Professional Photographers Turn to Microstock


Photography: Sadik Demiroz/Shutterstock

It took Shutterstock two years to gather its first million images. It took the company just over three months to increase its library from five million to six million photos. That growth represents an acceptance rate of around 70,000 new photos every week — and yet, Shutterstock says, it continues to reject more than 60 percent of the submissions it receives.

Shutterstock’s landmark was reached at the end of February 2009 but more interesting even than the fact that photographers are submitting to the company at a rate of 112,000 photos a week was the photographer who created that six millionth photo. The image depicting flowers on the British coast was taken by Turkish photographer, Sadik Demiroz.

Unlike many of Shutterstock’s 144,000 contributors, Sadik is not a part-time shooter hoping to earn a little extra cash from his  hobby. He has an MFA in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design, and teaches in the Fine Arts Faculty of Maltepe University, Istanbul. In the fifteen years that he has been shooting professionally, Sadik has had seven solo exhibitions and his images have picked up more than 200 awards, including Best of Show at the Hasselblad Austrian Super Circuit and the Gaudi Medal at the 39th Gaudi Photographic Exhibition in Spain. He has been selling his images through traditional stock companies since 1997 and shoots every day, sometimes placing his images on stock companies, sometimes on microstock and often working directly with clients as a commercial photographer.

If You Can’t Beat Microstock, Join It

While many professional photographers remain appalled at microstock’s low prices, others, it seems, have decided that the best response is to join in.

“Microstock represents the direction in which the industry is moving,” explains Sadik. “I chose microstock as a sales channel because I believe it represents the future of stock photography and I want to be a part of it.”

At the moment, microstock represents only a small part of Sadik’s photography earnings. Forty percent of his sales still comes from traditional stock and just 15 percent from microstock. But Sadik has only been submitting microstock images for five months during which time he’s managed to create a 1,100-strong portfolio at Shutterstock while also contributing to Dreamstime, Fotolia, iStock, PantherMedia, BigStock and 123rf. Numbers, he argues, are important. The more images in your online portfolio, the greater your chances of making money. In the future, Sadik sees himself shooting only low-cost, royalty-free images.

That’s a career plan that’s likely to horrify professional photographers who see the value of their portfolios decline as buyers too turn to microstock for their image sources. No high-quality photograph, they would argue, should be sold for a dollar, and photographers who offer good images for those prices are undervaluing their work and harming other professionals. Nor do they understand why anyone would choose to sell their photos for a buck when they could sell it for far more elsewhere.

Simple Images Sell Best on Microstock

The answer, Sadik argues, is income that’s both regular and reliable. Even though the individual payments are small, the frequency and reliability with which they arrive outweigh the occasional nature of regular stock sales and the difficulty of achieving them.

“What some people might not realize is that microstock images continually produce income,” he says. “A good image posted on a microstock site is like an investment because it constantly returns profits for years down the line…. As many professional photographers can attest, it is not always easy to secure a fair payment for rights-managed images.”

The shift away from traditional stock is not entirely straightforward, however. Although Sadik expects most rights-managed photos to become microstock eventually, his editor currently helps him to choose which images he sells on a rights-managed basis and which he offers royalty-free. Good artistic photos, and even good traditional stock photos, do not necessarily sell well in a microstock environment Sadik has discovered.

“I have found personally that images that get one clear message across are the best: a hand reaching for a heart, or two businessmen shaking hands, for example.”

Sadik’s top-selling images include close-ups of food, as well as rural landscapes.

Of course, Sadik isn’t the only professional photographer to be attracted by frequent, if low-priced, sales. Yuri Arcurs famously rejected an offer from a traditional stock company to remain with microstock and stock photographer Ron Chapple has created his own microstock portfolio, iofoto, licensing his images through a dozen different microstock sites.

Ron though continues to shoot traditional stock, selling through Corbis, JupiterImages and Getty. The diversity, he argues, makes good business sense. Standing in both camps gives his company stability even as the market environment continues to change. Rights-management also allows him to negotiate appropriate usage for images that lack model or property releases.

While Sadik seems to be preparing for a world without Getty – or rather, a world in which Getty sells its licenses through iStock – that combination of traditional and microstock sales is perhaps a more likely future. Getty itself has just launched its Flickr collection, offering the high quality images it’s found on the photo-sharing site on both a royalty-free and rights-managed basis. Instead of simply placing the photos on its microstock outlet, Getty is demanding prices that range from around $50 for a royalty-free photo to several thousand for a rights-managed image depending on usage.

It’s unlikely then that traditional stock photography is going disappear altogether. Buyers still see a difference between the simple, single-idea shots that sell well on microstock and the more complex and varied photos available on stock sites. We just might find that more professionals like Sadik are tempted by microstock’s frequent sales — and that Shutterstock’s seventh million photo won’t be too far away.

4 comments for this post.

  1. lolo Said:

    Interesting article. Moving of photographers the other way also exist i.e microstock photographers who as they develop their skills and porfolio start sending their pictures to RM agencies.
    You are mentioning Shutterstock’s 144,000 contributors but I bet they are a lot less than that if you consider the ones who gave up on submitting and the ones who never get accepted as contributors but who are registered initially....

  2. Cherry Said:

    Thanks for this post, it made me rethink some strategies. I suppose the combination of micro stock and traditional stock could be the best bet these days.

  3. microstockphoto Said:

    Nice article. Glad to see that professional photographers are ready to experiment with new ways of selling pictures: professionalism is in making photos - and no doubt yours are great - regardless of how they are being sold.

  4. Steve Debenport Said:

    Good article. It's hard to tell what the stock world will look like in a few years, but I do think RM will not go away. It may be reduced more, but I think there will always be a need for exclusive photo licenses. By the way, I could see an future article entitled "Microstock Photographers turn Professional." ( word-play on this title 🙂 )

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