Thursday, April 15, 2010

Me and iStockphoto

I heard about iStockphoto a couple years ago while listening to a photography podcast.  I thought 'huh, I've got lots of photos, I should try to get them up there and start making some money!' So in July, 2008, I was rejected as a contributor on my first round of application photos, but accepted on my second.  Judging by the word in the forums, acceptance into iStock has become quite a bit more difficult since then.

The thing with iStock, a site built around user contributions, is that it attracts a lot of amateur and semi-pro photographers (who want to make money on their photos), but it still maintains really high standards.  So it's a steep learning curve for 'beginners' and I have incurred a healthy share of rejections.  I've just crawled my acceptance percentage back up to 39% from below 20%.  I had to learn all about artifacting and noise,, downsizing, why and when I should shoot at different apertures and ISO, why expensive lenses are better, and how to do some basic post-production (think Photoshop) techniques.

I have wanted to make a blog post about my participation in iStock, but I decided to wait until I reached a milestone.  This week, I crossed the $100 mark, which means I can now officially request a check for my earnings.  Yes, it's taken me 1.5 years to earn $100.  My files are downloaded by graphic designers, students, or anybody who needs an image.  They buy my files in different sizes, depending on their needs, and I get about a 20% cut of that.  When I reached my next milestone, 250 downloads (I'm currently at 87) and 50% file acceptance rate,  I can become an "exclusive contributor" and my percentage take will increase.

I joined iStock to make some money, but what I've really gotten out of it is a photography education.  There's no better tool for my learning than somebody telling me my work sucks, and I've gotten plenty of that from iStock.  Fortunately they offer excellent forums where sage contributors offer advice on everything photography.  I can honestly say, thanks to my iStock experience, that I am a much better photographer today than I was 1.5 years ago.

Here is my portfolio.


Rachael Towne said...

I just got accepted at istock a few weeks ago. They let me in on my 3rd try. Interestingly they seem much more picky about what files they will accept for sale than what they will accept in the application process. While I have uploaded about 30 things since then they have only actually reviewed the first 4. They have accepted 1 so far. I'm not deterred. I want to become a better photographer. None of my Photoshop textures have been reviewed yet by istock. These have a high acceptance rate on most pf the other stock sites I belong to. We'll see...

Dave said...

Congratulations on your acceptance, Rachael! I've heard it's much harder these days to get in than it was when I joined.
Your application process photos are just to prove that you have the potential to shoot what they are looking for. I'm pretty sure none of my app photos were accepted into the collection.
Definitely check out the iStock forums for help if you need it. I don't belong to other stock agencies (but would be really keen to hear how you do there?) but as I understand it, iStock's standards are usually higher?

If you want to add me on iStock, my username is .

Good Luck!

Bela said...

Good to see that others have similar problems. Well I haven't crossed the 100bucks border yet...I also know that I need to perform better and need to spend much more time with Istock.
I however do not entirely agree that you've learned a lot in the last few years. It is true, you picked up some skills and more knowledge about photography, but this way you are focusing only to shooting FOR Istock and not for you...I think we need to be careful here and pay attention not to shoot for stock agencies but shooting for ourselves first, then sell the good pictures WE and not stock photo agencies think are good...

Dave said...

Bela, I think you are drawing a line between learning from iStock and shooting what you like. They don't have to be mutually exclusive, though the content itself likely is. While I do sometimes shoot things specifically for iStock, that is a lot less than me shooting for friends, projects, or developing my skills in other areas. But my iStock education has been the driving force in turning me into an educated photographer. I would never know what I do about noise, focus, CA, and detail at 100% without the nitpicking iStock insists on.

I think your idea of shooting what you want and then trying to sell that is great in theory, but designers don't care what you want to shoot: they care about what they need. Successful iStock contributors produce content with designers in mind. It will take you forever to make any money on iStock if you are only uploading what YOU think is good (so long as it differs from what iStock is looking for).

iStock is a business, not a place to make money on a hobby. Sure, you can make a little money here and there on your hobby shots, but it will never be a significant amount unless you put effort into catering to iStock's market.