Offsetting cost of this hobby...microstock?

Started Feb 1, 2013 | Discussions
gnagel
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Offsetting cost of this hobby...microstock?
Feb 1, 2013

I'm not quite sure where to place this thread!

I've delved into the world of microstock. I know that for some this is controversial. My objective is simply to offset some of the cost of this rather expensive hobby. And, the most expensive part of this hobby for me has been the lenses!

In any event, I started experimenting with some microstock uploads a few years ago. Over the past three years, the revenues have grown to over $500 per month. At this point, it pays for a camera upgrade, a new lens and maybe a photography trip during the year.

I know many are interested in ways to make money using photographs that they have already taken. So, I thought I would share some information about my experiences in this area.

Please feel free to visit my photography blog if you are interested in reading more about this and viewing the earnings by agency by month:

http://www.nagelphotography.com/blog/2013/2/microstock-earnings-through-january

Thanks...and I hope that this information is helpful.

Glenn

virtualkyr
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Re: Offsetting cost of this hobby...microstock?
In reply to gnagel, Feb 1, 2013

If you can find things you can do to earn money at your hobby, then a lucrative world of tax breaks awaits at your door, which can be a good thing.

Check with a legit CPA to make sure you're doing things the right way.

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tundracamper
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Re: Offsetting cost of this hobby...microstock?
In reply to virtualkyr, Feb 1, 2013

I agree heavily with the above.  In addition, property taxes, insurance, and all that mess change when it becomes a "business."

I do appreciate you posting your numbers.  I have been seriously contemplating my "exclusivity" over at iStock.  Your ShutterStock numbers gave me a big pause when I first saw them. They are quite big when compared to the iStock numbers.  However, when I did an apples-to-apples comparison, I may just stay where I'm at.  When I look at your total income relative to the number of images (i.e. $7,044/1901), that comes out to about $3.71 per image per year.  Of course, I am assuming the other portfolios are simply a subset of those on Shutterstock since it has the most images. When I look at my total iStock income for 2012 relative to the number of images I have today, the result is just under $3.80 per image per year.  Given that I have added quite a few images the past few months, I am not so sure the extra headache of managing multiple portfolios would be worth dropping exclusivity for a increase in income that may not happen.  Of course, if I were starting from scratch in the last year or so, I would definitely go the multiple agency route as the "exclusivity" road is not near as enticing as it used to be.  In my case, though, it looks like staying may be the best move financially.

Interesting information.

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gnagel
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Re: Offsetting cost of this hobby...microstock?
In reply to tundracamper, Feb 1, 2013

tundracamper wrote:

I agree heavily with the above. In addition, property taxes, insurance, and all that mess change when it becomes a "business."

I do appreciate you posting your numbers. I have been seriously contemplating my "exclusivity" over at iStock. Your ShutterStock numbers gave me a big pause when I first saw them. They are quite big when compared to the iStock numbers. However, when I did an apples-to-apples comparison, I may just stay where I'm at. When I look at your total income relative to the number of images (i.e. $7,044/1901), that comes out to about $3.71 per image per year. Of course, I am assuming the other portfolios are simply a subset of those on Shutterstock since it has the most images. When I look at my total iStock income for 2012 relative to the number of images I have today, the result is just under $3.80 per image per year. Given that I have added quite a few images the past few months, I am not so sure the extra headache of managing multiple portfolios would be worth dropping exclusivity for a increase in income that may not happen. Of course, if I were starting from scratch in the last year or so, I would definitely go the multiple agency route as the "exclusivity" road is not near as enticing as it used to be. In my case, though, it looks like staying may be the best move financially.

Interesting information.

Yes...iStock pays much more per download, but yields far fewer downloads per image.  Shutterstock uses a completely different model.  It allows many buyers to download so many images per day for a fixed subscription price. When images are selected under that plan, Shutterstock might only pay me 36 cents per download.  However, it isn't unusual to have 30 or more downloads in a day from that plan.  And, buyers still purchase images under the iStock type system within Shutterstock...so each week I generate a number of images that sell for $3 or even $28.  On occasion, some go for over $100 per download--depending upon the intended usage.

Glenn

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Brigcam
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Re: Offsetting cost of this hobby...microstock?
In reply to gnagel, Feb 1, 2013

Lovely photos on your site.

You stated on your blog "The rejections were related to my post processing treatments." I'm curious, how did they wish you to PP your photos?

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gnagel
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Re: Offsetting cost of this hobby...microstock?
In reply to Brigcam, Feb 1, 2013

Brigcam wrote:

Lovely photos on your site.

You stated on your blog "The rejections were related to my post processing treatments." I'm curious, how did they wish you to PP your photos?

