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Do not argue with technical support

July 15, 2009

If your photography skills are anything like mine, get used to seeing the following three sentences:
“Your photograph did not reach our desired level of aesthetic quality” – Fotolia
“Poor lighting setup, poor contrast or incorrect exposure” – Dreamstime
“We found the overall composition of this file’s lighting could be improved” – istock

The only agency who takes everything is Canstockphoto. My acceptance rates are pretty poor at the moment, but I know it is because I need to improve my technique. It is nobody’s fault but my own and I am working on it. But I maintain my initial thought that the judging of images is somewhat patchy. I had one rejection from Fotolia the other day that I felt compelled to challenge:

star chart

Dear Sir/Madam
I just had an image rejected because it was “the same” as one I had already uploaded. It was indeed similar, but it showed the north celestial pole rather than the south – completely different set of stars. This was clear in the title. People in the northern hemisphere will want the image you rejected. Can I ask you take another look at these two images please as I am sure the reviewer assumed they were identical when they are technically very different. If you accepted the southern hemisphere image then you will definitely make more sales from the northern hemisphere version.
Many thanks

And their response:

Thank you for your e-mail. All of your images and videos have been reviewed by our selection team. Please note that the selection team is a separate department, so we have no influence on their decision. The main criteria for validation or rejection are: the quality of the image/video, the technical requirements, the similarity to existing Fotolia photographs and the image’s/video’s sale potential. We know that it can be difficult to have an image or video rejected but please bear with us. We encourage you to continue uploading your images and videos.
Kind regards

Computer says no. ha ha, you have to laugh else this miscrostock game would drive you up the wall.

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My first none istock sale

July 13, 2009

washing machine buttonWell I have moved on a bit further. I have added to the size of my Fotolia and Dreamstime portfolios and had my first sale with Dreamstime! This washing machine image had one view and one sale just a couple of days after I submitted it. Sale value $1.60. The feeling probably wears off, but when I shoot a new idea and get it accepted, it is still exciting to see how it is received, as well as trying to guess which photos, if any will go on to rake in a few more dollars. I have since found out that Dreamstime employ an algorithm that favours newly posted images, so it makes sense that I got a sale before the image was quickly buried amongst the millions of other images contained on the site. I have progressed a bit with istock too, increasing my portfolio to 13 images. It is still minute by most people’s standards, but considering I had just 2 images a few weeks ago, I am happy with my progress. Also worth noting that I like the fact that Dreamstime tell you the keywords the buyer used to find your image. Nice touch.

Inevitably it wasn’t long before other microstock sites caught my eye. There are plenty of smaller agencies who may well become much bigger, and if your images are there from the start you could find yourself in a very nice position, but at the moment I wasn’t interested in spreading myself too thinly, so to speak. I’d rather do a good job with a small number of agencies. To cut a long story short, I opted for Shutterstock, mainly because most people writing these miscrostock blogs seemed to have them as their top performer. And I signed up to Stockxpert and Canstockphoto. Shutterstock wanted 10 images to assess me, Stockexpert 5 and Canstockphoto 3. After a few days the results were in.

Canstockphoto accepted me and continue to accept every photograph that I upload, even the images that are rejected by all the other agencies. One thing to watch out for is copyright issues. I accidentally uploaded an image that *may* have a copyright issue. The other agencies had spotted it and rejected the image, but Canstockphoto did not seem bothered. A quick look at their terms and conditions suggests that they force any 3rd party claims of copyright breach on to the photographer and deny any liability themselves. While it is right that the photographer should be responsible, I cannot help thinking that the stock agency, who at the end of the day are selling the image and keeping the majority of the sale value, should also shoulder some blame. I dare say all the agencies hold the photographer responsible, but avoiding the issue in the first place by not having copyright breaching images on your books is probably the wiser option.

Stockxpert were next to reply. “We regret to inform you that your artist application was rejected. We are very sorry but at the moment we are not looking for pictures like the ones you uploaded“. Short and sweet but fair enough. Move on.

Shutterstock have a policy of requiring 7 or more of the 10 submitted photos to meet their grade before they will accept you. I was expecting a few rejections, but it was more than a bit disappointing to have all 10 rejected. I could understand if there reason had been similar to Stockxpert’s, but they actually slated most of the images saying they were of poor quality. You could argue that the composition may have been lacking in a couple, but lighting and white balance were fine so I don’t know what they were looking at. But time to move on, try again in a few months.

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Life beyond istock

July 9, 2009

As I mentioned briefly in the first post, while istock may be one of the better known agencies, there are plenty more to choose from. Once I started getting a couple more images accepted I decided to branch out and try a couple of the others. There is no definitive answer as to which agency will make you the most money. From what I hear and see, your style of photography and the themes that make up your portfolio will affect which agency works best for you. I am still trying to find my feet, so I have added Fotolia and Dreamstime. My istock images are now up to eight but I only have one image on fotolia and two images on dreamstime. And each agency has accepted and rejected different images to the rest. Hopefully before long I shall be able to spot what works for each stock agency and save myself some time.

