In the past decade, professional and part-time photographers have been faced with a new but growing market for their work – microstock. Stock photography itself isn’t new – agencies like Corbis and Getty have been selling stock photographs for decades. That “traditional stock” market paid the photographers hundreds of dollars for their work. With the advent of microstock, that is changing.
In 2000, a company named iStockphoto opened to sell photos at a price point high enough to cover its costs. The idea caught on quickly and the company began acquiring portfolios from photographers willing to sell their work for less with the hope of selling hundreds or thousands of copies. Around 2005, two more companies joined this business model – Dreamtime and Shutterstock.
Within a few years, Shutterstock began to dominate the industry. Even though the highest grossing microstock photographer has her portfolio on iStockphoto, photographers wanting to break into this market know that if they want to make money at microstock, Shutterstock is the place to be.
Shutterstock took a different approach than the competition. Instead of selling the images individually and cutting the photographer in for a percentage, Shutterstock sells subscriptions to its service. For a fee, subscribers can download a number of images per day and per month. If a subscriber buys one of your images, you get a set price. This price is tiered according to how many images you have sold. The more successful you have been, the higher you make per image. Recently, they have also started selling individual images or smaller packages, both of which net a higher gain for the photographer.
To get started with Shutterstock, you submit ten of your images for approval. If at least seven are approved, you are in – otherwise you have to wait a month to try again. In the beginning, the penalty period was three months. There are certain criteria that are common to all the agencies. The images have to be owned by the photographer, must be .JPG images of a certain size, and there can be no brand names or logos visible. This is one of the challenges in producing work for microstock; shooting around or cloning out brand names and logos.
Besides photographs, you can sell short video footage and vector graphics.
Another legal limitation to submitting to Shutterstock or any other microstock agency is the need for signed model releases for any recognizable person in the image. The standard for recognizable gets tougher all the time, so if you want to photograph people, be prepared to ask for and get a model release. Property releases are also becoming more and more a requirement for homes and buildings built after a certain period. The rules are constantly changing, so visit the Shutterstock website to learn the latest guidelines and requirements.
Once you are accepted on the site, your initial submission becomes the beginning of your portfolio. After that, you can upload as much and as often as you wish. Each image submitted is subject to a review process and is either accepted or declined based on a number of criteria including quality and the subjective view of the reviewer as to its commercial value.
As part of the upload process, you will need to provide a description of the image and keywords. Keywords are a set of descriptive words that a buyer will use in a search engine to find your image. This, along with quality content is probably one of the key elements to being a successful microstock photographer.
To the photographer looking for another market for their portfolio, microstock in general, and Shutterstock in particular, may be a source of additional revenue.