Why I Sell on Stock Sites

March 17, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Yes, I sell photos on stock sites!

Saying that to some photographers is the same as; admitting you used to play Farmville, showing someone a picture of you when you were 20-something with a MULLET or conceding that you have taken someone else's lunch from the break room fridge.  To some, it's "selling out" because you are selling photos at a fraction of the cost they may be worth...in their humble opinion.

First..."Bryan, what the the heck are you talking about?!  Well, I'm referring to micro-stock sites (like iStock, Shutterstock and Dreamstime -among others).  They are called micro-stock sites because the sellers make their money by selling A LOT of pictures at a small price each.  Basically, when someone...anyone...needs a high-quality photo of something...anything...they go to one of these sites, search for what they are looking for and then buy it.  How much they spend on a specific photo depends on what they are using for, how they are paying for it, the quality they need and bunch of other stuff.

The way you make money on these sites is by selling A LOT of pictures and the way to sell a lot of pictures is to submit a boat load of photos to your portfolio.  
 
When I started I had no intention of making a dime...and I didn't for awhile.  In fact, all of my submissions were rejected at first and even once I started getting a few accepted it took me a long time to get to a 50% acceptance rate (the minimum required by iStock to become an exclusive contributor - more on that in another post).  My first accepted photo was this one - a simple picture of a couple buildings in downtown Winston-Salem, and I'm sure I re-submitted it at least once.
 
So why put myself through all of this?  It's simple...what I needed was an expert to look at my photos and give me feedback...I would have paid for it.  But, as it turns out, I got paid for letting them do it for me.  I kept submitting photos and they kept telling me what was wrong with them.  Not subjective things like "nice shot" or "I don't like this one", but specific feedback about focus, sharpness, color, color balance, lighting, composition and content (among other things).  It was here that I learned what Chromatic Aberration is and I was able to research how to get rid of it.  It was here that I learned how important Color Balance is to photography and many, many more things that I wouldn't even know about unless someone had told me.
 
I also learned that, like anything, practice makes perfect and that persistence pays off.  I just kept at it, I made it a personal goal to reach a 50% acceptance rate...that was hard because it was probably negative for a while.  
 
One of the most important lessons I have learned (later) is not to take their feedback personally.  In my first year or so I did take it personally sometimes...because I would see a beautiful shot and get super excited about it, work it in post production, post it and then...REJECTED.  
 
An excellent example is this one. Virginia FarmVirginia Farm This is a picture I took of a farm just down the road from Virginia Tech.  The setting was beautiful, it was the right time for nice light, I loved the composition and I was sure it would be accepted.  But it wasn't, not just once, but about 3 or 4 times.  So many times that I finally gave up.  Fast forward about 2 years later and I came back across it and by that time I knew exactly what I needed to do to it before submission...it took me less than 5 minutes to fix it and it sailed right through submission...and I've already sold it!
 
The point is that, for me, micro-stock sites have been the perfect way to learn the basics and hone my skills...by having an unbiased expert look at my photos and give specific feedback...useful to make real changes in my photographic process.  
 
Another awesome thing...even back then when I was starting out...I got this SHOT right...if I hadn't, all of the post production work in the world wouldn't have made a difference.
 
By the way, my acceptance rate at iStock now is over 87%

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