Making Your Living in Microstock Photography

The Difference Between Micro and Macro Stock Photography

An absolute beginner in stock photography should first learn to differentiate two types of stock photography - microstock and macrostock.

First there was only traditional stock photography or macrostock. Many professional photographers were shooting photos (and they still do) of high commercial quality for a wide range of uses such as magazines, books, corporate collaterals, etc. Usually, these photographers invested a lot of money in well thought out photo shoots and were more or less seriously devoted to making stock photos and making a living on them. These photos are sold through several macrostock agencies such as Getty, Corbis, Jupiter, Alamy, etc. Prices range from $100 to $500 and more per image for royalty free and can go up to several thousands for rights managed images (read more about the difference between royalty free and rights managed here). Obviously, in order to use these images one has to have a serious project budget leaving the amateurs and semi professionals who were creating low budget web sites or printed publications out of the game. Not to mention non-US countries with lower standard of living where these prices sound ridiculous.

So, obviously, there was a market gap that needed to be filled. Then rapid digital technology growth during the ninties made this possible. Suddenly, everyone could afford a camera that could produce decent photos. At the same time, online communities experienced an explosive expansion and evolution defining the so called crowdsourcing model. So at the beginning of the new century an army of tech-armed people was ready to kick some butts of "long established professionals" in all industries. Among the first affected were print publishing companies that were less needed now that everyone could find quality information on the Internet for free. For example, who needs Britannica or some other traditional encyclopedia when there's Wikipedia written by a countless number of volunteer editors and thus offered for free? Then the music industry had to suffer when MP3 files and file sharing devastated it during the nineties. Who needs Elektra and their $20 CD's when there's Napster or eMule (on the dark side) where you could download (steal, to be precise) whole discographies not paying a single penny? The same thing happened with digital photography at the beginning of 21st century. Digital cameras almost reached film quality while being at the same price level. Without the film, the whole process of making quality photos became much faster and way cheaper.

This made it possible for photo enthusiasts to produce more, refine their skills and have more fun doing what they love to do. So they started sharing their photos in an excitement of showing their achievements to other people. Why would they have anything against giving away their photos... it's their hobby anyway... it's supposed to be fun and being able to see your photo used in some design was satisfactory enough. These photo sharing communities soon realized that they could make some money out of this and so they started charging a symbolic fee of $1 for downloading a photo. And that's where the real fun started! was the first in the game (and still a leader in the industry) and many other more or less successful joined the game over the next couple of years. By 2005 it was clear that whole this business was no joke and someone had to do something about it. Traditional stock photographers decided to invest their efforts in constant whining over "amateurs who are devastating the industry" while their agencies took a more constructive approach and started acquiring these new so called microstock agencies. In February 2006, Getty Images, the largest agency by far with more than 30 percent of the global market, purchased iStockphoto for $50 million. “If someone’s going to cannibalize your business, better it be one of your other businesses,” says Getty CEO Jonathan Klein."

Anyway, the microstock photographers are here to stay and many of them are already making serious money on what they do. Also, the quality of images has dramatically improved over the last couple of years so more and more big companies use "$1 images" in their websites and other publications.

The question that you almost surely have on your mind now is "Can I earn in microstock as much as I could in macrostock?" The answer depends on many factors but in short: yes and no. :) If you go macro and if you have, say, 1000 really good images you'll probably (note the word "probably") be able to make some good money and you will not see your photos used by everyone and their uncle. On the other hand, with these same 1000 photos (it is important that they are really really good) you can definitely make a steady income of $2000-$3000 per month. In case you have less than 500 photos don't even bother going with macrostock but take these instant $500-1000 per month on micro agencies and work more and more, build your portfolio and you can switch whenever you want (but I'm sure you're not going to want it).




Sladjan Lukić - Sladjan is a photographer doing fashion, glamour and stock photography. Currently represented exclusively by iStockphoto. Click here to see his portfolio on or here to visit his photography website. Copyright © 2008 Web Dizajn Greenfish

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