Seems like a great time to get into the stock market…

OK – a statement like that sounds crazy given the current financial situation. But I’m talking about stock photography.

My dad was a serious photo enthusiast, and I grew up around 35mm SLRs and the smell of stop bath (is that why I love salt & vinegar potato chips?) I caught the bug, and once decent digital came along the infection progressed into full-blown photo fever.

Pre-internet I didn’t show my work to a lot of people, but those who saw it usually had nice things to say. Once the net came along – and I learned PHP – I built myself an online gallery/slideshow system that I think still beats a lot of the big players. But it never got much traffic, other than when I’d email people to “check out what I just shot”. Since I live for the approval of others (thanks to my upbringing: raised by wolves, forced to sit still for hours inside a locked, perfectly white cube) I never got the satisfaction my sad sad soul truly craved…sniff…

Now, I have realized I should take the time to explore Flickr. I recently helped Debra Prinzing set up a Flickr thumbnail gallery in her blog Shed Style – which of course required getting my own Flickr account to see how it works. It’s not the most beautiful interface, but it does seem that good images get nice commentary and feedback from other Flickr users. I think Flickr is definitely in my future.

But I wanted to aim a little higher first. I mean, some of my stuff is pretty good. Somebody ought to be willing to pay for it (besides those who are already hiring me to shoot for them, that is). Enter the world of microstock. Microstock is stock photography, sold relatively inexpensively over the internet. Probably the best-known agency in the US is iStockPhoto, and having used their site and content numerous times in design projects over the years, I was familiar with their system (mostly good) and the quality of their content (also mostly good). Seemed like a perfect fit, so yesterday I completed my iStock application.

The application process was fairly easy, but more involved than I expected. iStock expects contributors to exercise a certain amount of self-control in terms of what they upload. Of course they don’t want anything offensive, but image quality is also very important – images must be at least a certain size, without noise or artifacts. There are also quite a few subjects they consider off limits. Anything with an obvious logo or brand, but also a number of famous landmarks: Space Needle, Sydney Opera House, Empire State Building (a bummer – I have an amazing shot). Also no sunsets, flowers, or pictures of the cat. Apparently they’re drowning in those. Any recognizable people have to have model releases – makes sense, but it makes crowd shots difficult.

After working through their application-process “manual” I had to take a test. Just remember, nothing is allowed and every image is bad. The test is entirely “negative” examples – things you shouldn’t do, images you shouldn’t upload – and then asking whether it’s acceptable or not. Just say “no” and you’ll ace it.

At the end of the process I uploaded three sample images for them to review. If they think they’re good enough (I’m feeling pretty good about it) then some time in the next couple of weeks I’ll hear back, and I can start uploading images for real.

[my sample images - all taken last December in Montana]

It’s not going to be big-bucks – 20% to me, 80% to them, and their images sell for between about $1.20 and $10. So I’ve got to sell a lot of images. If I go exclusive with them (meaning any royalty-free stock I sell has to be through them) they’ll bump me up to 40%. But better than just leaving my images on a hard drive, doing nothing. Still, I’m excited to be putting my foot forward. Wish me luck!

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