My early impressions are still in favour of istock. Apart from only being able to upload one image at a time on istock, the three agencies all take about the same amount of time to upload, add titles, descriptions and keywords, but istock has a more professional feel to it. The management pages and stats are better and there is more of a sense of community. The serious downside of istock for a lot of people, and one which so far has not affected me, is that they have a limit of fifteen images in any given seven day period. Fotolia and Dreamstime allow something like 300 images which, assuming you have that many photos ready to upload, will see your portfolio grow at a much faster rate. And the bigger your portfolio, the more money you are going to make, in theory at least – I have seen portfolios with more sales from 50 images than others containing 500 images. It is possible to get average quality photos past the judges, but it is pointless because they won’t sell and will affect how your portfolio is perceived.

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What shall I take photos of?

July 6, 2009

As I have said previously, I consider myself a very average photographer. I have a Canon 400D with a couple of lenses and while I have read enough photography magazines to appreciate how to improve a photograph from a simple point and shoot, I still don’t have the mindset of a stock photographer. You know what the best way to learn how to shoot stock photography? Trawl through the catalogs of the various stock agencies. Have a look at what other people are shooting, and most importantly, what is selling. Without realising it, you will start to think differently about how to approach taking images. At this point, especially if you have looked at my portfolios, you are probably laughing at all this advice, coming from someone with hardly any sales and a tiny portfolio of decidedly below average quality. Well yes, I am hardly qualified to give advice, I am merely regurgitating what the experts keep saying, but compared to where I was even just a few weeks ago, I have found this advice has really started to make a difference to my images.

My current methodology is to look through the existing images on the agency’s books and try to find subjects that have little representation yet a high number of downloads on the better quality versions. I know the likes of istock are still saying they want business images but there are already billions of them and all done with a higher quality that I can hope to achieve at the moment. So while I would love to take an image of a group of office workers staring at a computer or shaking hands on a business deal, I have decided that this type of image is not for me. I find ideas come to me in unlikely situations, like when I am out buying a sandwich at lunch time. I have made myself a list and when I get time, usually at weekends, I try to shoot a couple and upload them. I think finding a niche is good way to get established. At the moment I am still looking.

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My first lesson in microstock

July 4, 2009

As I said in my previous post, I started out with my application to istock which was about a year ago, mid 2008. It took a while to get three images accepted but I was thrilled to get that email saying I had been accepted. I was surprised that I then needed to resubmit my three images as I assumed they would go straight into my portfolio. Anyway, no problem, I submitted them again. Imagine my surprise and confusion when two of the images were rejected. It didn’t make any sense to me, they had formed my basis for acceptance and now they suddenly weren’t good enough. I know now that I was getting my first taste of the fundamental flaw and associated luck that is a part of the microstock world. You see the problem with istock, and indeed all of the microstock agencies, is that the volume of images they need to assess means there isn’t just one person judging every image. And therefore each judges taste, no matter how trained to the agencies way, will differ. While the first judge had liked my three images, the second judge (assuming it was just one person who had seen all three photographs) had other ideas.

I have read and been told many times now, one of the golden rules of stock is learn to accept rejection and move on.

I did move on, and I did upload more photographs, but I fell into another trap that catches many people new to stock photography – I was so keen to get going, to see my first sale, that I trawled my hard drive, uploading images that I thought would fit the bill. Inevitably I got rejection after rejection and with a portfolio of two images I quickly lost interest. I checked back occassionally during the next few months, but despite a fair number of views on my photos, there were no sales. By this point I was viewing microstock as a failed experiment for me.

dead tree silhouetteIt wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I noticed that I had made two sales on my first microstock photograph that I got renewed enthusiasm and decided to have a better attempt at joining the microstock world. The photo had only made me $2.29 but it showed me that sales were actually possible and that there was money to be made.

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In the Beginning

July 1, 2009

With a lot of encouragement from my friend and stock mentor pdtnc I have joined the world of microstock.  I have been taking very average photographs for years and because I am not precious about my ‘art’ I was more than willing to jump at the chance to make a few bob by letting a stock photography agency sell my wares.  I started off with istock, but it only took a small amount of reading on the subject to realise there were lots of micro stock agencies lining up to sell images produced by enthusiastic amateurs as well as professionals. I don’t see it as anything more than a bit of a hobby and don’t expect I shall make much money out of it, but I was definitely inspired by the ethos of one microstock blogger, who posts under the name nil to mil. Their goal is to go from $0 to $1 million dollars through microstock sales. It is a great read and I hope they get there. It would make a great book.

So, once you decide to have a go at selling stock photography, where do you go to find out more about the subject?  I dare say there have been one or two books published but they certainly aren’t in every book shop.  It seems the miscrostock world, while growing rapidly, is still quite niche.  The best information I found was on blogs, published by people who were selling their own photographs and telling their story along the way.

I wasn’t planning to document my journey into microstock, because I didn’t think I had any information that would be of use or interest to anyone, but thinking about how much I enjoy reading other people’s experiences, and how valuable their information has been to me, I decided one more blog on the subject could not hurt.  So I hope what follows will be of interest to someone.