don’t head out for the day to shoot. They plan it.

What Sells

Once you start selling your work, you’ll begin to see a pattern. You can also spend time searching through the most popular microstock sites, and check out their top seller lists. I’ve also had success by thinking very specifically within an industry, and find out what’s missing. The medical field is huge, for example, and when you think specifically, you can easily find holes and things that are missing. Plan a shoot to fill those holes.

Submitting Your Images

When you submit your images to agencies, it can be a time consuming process, especially if you use multiple sites. You can choose exclusivity (where you place it on one site only) or non-exclusivity – your pricing and fees will be placed accordingly.

Check with each site as to size of the file. Also make sure you have a model release on hand for any recognizable faces, and have as much detail as possible about the image. You will be able to keyword/tag each image, title and describe in short summary every image – the better you describe it, the more likely your potential customers will find it.

Create A Plan

It’s easy to get caught up in the sales, and watch how your images are doing on the various sites. But selling ones and twos without having a plan for increasing your sales won’t help you succeed. Instead, create a marketing plan to help your microstock business grow. How many photographs will you take each month?  What theme will you focus on? How will you promote your portfolio?


The great thing about microstock is you can create an entire portfolio of images with very little equipment. Much of it depends on what type of images you will be putting into your portfolio – weddings need different equipment that landscapes. Start with the basics – a body and one or two lenses, and a reliable flash. Then add as you find things you need. You can always rent before you buy to make sure you get exactly what you are looking for.

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