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Author Topic: Starting a microstock business  (Read 9627 times)

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« on: December 29, 2008, 10:46 »
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Hi Everybody,

I have been reading these forums (and other mircostock resources) with much interest for a while now and I am planning to start a microstock business in January as a sole proprietor.  I live in Minnesota, USA.   I am planning to buy a Nikon D90 and a Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8 D lens to start off; eventually I may buy an 18-200mm VR DX lens (I have read this a very good lens).  In the mean time I can use by daughters Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DX and 55mm - 200mm f/4-5.6 DX VR lens that she has for her D40.   As far as software goes I am leaning towards Capture NX 2.

I have number of questions that I will start new threads for; any comments on the camera, lens, and software choices would be appreciated.  Also, what internet speed would you recommend?

Thanks,

Mark


WarrenPrice

« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2008, 11:52 »
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Do you have existing images?  Taking new images?  You didn't mention lighting equipment?  Will you be shooting outdoors? Landscapes? Nature? Wildlife? 

I am new to stock, trying to sell images gathered over thirty years of photojournalism.  They're not selling.  I've had to adapt ... to stock.  It's a totally different animal.  Wishing you all the best. 

e-person

« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2008, 12:59 »
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I don't think camera equipment is an issue or should be the focal point anyway.

You certainly need a full set of decent lenses to cover all possible shooting conditions, from close-up, to landscape, from portraits to sport. Then you need lights and reflectors, especially if you do close-up and portraits.

But most important is to learn what might sell and how to process your photos.

Also, if you are a travel/nature photographer, you might want to sell RM and avoid microstock; making 10 dollars on a photo which costed you 1'000 to take, does not exactly sound as a good business decision to me.  :)


« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2008, 13:18 »
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You didn't provide enough information to answer your specific question about lenses, but I do have big reservations about anyone investing in DX lenses right now.  I believe that you will outgrow the D90 in a couple years and by then full frame sensors will be the norm.  I believe that most DX lenses work on full frame cameras, but the size of the image will be seriously reduced.   (I don't recall the exact math - but something like a 20mp sensor will produce a 5.1 mp image if a DX lens is used on the new Nikons)

« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2008, 13:22 »
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What do you envision as a "microstock business"?  What is your experience with photography, existing equipment, etc?

If you were on dpreview, this question would probably get an "I'd like to be a surgeon, what scalpel should I buy?" answer.

Quote
I have number of questions that I will start new threads for;

You'd probably be better off keeping them all in one thread, instead of spreading them all about.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2008, 13:26 by sjlocke »

jsnover

« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2008, 13:34 »
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Perhaps this is just in jest - I can't honestly believe that someone would think of starting a new microstock site and be worried about camera gear.

Jon Oringer (and perhaps one colleague, I can't remember) started Shutterstock with just their own images and very quickly realized they needed more content to make a go of the business. This was back in the fall of 2004 and I'd say he made the right choice.

The microstock field is littered with various startups that didn't make it - can you answer why your site is going to either garner new customers or take them from the existing stock sites?

« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2008, 13:36 »
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I don't think he's starting a "site".  He's using "business" as "I'm a guy with a camera who's going to submit content", I think.

jsnover

« Reply #7 on: December 29, 2008, 13:42 »
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Ah! I misunderstood. Sorry about that!

Then my questions would be different. Apply to IS, DT and SS as a photographer. Get the hang of what you need to do in terms of image quality and composition to get your images routinely accepted at all 3. Branch out to other agencies (like FT which has very random inspection process and thus can be very confusing for a newcomer) and then start considering what lenses you might need to buy. By then you'll know more about what you want to shoot and what sells. You might decide that investing in lighting equipment makes more sense than buying lots of lenses, for example. All depends on where your stock work leads you.

« Reply #8 on: December 29, 2008, 13:53 »
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To give you some additional background, I have been interested in photography for a couple of decades, mostly scenic landscape type photos.  I understand these types of photos generally are not what stock photography is all about.  I have done a lot of research on microstock photography and I think I have a good idea on the types of images that make good stock photos.  That being said, I am sure I will make mistakes and learn a lot along the way.

I do not currently have a DSLR or other equipment.  I thought a Nikon D90 would be a good intermediate camera that I would not out grow too quickly.  My last SLR was a Pentax ME Super.  Kids came along and I did very little photography other than family snapshot type photos when they were growing up.  I believe I have a good understanding of the principles of photography (composition, exposure, etc.), but of course there is always a ton to learn.

As far as the business side of things goes, I want to start as a sole proprietor of a business that submits images to the top microstock sites (IS, SS, DT, etc.).  I plan follow the IRS rules, but still get the tax benefits that any small business is entitled to.  I strongly suspect that I will have a loss the first couple of years.

« Reply #9 on: December 29, 2008, 17:33 »
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Personally, with your history, I think you're jumping the gun with this whole "business" thing.  Just shoot, submit, and see what happens.

« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2008, 04:44 »
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I started microstock business like this. some 11 months ago I decided that I need more money and I typed "make money online" in google :)
I had samsund digimax 430, 3,9 Mpix camera, and my first images are taken with this camera. I had to increase the size of my images to reach 4 Mpix ;). It's forbidden on most sites, but some of my images are accepted on some agencies. I still don't have professional lighting equipment and I have only one lens Nikkor 18-135mm and I have Nikon D80.
And I had 5 payments since now from different microstock agencies. So, I don't think you need more answers in this thread :) Start taking photos. Believe me, you will enjoy so much when you start selling your artwork, when you see that people like what you make
« Last Edit: December 30, 2008, 04:50 by whitechild »

shank_ali

« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2008, 04:54 »
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The Shank-Ali agency will enter the micro stock industry in 2009 all applicants will pay $50 to join.My manager Mr Jlocke will handle the day to day running of the business while i sunbathe on a nice tropical  beach !

DanP68

« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2008, 05:24 »
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Good luck.  I don't want to be a wet blanket, but you better be pretty darn good if you want to make meaningful money.  Microstock gets harder every month.  Reviewers keep raising their criteria for image selection, and there are more and more of us competing for attention.  Image libraries are significantly larger than at this time last year.

That said, there were a lot of people who told me at my outset 18 months ago that they didn't envy someone new joining microstock at that time. 

Your images will need to be technically perfect.  No noise, no artifacts, nothing soft.  So concentrate on a good set of lenses and work with quality lighting.  That should get your images accepted at a high rate.  Next step is to actually make sales.  For that, you are on your own.  But I suggest you take paths less traveled and try to find niches to exploit.

« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2008, 05:49 »
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Nothing is unreachable if you really want it ;)
I don't have professional lighting equipment. Actually, I bought my first light two weeks ago. SInce then I made all those isolation shots with my built-in flash. I made a lightbox of TV box. I wrapped it with white paper inside, and I used only my built in flash to make my isolation shots. When light from flash bounce inside the box, there is almost no shadow.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2008, 05:56 by whitechild »

hali

« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2008, 10:51 »
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Nothing is unreachable if you really want it ;)
I don't have professional lighting equipment. Actually, I bought my first light two weeks ago. SInce then I made all those isolation shots with my built-in flash. I made a lightbox of TV box. I wrapped it with white paper inside, and I used only my built in flash to make my isolation shots. When light from flash bounce inside the box, there is almost no shadow.

whitechild, you are one smart dude ! i am going to try that ! 8)

« Reply #15 on: December 30, 2008, 11:23 »
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Thank you hali :D My lightbox was like this http://desktoppub.about.com/od/scanninggraphics/ss/lightbox.htm
Just I found tutorial on some other site, and author said that even using one flash is enough. And I tried, and it worked. The rest is on you and your photo editing software

« Reply #16 on: December 30, 2008, 11:57 »
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Personally, with your history, I think you're jumping the gun with this whole "business" thing.  Just shoot, submit, and see what happens.

Good advice. Borrow the D40, and start submitting before jumping into gear. It's going to be your content that sells, no matter what DSLR you use. All of them will pass technical muster if used correctly. And don't think that new gear will be an automatic tax writeoff. It's not.

You should really get past agency acceptance before plunking down any serious money. In some cases, acceptance at Shutterstock can take months. Refer to the forums there. I mention Shutterstock because that's where some of the serious money comes from, for some contributors to multiple agencies, it's more than 50% of their royalty income. For Dreamstime, acceptance is more or less automatic, but I find they are more picky about subject matter, "we have too many of these" being a very popular rejection reason. For iStock, you are limited in your uploads, only 15 I think within a certain timeframe after acceptance, and their application process can be brutal for some. I can't recall exactly, but I remember Stockxpert having an application process as well, and I think 123RF does as well, although 123 is pretty lenient. But on 123 it shows in sales. They do not do nearly as well as SS, IS, and DT as far as return. Do not be swayed by off the wall agencies not in the Big 6 - giant waste of time when starting out.

Start shooting with the D40, and start submitting. See what they like and what they don't. Flip your daughter 5 or 10 bucks out of your pocket money for each modeling session to start. Then if you feel you can make a go of it, go whole hog. Because unless your talent is exceptional and you submit good volume, it will take you about 6 months to start seeing any significant return. If things don't work out as projected, you can treat earnings as "hobby" income.

As far as Capture, well it's nice for Nikons, but you really need a copy of Photoshop as well in my opinion. Some people get by with Elements, but I could not live without the Pen Tool in Photoshop.

Internet connection - you will need a broadband connection. Cable company service works fine.

And note what DanP68 said too. It's getting harder to make numbers with average images, and the competition is much tougher than it was even just 2 years ago.

In other words, don't quit your day job just yet.

« Last Edit: December 30, 2008, 12:14 by stormchaser »


« Reply #17 on: December 30, 2008, 12:45 »
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Mark, even possessing all the skills and equipment you need to make good stock photography, there is a physical cap on the amount of images you can create in order to build a portfolio big enough to start generating income worth mentioning. Unless your starting a business implies hiring more staff, it will most likely be a LONG wait before you can count on reasonable income coming your way... If you have enough income / savings to cover you for, I don't know, 18 months or so (and that's after the equipment purchase) and working in stock 24/7, then you might have a good starting point for a real business.

« Reply #18 on: December 30, 2008, 14:37 »
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Mark, I think there is nothing wrong with your approach but it is very uncommon in microstock. There are 2 most typical scenarios:
* amateurs starting earning with microstock little by little without having any registered business; and getting one later when (if) their sales grow enough;
* long time photography professionals already having registered business.

I don't know how much effort and expense is to register business in your country, but with my experience I would give it a try first, i.e. without registering a business and get it registered later if you succeed to grow your sales enough.

« Reply #19 on: December 30, 2008, 16:26 »
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Sounds like your main aim is to claim photography expenses as losses against some other main income. I guess if your tax laws allow it, why not? In Australia (my home) you need to have a significant turnover in the sideline before that is allowed, and I certainly don't have that from microstock.

« Reply #20 on: December 30, 2008, 17:20 »
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Like everything in life, the Pareto Principle seems to fit. That is, the top 20% of contributors make 80% of the income.

The stock business is still evolving, and for anyone to base their whole income on it is a gamble. I would suggest if you want to be a professional photographer, do weddings, portraits and such, and use your spare hours to shoot stock.

« Reply #21 on: December 30, 2008, 21:41 »
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Thanks for all the advice everyone.  I have a lot to mull over.

I definitely won't be quiting my day job.  This will hopefully be a way to have some fun, learn more about photography, and earn a little extra money.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2008, 21:54 by packerguy »

« Reply #22 on: December 30, 2008, 21:58 »
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Do it in that order and you'll be happy.  Don't worry about all this "business" stuff until you are running a little.

« Reply #23 on: December 30, 2008, 22:10 »
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Sounds like your main aim is to claim photography expenses as losses against some other main income. I guess if your tax laws allow it, why not? In Australia (my home) you need to have a significant turnover in the sideline before that is allowed, and I certainly don't have that from microstock.
It's actually almost impossible in Australia to write off small business losses against income from other sources  - usually the best you can do is carry forward the small business loss against future years' profits (as I understand it - that's what my husband's band does as they are marginal - some years a profit, most years just covering equipment purchases and depreciation). It gets a bit different if it's related to your main job/business, but otherwise the ATO is much more likely to want to treat it as a hobby if it doesn't make profits on a long term basis.

DanP68

« Reply #24 on: December 30, 2008, 23:36 »
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Do it in that order and you'll be happy.  Don't worry about all this "business" stuff until you are running a little.


That's the best advice you can take, Packerguy.  If you find that you don't enjoy the microstock process (and clearly not everyone does), then you won't be successful in it.  There are constant hurdles and set backs, so you better have a thick skin and an ability to laugh off the ridiculousness. 

« Reply #25 on: December 31, 2008, 02:46 »
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I agree.
I didn't realize at first that you want to start business for real...I mean registering business etc. Leave it for time when you already have some decent monthly income
« Last Edit: December 31, 2008, 02:50 by whitechild »

« Reply #26 on: December 31, 2008, 18:04 »
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Well, that's not exactly true.  I don't know what country he is in, but he likely has at least 3 years to turn a profit and why not start it right?

If you register a "photography" business it can have many benefits.  For example, in my first year I spent more than I earned due to my start-up costs but I was registered to collect PST and GST.  That means, I got most of my GST back on gear, computer, software, gasoline, trade publications etc.

You can declare your office and any working space, electricity, cable, trade publications, gas, mileage and write the appropriate % off against your taxes.  Is this possible in your country without a registered business? 

On the other hand, I've met a lot of newbies on this board who start off full of fire and give up after a month or two.  Your business license may cost more than you ultimately earn.


PaulieWalnuts

  • On the Wrong Side of the Business
« Reply #27 on: January 01, 2009, 09:21 »
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The D40 is fine to start off with and learn. The D90 is very good.

The 50mm and 18-55mm are sharp and should be fine.

The 18-200mm might be a crapshoot. I've read some are fairly sharp and some aren't so you may struggle with softness rejections. I'd suggest the 18-135mm or 16-85mm which are both super sharp.

Sounds like you're on the right track but as some of the others said the best way to learn is to dive in. A little planning helps but this business changes all the time. Just shoot, submit, learn, and adjust.

« Reply #28 on: January 01, 2009, 10:24 »
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Note to Pixart - in the US, you don't have to register anything, except fill out the right form on your taxes, and if you're below $600, you don't even have to do that.  You don't actually register as a "sole proprietor" except to say you are one on your taxes.  You can then deduct all your expenses against your profits.  So, it's very easy to just dive right in.

« Reply #29 on: January 01, 2009, 11:00 »
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Pixart is correct for Canada; you do need to register (it costs very little) and have a "reasonable expectation of profit" in the the first three years of your SP to get the tax benefits.

sjlocke (as noted) offers the best advice in following the sequence of (1) have fun, (2) learn and then maybe, just maybe, (3) earn. I'm having a lot of fun, learning tons and don't have a reasonable expectation of profit for quite some time . . .

I still work with my old Konica Minolta D7, it's more about the images and less about the tool. