The Top 5 Biggest Micro Stock Photography Mistakes

Written By Chris Garrett

Photography: Melissa Segal

If you put me on a spectrum from absolute beginner to photographer super star I would be firmly in the first percentile. My skills are fair-to-middling. That’s ok, I am just beginning and right now am learning lots and enjoying the activity of photography even if I am not earning more than pennies at it.

With this perspective of the lousy-but-enthusiastic I am perhaps closer to my mistakes than others might be. Let me describe a few and see if they resonate with you?

1. Not taking enough pictures
I am not sure if it is perfectionism or a hold-over from the days where we had to pay for film and processing, but many photographers I go for photo walks with do not take enough snaps in my view. There is a famous saying that your first 10,000 photographs are your worst. Well to me that says get snapping away! Seriously though, my biggest photography improvements came when I forced myself to take more and more photographs. I took part in a 30-day challenge, one picture a day to be uploaded for all to see. Of course that meant for me taking closer to 100 just to get one I wasn’t too embarrassed about! My photography came on leaps and bounds, try it yourself. The more photographs you take, the better chance of creating some good ones, and the more chance you have of grabbing sales!

2. Confusing quantity and quality
OK, I advise you to TAKE lots of pictures, but I don’t mean keep all of them. There is nothing worse than a slide show or gallery full of what amount to out-takes. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is almost as important as what happens when you take them. Put your care, energy and attention on a few from each shoot rather than dumping your whole memory card on your unsuspecting album viewers. While having more photographs over more stock sites CAN give you an edge by broadening your catchment potential, if they are poor quality or all the same you will do nothing other than shoot yourself in the foot.

3. Focusing on gear rather than technique
How many lens-obsessed friends do you have? Look in any forum and the majority of conversation tends to be about gear rather than technique. Yes, a good body and lens combination is worth having, BUT the very best kit in the world can not replace a good photographers eye and a flash of inspiration. Learn to take better photographs, let your wallet rest until you need that bit of gear you have been lusting over. While you do need to have a bare minimum standard of equipment, what separates a sold picture from an overlooked picture is the ability of the photographer and quality of the result.

4. Rushing
The first photograph idea that comes to you is not always the best. On top of that, if you just pop off a few snaps there is likely to be an exposure or blurring issue. Take your time. Use a tripod. It’s not a race. Could you shoot from a better angle? Is there anything distracting in frame? Is your picture iconic? What are you describing? All this takes thought. While the experts can do a lot instinctively, most of us have to stop and think to get it right.

5. Not thinking marketability
I see many beautiful photographs on stock photography sites that get zero sales. Why? Because they are art, not photographs that people can USE. For stock you have to always think ahead to how your photograph might be used in a web page, a magazine spread, an advertisement, etc. Will they need some white space for text? Does the figure need to be isolated? Have you included copyrighted signage? Always have in your mind that a buyer will want to use your picture in some way. They will only buy if your picture conveys a clear message and is usable.

I’m by no means an expert, I have made all of these mistakes at some point, but talking to more successful contacts has made me see the error of my ways. Do you see any of these mistakes being made? Got other mistakes to share? Let me know in the comments …

This is a guest post by Chris Garrett who has just started out making his first stock photography sales and blogs at and

[tags] microstock photography, microstock [/tags]

8 comments for this post.

  1. ED Said:

    I found one microstocks sites trash is another ones treasure. I had one picture deleted on one but sold on another.. you just don't know who wants what. I think whether you sell or not depends on who's judging that day or that minute or what mood they are in.

  2. Mike Panic Said:

    All 5 points are very true.

    Ed - this is true - but really depends on what demographic and market the microstock site is pushing towards, and how well you keyword the shots.

    Keywording, in my opinion, is one of the most over-looked parts of successfully selling microstock.

  3. Anonymous Said:

    Nice article. I mostly shoot isolated images at the moment, and my best selling image is a macro shot of a dime. It's definitely interesting to do.

  4. Corey Scherrer Said:

    Working in the stock photography industry and a photographer myself (mutually exclusive) I see thousands of images sold for stock, both on the elite and micro stock sites. I agree with these points above, as they are good stepping-stones for successful and saleable imagery.

    In addition to these points I would suggest studying images on any of the large stock sites for cues on trends and styling. If using models, it might be worth a little investment in a good application of makeup and clothing. Also be extremely aware of the surroundings removing objects or repositioning the shot around distractions that will otherwise ruin a good photo. A few small observant steps while shooting will save hours trying to get the photo right in postproduction.

    I would also recommend an iron clad model and property release. These are pretty easy to come by and will save you from potential costly litigation if a person comes after you in the future for wrongful use of their image. Remember this is stock so it could end up anywhere.

    Also remember that logos and brands are heavily copyrighted. Even something such as a designer chair or lamp can get you in hot water if the company feels you are using their copyrighted material without proper authorization.


  5. Pez Said:

    Chris, you are right on with your comments. To become better at anything you have to get out and do it, over and over. I found as my quantity rose, so did my quality. I began to wake up each day having a clearer idea of what to shoot based on my "accidents" the day before. LOL.

    I am now represented by 4 agencies and having the time of my life.

  6. tommroch Said:

    Microstock has seriously stifled my creativity!

    Where once I was 'creative', I now make useful images. What Chris said in point 5 above I have found so true. That is:

    "I see many beautiful photographs on stock photography sites that get zero sales. Why? Because they are art, not photographs that people can USE."

    Thank you Chris.

  7. The 'sell photos online' Dude Said:


    Some great common sense writing that we can all learn from. I think we need to know what not to do as well as what we should be doing.

    BTW, I just posted an article about learning photography from a marketer's perspective at my blog, and linked to this page. Your article is quite relevant to mine.

    Thanks - Keep up the good work. 🙂


  8. gnohz Said:

    Thanks a lot for the enlightenment. Makes a lot of sense to me and will definitely help me in the long run in microstock as well as my own photo site.

    All the best 🙂

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