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A Microstock Photographer Success Story …

Posted in Advantages of Microstock Photography, Disadvantages of Microstock Photography, Getting Started, Microstock Photography, Work From Home with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2009 by markwpayne


Dear Stock Photography Professionals, Amateur Photographers, Illustrators and Graphic Designers

“Success” is relative …

It was just over two years ago I started to research how to sell my photography when I caught “The Bug” to start selling my images online. In September of 2007 I decided to dedicate two years to explore the possibilities of the incredible world of stock photography. I felt that two years would be enough time to give me a chance to sink my teeth into training myself from any and all sources and to get up to speed, starting basically from scratch, on this rapidly expanding and growing industry. At the time I had never even picked up a photography book or taken a photoshop tutorial. It is now two years later, and while I feel I have come very far and achieved many successes, I find that there is always more to learn. I absolutely love this work !

In July of 2007 I relocated to Washington State after accepting a transfer to work at The Boeing Company’s Commercial Airplane Headquarters in Renton, Washington just outside of Seattle, Washington. Analyzing Market Research was my specialty. Driving out to Washington from Colorado during the course of my relocation I captured a few thousands pictures on a Canon SD750 camera. At that time I was interested in seeing if I could market my images by selling prints of them at festivals, art shows and galleries. It was during this period of research that I discovered the world of commercial stock photography.

My first site that I was approved as a contributor at was BigStockPhoto in September of 2007. For that reason alone I will always have a special place in my heart for them. I found that their entry criteria was not as strict as some of the larger sites. The same applies for 123rf so these are both excellent places to get your first exposure to in selling your photography online. That being said you will want to get into Shutterstock and iStockPhoto as soon as possible. This took me many months to achieve as I was starting from nearly complete scratch with the exception of strong information technology background.  FYI: Recently BigStockPhoto was acquired by the subscription based microstock giant Shutterstock .

Stock Photography Sites are often referred to by short abbreviations. It was more than a little confusing to myself when I first started researching microstock on the various forums so I will list a few abbreviations and / or terms that you may find useful to know the first time you encounter them:

My first sale came from the second site that I was approved at as a contributor which was Dreamstime. I initially sought out DT during a time when BigStockPhoto was halting uploading over the weekends. This is just one small example of the kind of roadblocks one faces when it comes to trying to build up an approved portfolio at a microstock agency.

At its most basic level, getting started in microstock photography takes just a few basic steps …

  • Check-out the various stock photography links on this blog
  • Browse the microstock sites and become familiar and get a feel for the photography on them
  • Prepare 3-10 of your best images in accordance to the respective standards of the site you wish to join
  • Submit your applications to become a contributor (a.k.a photographer) and get approved to contribute
  • Shoot Pictures. Post Process Images in Photoshop. Upload Photos to all sites for review. Repeat.
  • Collect the revenue from sales made each month across all sites over the years for the life of the image. Large subscription based sites such as Shutterstock will ultimately produce daily sales for you after your portfolio of approved images grows to a modest size of a few hundred images however credit based sale sites such as iStockPhoto will yield higher commissions at a much slower rate. There is constant debate over which is best. Most stock photographers submit all of their work to each of the most profitable microstock sites.
  • Receive your payout after reaching a threshold for each respective site. (ex. $50, $75, $100)

I believe a quick recap of where my interest in photography as a child came from will prove insightful to some readers …

Photography had been an interest of mine since I first began taking snapshot photos with “hand me down” cameras from my parents I was about 9 or 10 years old. It was probably around 1979-1981 ish when I first started using 110 film cameras that I usually borrowed from my mother. The first camera that I actually owned was a Polaroid One Step instant camera. I remember having to pay for my own film. Early on I mowed lawns and later on I worked for the family gas station starting at the age of 10 working for $2.00 / hour. At the very least I know I was responsible for paying for the cartridges of film which were very expensive for around ten photos if I remember correctly. This limited my ability to take pictures as I was saving up to pay my way for a $750.00 30-Day bus tour trip across the country with the Boy Scouts to the National Jamboree in Virginia in 1981. Since the film for my instant camera was so expensive my mother allowed me to borrow her Sony Disc Camera. I took both cameras on my 30-day bus tour “Reunion with History” to the Jamboree. The Statue of Liberty was getting a makeover during our tour but it was still amazing and one of my favorite subjects. However, when I went to the top of the “Twin Towers” World Trade Center, that was my favorite scene. The bridges and skyscrapers of New York City fostered my love for architecture and structures which I later studied at length. I plan to dig up a couple of those first photos of mine from that trip, scan them, and post them here as a point-of-reference …


1981 “Reunion With History” 30-Day Bus Tour of various historical sites of United States with Boy Scouts. Kodak Disc Camera borrowed from parents when I was 12 years old.

1985 Exposure to Mac Paint Graphic Programs on first Macintosh which parents bought 1986 Drafting  1,2,3 Architecture & Architecture Classes 1987-1991 Travel the world while serving in the United States Navy taking photos every step of the way. 1991 Leave the Navy to study Architecture at the University of Arizona. Learn AUTOCAD. 1999 First Photoshop and Image Ready exposure working with web design. 2000 Graduate University of Phoenix Bachelor of Science in Business  Major: Information Systems

2005 May Bought Digital Camera: Canon SD750

2007 July: Relocate to Washington State road trip from Colorado. Research Selling Prints / Selling digital files online.  Research Selling digital negative files

2007 September: Accepted into BSP

2007 October: Accepted into DT / Forum participation

2007 November: Thanksgiving Day 2007 was my 1st Microstock Sale at DT Accepted into Fotolia . BME across all sites. Joined Microstock Group Forum (MSG). 1st SS Application Rejected. Read Photography & Photoshop Books. Study free tutorials from The MIZ and many others.

2007 December: Join Featurepics. Make plans to buy my first DSLR camera by April or May 2008. New BME across all sites. Bus Travel  from Seattle Washington to Denver capturing many photos on this journey. Caught severe flu and ear infections after many winter weather related travel delays.  That took me out of action for most of January and the first part of February …

Illness contracted from December / January travel …

2008 January: New BME across all sites. Stock sales happen even when your down and out sick …

2008 February: Joined MostPhotos . Joined Zymmetrical.  BME’s at DT, BSP, SXP, Met stock photographer suwanneeredhead (Stacey Lynn Brown) through interactions as two of the first few Americans on MP . New BME across all sites.

2008 March: set-up first home studio. Continue to improve work for next SS and IS applications as these are the two largest revenue producing sites for a microstock photographer.  BMEs at DT, FT, 123RF, MP . New BME across all sites. 5th BME in a row.

Got my first DSLR …

2008 April: Buy first DSLR:  a used Canon Rebel XTI a.k.a 400D continue to shoot and begin working with fractals for part of my SS applications.  Not a BME … streak broken …

2008 May: Accepted into Shutterstock the last week of the month after to many applications to count.

2008 May: BME at DT.

2008 June: BME’s at SS, BSP, 123RF, MP. First Full month of Revenue from SS. New BME across all sites.

2008 July: BME’s at DT, BSP, FP, FT. WME at 123RF. Begin using Cushy Stock management software

2008 Sep:  September 25th propose marriage to suwanneereadhead (Stacey Lynn Brown)

2008 Oct:  Mark Payne (mwp1969) & Stacey Lynn Brown (suwanneeredhead) married in Seattle, Washington. First Extended License Sale on SS …  it must have been a belated wedding gift

2008 Dec:  Canon 55-250 IS lens received as Christmas gift from my beloved wife

2009 April: Accepted into iStockPhoto

2009 May: Upgrade to DSLR Canon Rebel XSI a.k.a Canon 450D

2009 June: Began doubling and tripling my upload efforts to all of the sites that I was behind on …

2009 September: Achieve my 300th image approval at SS.

2009 October: BME for number of sales at DT. Close to BMEs at SS & IS. Past 400th approval at SS …

2009 Nov: Achieve next level raise at SS . BMEs at both SS & IS. Roll-out initial microstock related blog.

2009 Dec: Achieve 500 & 600 stock images approved at SS.  Passed 1000 images online at MP. BMEs at ISDT , 123RF, SXP.

2010 Jan: Pass 700th stock image approved at SS. Pass 1200 images approved at 123RF. Achieved 100 approvals in two weeks at SS.  Vector illustration work. Explore PhotomatrixPro3 for HDR images.  1st application as Vector illustration contributor at IS. BME at SS, FT, SXP.

2010 Feb: Pass 800th stock image approved at SS. Joined relatively new site Graphic Leftovers (GL) Joined new site DepositPhotos (DP).  Slow short month without any BMEs.

2010 Mar: 1st Tear Sheet discovered on (Seattle home page). My image is the Seattle skyline background. 123rf and BSP introduce new website interfaces.  Joined midstock site Cutcaster. Had BDE at SS.  A Strong month overall and BME.  BME’s at SS, 123rf, DT, GL,.  DP contributed through its bonus program and we are awaiting to see if its sales takeoff like its initial marketing push.

2010 Apr: Started uploading select images as exclusive images to Fotolia. Graphic Leftovers and DepositPhotos continue to show promise as both myself and my referrals are starting to get sales there. They are both promising relatively new sites to explore. I’ve experience higher approval rates since starting to submit select exclusive images to FT.  BME at FT.

2010 May: I uploaded very little anywhere with the exception of some exclusive images to Fotolia.  BME at DT. Close to BME at FT.

2010 June: Summer sales (or lack thereof) slowdown very evident. I uploaded very little anywhere with the exception of some exclusive images to Fotolia.  No BMEs.

2010 July: Summer sales (or lack thereof) slowdown very evident. I uploaded very little anywhere with the exception of some exclusive images to Fotolia.  No BMEs. Signs of sales starting to pick back up towards the end of July.

2010 Aug-Dec: No Upload Activity. No BMEs.

2010 Dec. Introduced to new medium of sales with by my wife. Beginning prolific uploading and product creation. I plan to highlight this site here on my blog in the near future.

2011  Jan. Achieved “Today’s Best Art” awards on for the first time. Surpass 1200 products created. Continue uploading to Zazzle.  Sales are starting to come through. BME at 123rf.

I am always happy to help someone that is new or “a newbie” try to break into stock photography by submitting their own  images or illustrations for approval to be sold online.  This is a painstaking task if you try to figure  it all out on your own. I offer my own  trials and tribulations to you so that you might be able to avoid some of  them yourself along your way. Thank you in advance for checking out my image and design portfolios.

If your interested in submitting your own images and want to try and get started right away  you can do so through the my referral links which I have provided below and elsewhere on this page.  These links will help you get started with some of the very best, most favorable, and profitable microstock photography sites available on the web. The commissions from the sale of your own images will pay you again and again for the rest of the life so start exploring these sites today ! Thank you in advance for visiting them first through my links.  Signing up through someone’s referral link is one way of saying thank you for the helpful information.

For anyone that is approved to sell their images online after visiting through one my links … please be sure to contact me through the site, and I’ll be happy to assist you in anyway I can when it comes to understanding the nuances of that respective site.

Best of Luck !


My Referral Links to Top Producing Microstock Photography Websites:

Midstock Photography Sites:

Our Website: