Bru­tally hon­est guide to mi­cro­s­tock

Suc­ceed­ing as a mi­cro­s­tock con­trib­u­tor is tough, but if you com­bine a strong work ethic with a com­mer­cial eye and an abil­ity to spot a trend, there is still good money to be made, says Alexan­dre Roten­berg

Amateur Photographer - - 7days -

It will need ef­fort, but there’s still money to be made in stock pho­tog­ra­phy

Pho­tog­ra­phy might just be a hobby for some of you, but it’s nice to earn cash from im­ages that would oth­er­wise be gath­er­ing dig­i­tal dust. This ex­tra in­come can be put to­wards pho­to­graphic trips and/or up­grad­ing equip­ment. The good news is that it is still pos­si­ble to fund these ac­tiv­i­ties by up­load­ing your im­ages to mi­cro­s­tock agen­cies. Nat­u­rally, the mar­ket is tougher than it was a few years ago, but there are still plenty of ways to give your work an edge over the com­pe­ti­tion.

A stock agency main­tains a li­brary of im­ages cov­er­ing a wide ar­ray of sub­jects, and li­censes these im­ages to cus­tomers. Their cus­tomers des­per­ately need com­mer­cial stock im­ages to per­suade con­sumers to pur­chase prod­ucts and/or ser­vices. Al­ter­na­tively, some cus­tomers need edi­to­rial stock im­ages, which are used to sup­port non-com­mer­cial me­dia. Ac­cord­ing to MDG Ad­ver­tis­ing, ar­ti­cles fea­tur­ing im­ages av­er­age 94% more views than those with­out.

Due to le­gal re­stric­tions, these busi­nesses can­not sim­ply ‘ lift’ a dig­i­tal im­age to use (even though this oc­curs fre­quently), and it can be ex­pen­sive to hire pho­tog­ra­phers to carry out com­mis­sioned work. This is where mi­cro­s­tock agen­cies come in as they pro­vide high-qual­ity, roy­alty-free im­ages to busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als, with­out the hefty price tag. The bar­ri­ers for am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­phers to earn money from their im­ages have come crash­ing down in the past 10 years thanks to high-qual­ity DSLRs and, more re­cently, mo­bile phones with bet­ter res­o­lu­tion. This is a dou­ble-edged sword, as it has also made the mi­cro­s­tock mar­ket ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive, with only a small per­cent­age of the most tal­ented and hard work­ing earn­ing enough to cover their liv­ing costs.

Suc­ceed­ing as a mi­cro­s­tock con­trib­u­tor is tough, and if you’re con­sid­er­ing join­ing the ranks, it’s ad­vis­able to be aware of some of the chal­lenges. The mi­cro­s­tock busi­ness model is not a get-rich-quick scheme. A new breed of con­trib­u­tor is re­quired – one that com­bines the right work ethic, a com­mer­cial eye, an abil­ity to recog­nise an in-de­mand niche and, of course, nat­u­ral tal­ent. As the old say­ing goes, the cream rises to the top.

Li­cens­ing dig­i­tal im­ages

With stock pho­tog­ra­phy, cus­tomers are granted the right to use cer­tain im­ages (in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty). Sell­ing the use of these rights is known as li­cens­ing. A pho­tog­ra­pher li­censes such in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty via an agency ac­cord­ing to the us­age needs of the cus­tomer. As the stock in­dus­try has evolved, two main li­cens­ing mod­els have emerged: roy­alty free and rights man­aged.

Roy­alty free

Roy­alty-free li­censes are the back­bone of the mi­cro­s­tock in­dus­try. A one-off fee is paid by the cus­tomer to use the im­age mul­ti­ple times and for mul­ti­ple pur­poses ac­cord­ing to the li­cense agree­ment. The price for the li­cense usu­ally de­pends on the im­age size, but is in­creas­ingly based on an agency’s monthly sub­scrip­tion plan (eg $100/month for a right to down­load a max­i­mum of 25/im­ages a day).

Rights man­aged

Rights-man­aged li­censes re­quire the end user to pay a li­cens­ing fee for a spe­cific us­age, such as lo­ca­tion, type of me­dia, length of us­age and the op­tion of

ex­clu­siv­ity. The li­cens­ing of rights­man­aged im­ages is stan­dard prac­tice at agen­cies that li­cense more pre­mium and cu­rated con­tent.

What to shoot

Agen­cies hire qual­ity-con­trol re­view­ers to en­sure im­ages are up to scratch, par­tic­u­larly in the ar­eas of com­po­si­tion, light­ing, low noise and grain, sharp fo­cus on the sub­ject, ac­cu­rate use of cap­tions and key­words. Fail­ure to ad­here to one or more of these cri­te­ria would al­most cer­tainly lead to a re­jec­tion (see be­low). In the be­gin­ning, re­jec­tions come thick and fast, but don’t get frustrated – you need to see them as lessons on how to im­prove.

Mi­cro­s­tock can be beau­ti­ful and glam­orous, but most of the time it sim­ply in­volves cap­tur­ing mun­dane stuff in a way that is in­ter­est­ing enough to ap­peal to a range of clients. To be com­mer­cial, pic­tures need to be unique, which means avoid­ing over­done sub­ject mat­ter, un­less you have a fresh ap­proach, in­clud­ing pets, flags, beaches, flow­ers, and pop­u­lar land­marks.

Crit­ics of mi­cro­s­tock ar­gue that some pic­tures look fake and cheesy – a group of smil­ing cor­po­rate types sit­ting around a meet­ing ta­ble, or a pretty cus­tomer-ser­vice girl wear­ing a head­set, for ex­am­ple. It’s a good idea to avoid such clichés. Nowa­days, im­ages that are li­censed reg­u­larly of­ten fea­ture mod­els act­ing in an ‘authen­tic’ way, which is not easy to cap­ture. If you can ‘fake’ au­then­tic­ity, you have made it.

For ex­am­ple, is a plumber com­ing round to fix your bro­ken boiler? A tech­ni­cally ex­cel­lent im­age of that boiler could pay for the cost of a new one and more, es­pe­cially if the im­age fea­tures the plumber (fully model-re­leased, of course). Sim­i­larly, the next time you’re en­joy­ing a drink in a beau­ti­ful set­ting, take a few shots with an iconic fea­ture in the back­ground.

At first, you will prob­a­bly sub­mit im­ages that are re­lated to your hob­bies and in­ter­ests, which is fine while you are still get­ting to grips with the busi­ness model, im­prov­ing tech­ni­cally, and de­vel­op­ing your style. How­ever, once your port­fo­lio grows to a few hun­dred im­ages, you will have more fi­nan­cial suc­cess if you choose to fo­cus your en­er­gies on a few niches.

How much can you earn?

The mi­cro­s­tock li­cens­ing model pro­vides the means for se­ri­ous en­thu­si­asts to earn ex­tra money from im­ages that would oth­er­wise sit on their hard drives. But the bar is set so high that many con­trib­u­tors be­come dis­il­lu­sioned and quit within a months. The re­al­ity is that the fi­nan­cial re­wards from your hard work are un­likely to be much at first. In my book, I out­line a case study of an av­er­age hard-work­ing con­trib­u­tor over a two-year pe­riod. At the end of the two years, the con­trib­u­tor has 1,500 qual­ity im­ages spread out over mul­ti­ple top agen­cies; ac­cu­mu­lated gross rev­enue of $2,700; amassed rev­enue of just over $200/month at the 23rd month, which should keep gen­er­at­ing more or less that amount monthly for some time, al­though im­ages do tend to have a life cy­cle. Be­fore giv­ing mi­cro­s­tock a go, ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent rev­enue sce­nar­ios us­ing the Mi­cro­s­tock Busi­ness Plan Cal­cu­la­tor at www.stock­per­­cu­la­tor.

There are many in­tan­gi­bles in­volved, in­clud­ing mar­ket forces and chang­ing key­word al­go­rithms, but the sce­nario out­lined above gives you an idea of the scal­a­bil­ity of the mi­cro­s­tock model.

This pre­mium im­age of vine­yards in Bar­baresco, Italy, is li­censed ex­clu­sively as rights man­aged via a travel-spe­cial­ist agency

Tulip fields in the Nether­lands. Com­bin­ing your leisure time with your stock pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness is ideal

Com­mer­cial stock im­ages are used to per­suade con­sumers to pur­chase their prod­ucts and/or ser­vices; in this case, a busi­ness may po­ten­tially use this model-re­leased im­age to ad­ver­tise a travel pack­age

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