Getting started with (micro-) stock photography

Making money by selling photos online can seem like difficult task if you are not sure where to begin. One of your first choices will be where to sell your photos.
What agency, being exclusive photographer with one of them or not, selling your photos in micro or macro stock.

Stock photography covers widest possible area of photography, from everyday objects, places, people and models to almost anything you can imagine. It represents photography that have commercial value and it can be sold with license for specific use.
The buyers are often marketing and design agencies, magazines, news and press houses, web & graphic designers and also individuals who look for quality and esthetic photos.
You might find your photos in magazines, newspapers, tourist brochures, billboard advertizing, book covers, web ads and regular websites, sometimes even on t-shirts or merchandizing items.

What might work for somebody else might not necessarily work with your portfolio and your type of photography. You shouldn’t expect the overnight success, but rather a long and hard journey.
In recent years, as quality DSLR cameras became more affordable, the quality of photography has risen even between amateur photographers. You photos will compete with (well) established photographers and newbies trying to make their way.
But if buyers like your photo it doesn’t matter how much experience you have.

When selling photos in “stock”, you are selling a license to use the photo, not the photo itself.

Selling photos as stock, you are not selling a copyright of your images but a license to use your photo under certain rules. Licenses vary a bit from agency to agency, you should definitely get familiar what rights the buyer gets.

Where to Sell: Microstock or Macrostock?

Selling one photo multiple times for smaller royalty or sell it only once for a big one?
It is your choice. In general, images sold in microstock (royalty-free image license) are offered of cheap price multiple times and all the buyers have the rights to use the photo.
In macrostock buyer gets an exclusive rights (rights managed license) to use the image for specified time. Those images are sold for higher prices (starting with three digit number in dollars). The price depends on how image is going to be used (print, web, tv, ...), where (geographic location) and for how long (few months or couple of years).

Macrostock requires high quality images, often on very specific topics and it is not rare that cost of production can be also very high.
On the other hand, best photos in microstock can sell several times a day and they can keep on selling for years and can make high earnings over time. While making decision where to sell your pictures, it’s important to read the terms and licenses under which your image is going to be sold, percentage of your earnings and all the other rules.

The Approval Exam

To start selling photos online, you usually need to pass an agaencie's approval test. Approval exam vary from agency to agency, some set higher standards than other. You are usually asked to submit 5-10 photos and answer few questions regarding the copyrights, model releases and licenses.
Chose an intial batch of photos for submission with diverse topics that have commercial value and of course are technically correct.
Once you pass the test, you can start uploading and submitting photos for sale.

Learn how to prepare your photos for sale.

It might be tempting to go to an agency without such a test, but you should be aware that the higher the barrier of entrance, the more likely the agency has a good reputation for useful stock photos which means higher prices and more sales, making you more money.
Also, being rejected a few times might hurt your ego for a second, but it actually gives you valuable feedback to improve your technique. So instead of trying to make an easy start, rather try to become good enough first!

There are many of microstock agencies, most popular are Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, iStockPhoto, 123rf, Stocksy, Pond5, Envato (Photodune) and Dreamstime.

Some of the most popular macrostock agencies are Alamy, Getty Images and Superstock.

Check out the Ultimate list of stock photo agencies to help you decide where to start selling or to add more agencies.

Getting Payed in Microstock

All agencies take the cut, some more some less and contributors get percentage of the sales. As a new contributor you start in the bottom and slowly climb up with the number of the sales. Some agencies pay as low as 15% in the beginning, other 50% or more. Some give higher percentage if your files are for sale exclusively with them or you are their exclusive contributor (not all of them offer this option).

The range is huge – you can get $0.25 per sale or up to $100+ something on another occasion when photo is licensed with special terms.
All photos can sell multiple times in microstock and good photos will keep on selling for years.

You get payed once you reach an earning threshold, which is most commonly set at $50 or $100.
Most of agencies support Paypal, Payoneer and bank checks for payout. Payments can take up to a month depending on agency and type of payment.
Most of payments are automated and agency is going to pay you on their “payday”.
Some agencies still require that you request the payout by clicking the “magic” button and choosing your preferred method once you reach the threshold.

Read next: First steps as a microstock contributor