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Do you have your hard discs full of stock images and stock footage that you could make an income from, but you don't have the time and desire to describe them?

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I use to make about $3.000 per month selling my photos and videos online, even if in the last two years I created other digital projects, and unfortunately today I can spend just a few hours a week producing microstock.

In the previous episode, I explained what microstock is. The collections of agencies, today are not contributed by large production companies, but they are made by content created by people like me, that I had another kind of job until a few years ago, and

today I create stock images and stock footage with no more than 1500 euros equipment.

Today I film with:

  • a Canon EOS 700D, or Rebel T5i, which costs about 500 euros
  • the 17-40 L series lens
  • a Manfrotto tripod with fluid head

along with other accessories such as:

  • high-speed memory cards
  • three original spare batteries.

If you are short on budget you can buy used equipment, paying attention to the lens and the head of the tripod.

Microstock has existed since decades ago, but to become a producer 20 years ago you had to spend at least $50.000 to have a professional camera. In 2008, Canon launched the Eos 5d Mark II for $2700. Microstock producers who bought it were able to produce high end footage, spending a little more than what a hobbyist did a few years before to buy a VHS camera.

When an industry changes in one day thanks to technology, everything that is around that industry changes the same way. It happened with Napster for record companies, or it happened with Netflix for Blockbuster.

Thanks to that camera:

microstock producers changed. And also the business model changed and so buyers.

If in 2000 buyers of stock images and stock footage were high budget productions, like:

  • the website of a multinational Company that could pay 500 dollars for the photo of its home page
  • National Geographic that could pay 1000 dollars to get a cassette with a 10 seconds video of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

today those kind of customers still buy stock images and stock footage. They do it on

as you can check in the final credits of many productions and they don't use cassettes or catalogs anymore. They can buy faster and in a simpler way. Along with them, also started buying content:

  • local TV channels
  • famous Youtubers
  • small studios and even teachers who have to create a PowerPoint presentation,

because that 5 or 10 seconds clip does not cost $500 anymore, but $79 on Shutterstock and $49 on Storyblocks.

I said National Geographic channel use to buy clips on Pond5, something like:

  • the Brandenburg Gate with tourist in front of it
  • the Colosseum in modern days.

I'm sure you wonder why they buy stock footage instead of creating it. I explain to you why talking about what happens in a documentary production because, as you already know, I was a story editor for TV.
Let's say they are producing a show called

  • the biggest stadium in the world.

At some point the voice over says something like:

These are the modern stadiums. But what was the first real stadium in history?

The edition plan should be something like:

  • jingle for 2 seconds with a Rome panorama
  • voice over starts to talk saying:

This is the Coliseum today, but 2000 years ago it was a real stadium that hosted events with 50.000 spectators.

Over this voice, the editors insert 4 or 5 clips of the Colosseum nowadays. Then the voice-over starts talking about something else.

National Geographic needs 15 seconds of videos shot in modern Rome. For finding them, they have two different ways:

  1. Send two people from the United States, paying them the flight, the hotel, the salary and waiting a week to see what they bring home.
  2. Connect to Pond5, write Colosseum in the search box, take a look at the thousand clips that appear, choose, pay an average of 50 dollars a video and have everything they need 10 minutes later.

What do they choose to do?


buyers can take advantage of microstock agencies more than contributors.

I realized this ten years ago, that's why today I earn $3000 a month only working a few hours a week to produce.

On Wikipedia you can find a beautiful sentence in the Microstock photography page:

With the higher penetration of smartphones with ever better cameras, most amateurs can create high quality photography wherever they are.

You know I created a 27 lessons course about selling photos and videos online, but I also have another course, at the moment only in Italian, on how to build a business with videos.

In one of the first lessons I made a qualitative comparison between three filming devices I have:

  • a GoPro
  • an Iphone
  • my old Canon EOS 550d with the 17-40 L-series lens.

The GoPro has an awful image quality. For other reasons it's great. For example, I use it because I have a chest mount so I can film without any effort.
What I didn't expect, even if I own all the camera I tested, was that the Canon EOS and the IPhone were not that different from video and photo quality.

If you're shooting outdoors and you don't need to use a wide aperture, it's difficult to notice the differences. That said, my advice for producing stock images and stock footage is not to use a smartphone, because:

  1. shallow depth of field is necessary for many situations, and the most advanced smartphone App at the moment cannot create the same effect, even if they are getting into this.
  2. Tripods for smartphones are not that professional, so the movement you can make is not fluid.
  3. In low light conditions, DSLR is better.

Now, if an old-school photographer is listening, I know he's interested in making money with microstock, but he's also angry with me. As you know, my website has a lot of visitors every day, so I sometimes get emails from people who are technically better than me but earn only $20 per month selling stock footage and stock images.

Do you know the reason why?

Microstock for photographers is like math for entrepreneurs. A genius of numbers won't become a successful businessman for sure. To create microstock you must know composition rules or how to work with shutter speed and aperture size, but understanding what buyers want is far more important.

  • To be a producer that make money you need to create efficient workflows that allow you to create content in the shortest time possible.
  • To be found by buyers, you need to create titles, descriptions, and keywords that are better indexed by agencies, which is something boring and that no artists love, but it is necessary to make more money.

My monthly income shows that I know how to do all of this, unlike what people who earn $20 a month write on forums and Facebook groups.

To build a business with the web, you need one simple thing. Be better than others. First, you have to understand the rules then you have to create a strategy and finally execute it in the best possible way.

You don't have to blame the world if you fail to create what you would like to. You just have to blame yourself.

If you want to sell your photos and your videos online, as anyone who owns a DSLR can do, you have to learn the basic rules of microstock and after that, there's only you and the quality of your work, which sometimes is made of creativity and often is made of boring tasks.

I need you to understand that the photos that you have on your smartphone now, won't sell in microstock. I hope you didn't think that the selfie of you and your boyfriend can have a chance to become a best seller stock image.
In the next episodes I will tell you more about that, but for now, please don't make the mistake of thinking that some buyer is interested in the photos you took during your last summer holidays.

Creating microstock is:

  1. traveling
  2. managing your time as you prefer
  3. living selling what you create.

In other words: a job that 7 billion people in the world would like to do, so there is a lot of competition and you first have to study. Or at least you have to find someone who teaches you everything in the shortest time possible.

Daniele Carrer