05 Aug 2009 Traveling the World with Microstock

Holger Mette - The Traveling MicrostockerMeet Holger Mette. In 2006 he left life as a lawyer in Australia to travel the world. He started shooting travel stock photos and selling them online to help subsidize his travels. Three year’s later he’s still traveling, though he fits in the occasional visit home to see family and friends. Together with some income from Alamy for editorial shots, his microstock income is now enough to fully support his traveling lifestyle.

From his website, Veo el Mundo (Spanish for ‘I see the world’), you can follow his travels and adventures. He also provides photography and travel tips, including shooting at night and (my personal favorite) how to use not-so-western bathroom facilities.

On his website he describes his travel style:

My style of travel can best be described as backpacking. While this term means many things to many people, for me it means low budget, low impact travel, with a backpack. I generally stay in locally owned guesthouses and hostels (as opposed to 5-star resorts), frequently eat local food including street food and prefer to travel over land wherever possible. For me backpacking doesn’t mean that I shun all the comforts of home, that I dispense with basic personal hygiene. It also doesn’t mean that I’m on some extended world wide pub crawl.

I caught up with Holger by email and asked him about his lifestyle, photography and microstock:

Travel Lifestyle

Taj Mahal Stock Photo, Holger MetteHow much do you need to budget each month to afford your current lifestyle?
Over the last 2 years I’ve spent about US$1500 per month including airfares and insurance etc. Day to day living costs are often much lower, but you really need to allow for major one-off expenses that come up more often than you expect.

What is the most common reaction when you tell people you fund your travel with your photos?
The two common ones are “I wish I could take good photos” and “I wonder if I could do this too”.

What aspects do you think would deter most people from adopting your lifestyle?
The things I miss most are time with family and close friends,  comforts such as familiar food and my own bed. The things that would deter most people is what they’d have to give up in their present lives that wouldn’t fit in with travel – often family responsibilities, mortgages and jobs.

Is Internet access becoming easier to find?
Yes – but its still a problem getting access to internet that is fast enough to efficiently upload large images in many places. The important thing is to have the discipline to work offline and prepare material properly for upload when you do have good connections.


Asakusa Temple Tokyo stock photo, Holger MetteWere you a photographer before you started with microstock?
Photography has always been a hobby, but before I started with microstock, and for some time after I worked as a lawyer in Australia.

Why no people photos or self-portraits? Don’t you carry model releases?
At the moment I’m sticking to mainly editorial people photos. Although I’ve traveled with model releases in the past, I don’t at the moment (but should!). At some point in the future there will be more people photos, but its not a focus at the moment.

How do you backup your photos when you’re always traveling?
I currently use 2x 320GB  portable Hard-disk drives and additionally back everything up onto DVDs.

Aside from your DSLR, what photography equipment do you carry?
A quality tripod, a monopod, wireless flash system and a laptop.


Pyramids of Giza stock photo, Holger Mette

What’s the advantage of microstock over other methods of selling your photos?
The key for me is that microstock  provides regular and reasonably predictable income that doesn’t require me to be anywhere at a specific time, and doesn’t really require my active involvement in marketing my images. I also like that microstock makes my images accessible to image buyers that don’t have the resources to use traditional agencies.

How well does Alamy do for you?
I’m fairly new to Alamy and have a rights-managed editorial portfolio there that’s been online since the start of this year. On monthly averages, Alamy currently sits just behind the big 4, but well ahead of the lower income sites. The nice thing is that I get high value sales on images that I like, but often wouldn’t sell on micro-stock. Creatively it allows you to concentrate more on what you want to capture rather than thinking about whether there are visible trademarks or recognisable faces.

How many new photos do you upload in an average month?
I aim to upload about 60-80 photos a month, though  am always struggling to manage the backlog of photos waiting to be processed and uploaded.

Colorful Blankets in Ecuador stock photo, Holger MetteWas your microstock income enough to support your travel when you started?
No! Its really only been in the last 6-12 months that my monthly microstock  income has been enough to cover all travel expenses. Before that the additional income was a big help in subsidising my travel.

Do you use any utilities or services to help manage uploading?
I use Deepmeta for iStockphoto, and Photoshelter Personal Archive for the sites that support FTP uploads – Photoshelter means that I only have to use the local bandwidth once for these sites, and can then FTP to as many other sites as I like even when I’m on a slow connection.

Which locations sell best for you?
Images of popular or Iconic landmarks sells best in terms of overall volume, but travel images from locations that aren’t well covered also forms an important component of my sales.

How much does sales performance influence where you travel and what you visit?
Sales performance isn’t a big factor. I plan my travel around what I want to shoot and when but  I try to avoid shooting what I think will sell rather than what I would like to creatively or editorially.  My aim with microstock is to give me the freedom to do things that I couldn’t do if I were tied to a normal job, rather than to match or exceed the income I’d earn otherwise.

More About Holger Mette

His portfolio is around 2,000 photos on most microstock agencies where he goes by the username ‘holgs’. You can read more about Holger at his travel and photography website and check out his microstock portfolios: Dreamstime, Fotolia, iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Crestock, BigStockPhoto and editorial photos at Alamy.

What about you? How are you taking advantages of the time and geographical freedom of being a stock photographer?

  • Luis Santos
    Posted at 12:10h, 05 August Reply

    wow… this is the style I would like to be… but the 1500$… 🙁

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 14:26h, 05 August Reply

      You just need more photos Luis. You’ll get there. 🙂

  • Todd
    Posted at 14:04h, 05 August Reply

    I’m amazed he only spend $1500 a month on travel expenses. It’s hard enough not going over that in just a week, on a normal vacation in the US. Most of the expense comes from eating out, restaurants, lodging, and airfare (or car rental/fuel costs).

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 14:48h, 05 August Reply

      I don’t think it’s so amazing when you consider he doesn’t mention restaurants or rental cars, plus he says he spends most of his time in cheaper countries and doesn’t often travel by air. It sounds like he’s figured out how to keep the costs down after doing it for three years.

  • Zbynek Burival
    Posted at 03:29h, 06 August Reply

    Thanks for this article guys, I noticed Holg some time ago and its a big motivation. Im very curious about gear, as Holg uses Olympus and not Canon or Nikon. The first qeustion is why to get E-30 instead of E-3, which is in my opinion much more suitable for long time travel. Second – which lenses do you use mostly?

    Btw: Holg – I would recommend using HDR or other kind of photo-stacking for your night shots, it will help to keep exposure under control. Second – Im very curious why you upload pictures with non-corrected verticals? In my experience both of these things moved my port quality a lot up.

    Good luck, Im watching your journey 🙂 Regards from Czech, if you come over here, you could drop me notice via email. Zbynek

  • Holger Mette
    Posted at 13:13h, 06 August Reply

    Hi guys!

    Nice to read the comments!

    Travel expenses: in a way this is one of those questions that’s about as easy to answer as “how much am I going to earn on Microstock” – other people’s figures can give an idea, but it really depends on what you like to do and sometimes how good you are at haggling. In some places I’ll obviously spend a lot more – $1500 is an average including all expenses for all the places I’ve been over the last 2 years. Often you find that getting there, and the first week in a place are the most expensive. Some places, like Peru where I am now are almost embarrassingly inexpensive – if you’re trying to minimise costs you can get by for about $15 a day. I know a lot of travelers who get by for less than $1000 a month.

    Camera Equipment: I have a full list of the equipment I use on my website. Basically the reason for the E30 over the E3 is that it allows for X-Large file sizes on Istock. Over time I think the difference in $$ will be quite significant. The lens I use most often is the 12-60mm – its a very versatile lens and very high quality all the way through the zoom range.

    Post Processing: I generally don’t heavily post process my shots. Partly its because I’m limited to processing on a laptop.There’s probably quite a few that would benefit from corection of verticals – something I’ll look out for!

    • Elwynn
      Posted at 01:18h, 07 August Reply

      Wow !!
      This is my dream lifestyle.
      Thank you for this article from leaning a lot.

  • Torben Birkmose
    Posted at 16:08h, 06 August Reply

    What an inspirational article, I feel like just getting on the next plane out of here, and begin my microstock-travels 🙂 Good motivation to keep on submitting photos to the microstock agencies, and this article proves that with hard work comes the potential for success.

    And Holger Mette, thanks for your comment 🙂 Good luck to all of you.

  • Sarosa
    Posted at 17:04h, 08 August Reply

    Amazing article and very inspiring. Thank you very much for sharing. I would love to take off right now. But my earnings with microstock is at $25 a mount right now, with only a few pictures uploaded yet. So I have to work harder before I can take off.

  • DonS
    Posted at 17:20h, 19 August Reply

    I have a small RM travel portfolio and have been trying to analyse how microstock might work. I noted Yuri tagged it as a possible area of growth some time ago, and also istock portfolios such as Veni: with 70,000 dls from 1000 images it looks enticing, but I don’t think the returns cover the travel costs and I’m wondering if it’s a traditional RF portfolio dropped into micro to gain a little extra life.

    My traditional library advised me to place my images as RM, and they distribute some of my work with Getty, Corbis and others. Returns are not great, but I am comfortable with them.

    I tried micro as an experiment last year, and maybe not a fair test as I am not at all comfortable with the micro concept – mainly because I am too emotionally attached to my images. However, I did find that my travel shots were selling best, but with quite low rates of return. I found I was getting a lot of 30 cent subscription dls. Being anti-micro, it was a relief that I could justify not going the micro route.

    In addition, I’ve been looking at istock images being used increasingly in high end travel guides, often quite unique images. But when you look at the sales history they only have 1 or 2 dls. These would do better as RM. It’s all very well copying the iconic images and making hay while the sun shines, but in-depth travel photography capturing the smells and nuances of a place, will not get returns to justify the investment on micro. These are low volume sales and a higher price is well justified.

    If anyone thinks micro travel is the answer, then I suggest caution, as I think only the early adopters will benefit here. Once everyone is uploading their travel snaps saturation will further depress returns. I would advise anyone contemplating supporting their backpacking jaunts to think carefully about getting the mix right between traditional RM and what might sell well on a micro.

    Micro prices arrived by accident, and need to rise a little, plus a higher % going to the photographer. Until that happens, loading up micro with quality travel imagery of unique hard to capture places will result in few downloads of valuable imagery and is selling yourself short.

    I also don’t buy into the “I can’t get into traditional libraries” argument. What you mean is you weren’t prepared to work hard enough to raise the bar, and instead accepted the easy route of instant gratification. In that process, especially for travel, you may be undervaluing your work.

  • Sarosa
    Posted at 13:13h, 08 September Reply

    @ DonS, thanks for your comments. May I ask: What do you mean by “my traditional library? Thanks.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 13:53h, 08 September Reply

      He’s referring to a traditional stock photo agency, as opposed to a microstock agency.


  • Sarosa
    Posted at 18:46h, 08 September Reply

    Thanks Lee

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