Secrets of Microstock SuperStars

While in New York City last week for PhotoPlus Expo and the PACA (Picture Archive Council of America) International Conference, I attended a panel comprised of ‘Microstock SuperStars” moderated by PDN’s Daryl Lang. I heard some words of wisdom from the panel members that I thought might be useful to many of you.

Panel member Yuri Arcurs emphasized the importance of building your brand within the overall site. He offered that an important aspect of his success is a consistent and identifiable style. By having a recognizable look, he attracts loyal users that search on his portfolio, sometimes bypassing the general search. He keeps his name prominent by offering tips and suggestions on his portfolio page as well as offering educational and informative videos on his personal blog from his own website.

Andres Rodriguez suggested that creating original treatments of common themes and photographing neglected subjects are important. He offered his photo of a database designer writing on a clear surface as an example of a neglected subject that he discovered while searching for an image for a client. When he couldn’t find an appropriate image, he realized that others had probably also searched in vain for such an image and so he shot it.

For the benefit of the traditional professional photographers who normally are in the majority at PhotoExpo seminars, Lee Torrens from Microstock Diaries described the four types of microstock contributors as:

1. Single individuals that have found microstock as an outlet for their hobby or passion for photography.

2. Individuals whose skill levels have grown from amateur to pro that find that if they hire assistants and other staff, they can increase their output and sales.

3. Professional photographers who come to microstock already staffed up and working as stock photographers

4. Production companies that aggregate the work of a few or many photographers under one brand. All agreed that the average RPI (return per image) is around $3-4 up to as much as $10 for some ‘Microstock SuperStars'. Yuri also said that the RPI in microstock is now close to or exactly the same as the average for traditional stock. The difference is microstock photographers have learned to keep their production costs down. While a traditional photographer may spend upwards of $10,000 to twice that much on a production, the high for microstock should not exceed $4000/shoot day to yield 100-200 selects from a take of between 1500 to 2000 images. The highest costs are thus around $20 to $40/image. In a recent interview in PDN, Yuri, suggested that $10/image is a good place to land for production costs.

The superstars advised the traditional stock photographers in the audience to cut their production budgets in half in order to financially succeed in microstock. (I recall a quote from an earlier blog where I suggested that cutting a zero off a budget figure would be about right!) One way that the Superstars have learned to cut costs is by using their friends and family members as models. Lee Torrens mentioned that the most famous women models in the microstock world are Yuri’s partner and Andres’s sister.

The panel agreed on the importance of analytical research on what is selling, what keywords are the most successful and what subjects that are overlooked. The danger is over analysis that results in everyone attempting to copy the best sellers. This results in thousands of images that resemble each other. In my opinion part of what has caused some traditional royalty free sales to diminish is the never-ending repetition of subject matter and style in the collections. I asked the panel how they are combating the possibility that their colleagues on the site could cannibalize their sales by copying the most successful images. Andres responded that he always reaches for a higher level of creativity and to find neglected but important subjects to shoot. Yuri indicated that he storyboards prior to a shoot.

Storyboards have evolved from the world of film and cartooning where scenes are sketched out in sequence for the benefit of the production crew. For a still photo shoot, a storyboard can serve the same purpose: to ensure that all the ideas of a shoot are covered in a logical sequence relative to locations and props. It also enables a photographer to organize the timing of the arrival of models to coincide with a certain aspect of the shoot. For example, for the last set up in an office shoot with a couple before the crew and models exit to an exterior location, the production coordinator would like to have half dozen more models arrive for the last couple of hours before the end of the interior shots. By constructing a storyboard, a day’s workflow is much easier to map out. In this example, a group exterior shot that might be planned for late in the day to catch the best natural light needs to happen just after the group finishes with the final interior shots. Once the exterior group shot is accomplished, all the models but a couple can be dismissed as the production finishes up with singles and couples on the exterior set. With a complete storyboard, the model coordinator or photographer will not be paying for extra models to stand around while they are not needed and can schedule their arrivals accordingly.

The storyboard doesn’t have to be comprised of elaborate sketches. You can write down all the ideas for a shoot in a brainstorming meeting or from your research, on a separate ‘sticky’ note. Then move the notes around until you have them in a logical order. At that point you might want to draw a rough sketch of each general shot to ensure that you have all the props you need and that the day can be more formally organized. This is really useful I have found when I’m working with an advertising photographer shooting for stock the first time. He or she might spend way too much time trying to get just one perfect shot…that is the goal generally of an ad shoot…but when presented with the storyboard in advance, the amount of shots becomes self-evident. The storyboard will also help you to introduce different points of view and add to the creativity of the shoot.

Photo credits: Andres Rodriguez, Lee Torrens, Yuri_arcurs.

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December 31, 2008


Very Cool!
Cost's for a beginner in microstock should not exceed 10USD per image, but when you start building knowledge and predict when a shoot will sell, you can start spending more. Be careful however, I had three shoots last year that I will never get my money back from..

Hey Yuri, feel free to just put those images in my port if they aren't selling well for you.... I seem to need all the help I can get!! LOL

November 25, 2008


good article...thanks for such informative blog.

November 21, 2008


Amazing article, but one question: When you're talking about RPI, are you talking the return monthly, annually, or the life of the shot?

Thanks again! We are speaking of RPI as a monthly figure

November 20, 2008


Amazing article, but one question: When you're talking about RPI, are you talking the return monthly, annually, or the life of the shot?

Thanks again!

November 20, 2008


I think, that secrets of stars in this kind of business in other.

Stars have understood, that people (including designers and simply single buyers) have steady enough system of visual images. They very successfully maintain it.

I shall result some examples.

The businessman - in a photo the person in a jacket and a tie.

The family happiness - smiling the man and the woman with one or two children, is desirable in light clothes.

Symbol of the world - white dove.

Symbol of Christian belief - a cross.

The list can be continued. Though not too it is a lot of symbols. It is Enough to any who has decided to make this kind of the photo of trades a little to think.

All rest about what the author of clause - speaks a set of professional skills and attributes.

Without possession of craft it is impossible to make a qualitative photo. It is necessary to own the chamber, illumination and receptions of construction of a composition. It - is uncontested! Practically stars have passed all through mastering by professional skill.

Practically all stars sold the photos and at a grade level, therefore reasonably it is easy to track their progress on a portfolio.

Success of stars: doubtless talent in a connivance to tastes of public!

November 19, 2008


I use storyboards for my still life photography to cover all the possible angles before setting up the shoot. I have at least 4 different setups to play around with. I plan camera settings, lights and props all before capturing the image.

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November 19, 2008


I see my self in group 1 now but wouldnt mind heading up to 2 . 3 . 4 :)

Great article and very informative. :)

November 18, 2008


Thanks! for the great informative article :)

November 16, 2008


This is one of the reasons why I love DT so much!!! You guys and fellow microstockers are so great! Thank you very much!

November 16, 2008


Great article !Reap a lot.

November 16, 2008


Yuri, you are worried about 3 shoots?!? :)
Others will return your money back 100 times more!
Love your photos!

November 16, 2008


Very Cool!
Cost's for a beginner in microstock should not exceed 10USD per image, but when you start building knowledge and predict when a shoot will sell, you can start spending more. Be careful however, I had three shoots last year that I will never get my money back from..

November 15, 2008


Nice article, good information!

November 14, 2008


Pertunsinas and Stuart: The RPI mentioned is monthly but remember these are the microstock superstars!

November 13, 2008


This is a tremendously great blog. Surely its going to enhance my approach while shooting stock which will finally result in better sales!

November 13, 2008


RPI = return per image, ie. the average amount each image from a series will earn. The timescale isn't specified in this case, but I THINK it would be measured in years, not months.

Would be interesting to know the actual timescale these figures are based on though...

November 13, 2008


Could you tell one more secret?:) you said that all agreed about "RPI is around $3-4". Did you mean RPI 3-4$ PER MONTH?

November 13, 2008


Korat_cn: for an analysis of last year's top illustration best sellers go here

Which is really great for folks doing vectors, but what about 3D CGI renders? Would making them as photorealistic as possible be the way to go?


November 13, 2008


Thanks for this article since not all are lucky to attend that EXPo... It will helps a lot to all readers,,,
aonce more.. thanks..

November 12, 2008


Thanks for the informative article! I wonder if people photography offers the best success. Ansel Adams sold landscapes in the millions though I wonder if he got any of that money.

November 12, 2008


Many thanks! :)

November 12, 2008


Korat_cn: for an analysis of last year's top illustration best sellers go here

November 12, 2008


As the first type of microstock contributor, I'm always interested in how the "pros" in microstock do it. Thanks for an informative article.

November 12, 2008


thanks, i like your blogs.

November 12, 2008


Interesting but... what about Microstock Superstars in illustration? Do you have suggestions for illustrators?

November 12, 2008


Very interesting indeed. I do look forward to reading your Blogs.

November 12, 2008


Very useful article. Thanks

November 11, 2008


As always, a wonderful and informative blog! I'm going to have the house to myself here in a few weeks, and I think this Storyboard idea is just what I need. I already have plans to use the extra free time (and lack of distractions) to get some shoots done here in the comfort of my home, and I think that creating storyboards between now and then for what I plan to do will further maximize my time for more images. Thanks Ellen!

November 11, 2008


All great stuff. The storyboard goes beyond what I had been doing, which was making a list of the concepts (as I am a horrible sketch artist), but I think I need to add the model schedule to the list at the very least, to maximize the shoot, and put the list in an order that flows with lighting, etc. I am definitely working on a brand, so it is good to know that the big dogs are saying that is key. Thanks for the great info, Ellen. I always feel better about missing these events when you blog about some of the highlights. Eventually, I will make it to one of these! ~Jay

November 11, 2008


Thank you for the overview! Lee has some interesting videos on YouTube too. Good tips and an interesting conference. Thanks!

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