25 Oct 2007 Turning Pro

Man Cutting Tie, Ashok RodriguesIn sport the term ‘professional’ distinguishes paid competitors from unpaid ‘amateurs’. In microstock, ‘pro’ is usually used in reference to someone who is a full time microstock contributor. That is, their microstock earnings pay their living expenses.

I’m not a pro microstocker myself, so I consulted pro microstockers for the content of this post.

What’s it Like to be a Pro Microstocker?

Things change. If microstock was your hobby or artistic expression, turning pro makes you depend on it to maintain your lifestyle. Yuri Arcurs describes this change in mindset with a quote from an unknown source: “The amateur thinks of art, and the artist thinks of money”.

Some changes are very welcome. Andres Rodriguez describes being a pro microstocker as “like opening the doors for your artistic and lifestyle freedom”. Microstock photographers are free to shoot what they like, and free to benefit or suffer from smart or poor choices.

Andres also mentions lifestyle freedoms, which not only include all the benefits of working for yourself, but of earnings detached from your working schedule. Unlike most other occupations, microstock (and stock photography in general) produces ongoing earnings that can sustain extended absences. Read: long vacations.

The not-so-welcome changes come in the form of pressure to keep generating high quality photos to sustain your earnings. Amanda Rohde says of being a pro microstocker, “[it’s] great! Busy though – you either need a lot of really relevant images or LOTS of a variety”.

What Does it Take to Turn Pro?

Basically, you need to raise your microstock earnings above your living costs. You also need to factor in the different expenses you’ll have after turning pro, as this may affect the calculation. Microstock earnings are not known for their stability, so you’ll need a buffer to ensure you don’t get into trouble if your earnings suddenly drop.

Living costs vary widely from country to country, and even city to city, making it easier for some to turn pro than others. Additionally, as almost all microstock agencies pay contributors in US dollars, exchange rates can make it easier or more difficult, depending on your location. A microstocker living in Buenos Aires would be able to turn pro much sooner than one living in London with its high cost of living and strong currency.

But what about photography? What does it take to build a portfolio that produces consistently high earnings? Above all else, it takes lots of hard work and lots of time. Passion and talent are helpful ingredients, but they are reported as less important than dedication. How that looks in the context of your photography is lots of ongoing analysis, comparison and learning.

Who Are They?

Some microstock portfolios are owned by businesses and agencies. They have multiple contributing photographers. Others are owned by established and successful macrostock photographers, whether under their real name or an alias. While you could debate whether they’re “pro microstockers”, I’m primarily focussed on the individuals who’ve built their portfolios within the microstock environment.

Their backgrounds are varied, though many come from design backgrounds. The understanding of what photo buyers look for in a photo is a distinct advantage. While some have studied photography, from my own observations theyre less common than those who are self-taught.

The one consistent factor is that they’ve all worked hard over an extended period of time and always maintained a focus on learning.

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