The agencies typically want the images to appear as "unprocessed" and clean as possible.  It's important to remain light with sharpening and to not be too aggressive with any tonal adjustments from the RAW file (levels, curves, etc.).  Also, they will spot it if there is just one hot pixel or any dust spots at all.  I'm amazed at what they see during inspection.

Glenn

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lukep
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what else do the agencies look for?
In reply to gnagel, Feb 1, 2013

This is a super interesting thread, glad you posted it!

How about photo sharpness and other issues like that.  For example with landscapes are they concerned with corners?

If the iso goes up on a shot are they concerned with sharpness?

For my business we have used Istock so this is very interesting to see the other end of things

thanks for posting and ill continue to follow this thread

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lukep
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now the other problem...
In reply to lukep, Feb 1, 2013

Looking at your portfolio you have AMAZING photos.  So I doubt the average photographer could make that much per month but it would be interesting to hear from others here that also work with stock agencies.

great photos on your site - have you entertained any other ways to make money with your photography   I dont know the business of photography well enough

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gnagel
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Re: what else do the agencies look for?
In reply to lukep, Feb 1, 2013

lukep wrote:

This is a super interesting thread, glad you posted it!

How about photo sharpness and other issues like that. For example with landscapes are they concerned with corners?

If the iso goes up on a shot are they concerned with sharpness?

For my business we have used Istock so this is very interesting to see the other end of things

thanks for posting and ill continue to follow this thread

Thanks!

Generally, if the images aren't tack sharp, the agencies will reject them. I think the standards have risen in recent years as these agencies already have millions of images in their portfolios and can be more picky about additions. I look at some of the inferior images within the portfolio of some of these agencies and then discover that nearly all of those images were added years ago. Things are much tougher today.

Yes...they are concerned with corners of landscapes. And, they can almost tell whenever I raise my ISO settings a notch (even at 800 on the D700)...and they tend to reject most photos in which I've attempted to reduce any noise at all.

Glenn

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gnagel
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Re: now the other problem...
In reply to lukep, Feb 1, 2013

lukep wrote:

Looking at your portfolio you have AMAZING photos. So I doubt the average photographer could make that much per month but it would be interesting to hear from others here that also work with stock agencies.

great photos on your site - have you entertained any other ways to make money with your photography I dont know the business of photography well enough

Thanks very much!

This has always been a fun hobby for me. The only reason I was attracted to microstock is that I don't really have to do anything different. I get calls asking if I'll do "assignments" and I always turn those down. I shoot what I like to shoot and that's it! So, I haven't really investigated other ways of making money from photography yet.

However, I might be interested in looking into photo shows at some point...

Glenn

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BobSC
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Re: Offsetting cost of this hobby...microstock?
In reply to virtualkyr, Feb 1, 2013

virtualkyr wrote:

If you can find things you can do to earn money at your hobby, then a lucrative world of tax breaks awaits at your door, which can be a good thing.

Check with a legit CPA to make sure you're doing things the right way.

In the USA things aren't too difficult. You just file a Schedule C. If you use any of the popular tax preparation software it walks you through the process. My wife's teaches music lessons and performs for money so I do the Schedule C. It locks you into that software though, because once you set up depreciation schedules you don't want to translate them to some other software. I had to do that when we stopped using a tax preparer and started using "the box."
You can write off all sorts of things. In her case file cabinets, instrument parts, repairs, cases.. You can write off mileage, and portions of lodging and meals. It's a little more aggressive, but if you have space dedicated to your small business in your house you can deduct that too.
I've been told that so long as you earn more than you deduct you're generally safer, as far as audit flags. We don't deduct the portion of our house that my wife uses exclusively for her business, even though it is substantial, because then we would show losses every year. We might get away with it, but the potential downside is too big and I'm too risk averse.
If you don't make so much money that it makes sense to do all the record keeping (my own musical hobby brings in a few $100 a year, but the expenses are much greater) you can offset hobby related income with expenses. Technically you're supposed to show the income and the expenses on your 1040, but I just keep all the receipts. I wouldn't have any difficulty showing that I spent way, way more than I brought in.

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Cerumen
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Re: Offsetting cost of this hobby...microstock?
In reply to gnagel, Feb 1, 2013

Glen, nice to see your talents finding a venue. I've been a fan of yours for years.

Me, I've been exclusive to iStock since 2006, and been very pleased with the rewards over the years. Even ignoring the significant income it provided, I've learned more about photography in the last 7 years than the prior 20.

You nailed it with your description of the inspectors. I've found them to be amazingly accurate in finding faults. And I've learned from every rejection.

The thing about stock is that it's a numbers game, since (typically) 80 percent of contributors'  income is from 20 percent of the images. Images go stale over time, or they get buried in search results, or they get copied by a better-executed version.

I'm not confident that iStock's a place I'd put my eggs anymore, certainly not as an exclusive. In general, I'd describe learning how to shoot stock as a unique self-instruction and creative challenge, a chance to truly put your work out there. Congrats on your success.

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tundracamper
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Re: what else do the agencies look for?
In reply to gnagel, Feb 2, 2013

gnagel wrote:

Yes...they are concerned with corners of landscapes. And, they can almost tell whenever I raise my ISO settings a notch (even at 800 on the D700)...and they tend to reject most photos in which I've attempted to reduce any noise at all.

Now that I find interesting. I haven't had my D700 long enough to test what iStock will take from it in terms of ISO. However, I'm fairly certain the max ISO they have accepted from my D300 is AT LEAST 1600. It is possible to get a clean image at these ISOs... it's just not possible to push the exposure as much in post. I have also applied noise reduction to numerous images w/o rejection. One just can't go overboard. Plus, in using CaptureNX, it is possible to apply selective noise control to just the areas that need it, which is often the background or in the shadows, where sharpness may not be so necessary.

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gnagel
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Re: Offsetting cost of this hobby...microstock?
In reply to Cerumen, Feb 2, 2013

Eric,

Thanks for your kind words.  Your portfolio is very impressive--such interesting and clean images!

Glenn

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gnagel
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Re: what else do the agencies look for?
In reply to tundracamper, Feb 2, 2013

tundracamper wrote:

gnagel wrote:

Yes...they are concerned with corners of landscapes. And, they can almost tell whenever I raise my ISO settings a notch (even at 800 on the D700)...and they tend to reject most photos in which I've attempted to reduce any noise at all.

Now that I find interesting. I haven't had my D700 long enough to test what iStock will take from it in terms of ISO. However, I'm fairly certain the max ISO they have accepted from my D300 is AT LEAST 1600. It is possible to get a clean image at these ISOs... it's just not possible to push the exposure as much in post. I have also applied noise reduction to numerous images w/o rejection. One just can't go overboard. Plus, in using CaptureNX, it is possible to apply selective noise control to just the areas that need it, which is often the background or in the shadows, where sharpness may not be so necessary.

There's no question that high ISO images can get accrepted. My rejection rate increases dramatically as the ISO increases. Sometimes I wonder if the inspectors are noting the ISO from the EXIF data and basing the rejection from that.  The reason for rejection sometimes mentions that quality is highest at base ISO...and of course I strive for that, ut it isn't always practical.  Perhaps my noise reduction techniques need some work...although I do apply NR selectively as well.

Glenn

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Cerumen
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Re: what else do the agencies look for?
In reply to gnagel, Feb 2, 2013

I've got stock from D70, D200 and D700. I always shot D70 at base (200), was able to go to 320 on the D200, and I've had a few 1600 ISO accepted with the D700. Funny thing is, I still make a few dollars off the old D70 pictures.

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tundracamper
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Re: what else do the agencies look for?
In reply to Cerumen, Feb 2, 2013

Cerumen wrote:

.... Funny thing is, I still make a few dollars off the old D70 pictures.

Absolutely!  Image sales are not  related to a camera. My best selling image was taken with a D80 that I no longer have.  Thinking about that helps me remember it's not about the camera, but how I use It!  Not only that, I rarely sell large files. I decided to add FX to my bag recently. After looking at what sold in my microstock portfolio, it became apparent the the files from a D800 would not really make me that much more money. Of course, that could be wrong, but I nevertheless opted for a used D700.

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punman
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Re: what else do the agencies look for?
In reply to tundracamper, Feb 2, 2013

Thanks for the insights.

I checked out your link and your images are stunning.

Do you find that certain aspect ratios are more in demand than others? 2x3 vs 4x5 or square, etc.

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gnagel
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Re: what else do the agencies look for?
In reply to punman, Feb 2, 2013

punman wrote:

Thanks for the insights.

I checked out your link and your images are stunning.

Do you find that certain aspect ratios are more in demand than others? 2x3 vs 4x5 or square, etc.

Thanks very much for your comments.  I haven't noticed any correlation between aspect ratio and the number of downloads sold.

Glenn

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Alex Notpro
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Re: Offsetting cost of this hobby...microstock?
In reply to gnagel, Feb 2, 2013

Great work!

I've had photos rejected by all major microstock agencies. And it wasn't for excessive post-processing (I rarely do any PP, except very recently experimenting some some Art effects on my new E-PM2, but those aren't serious photos). Do you have any tips for me? Thanks

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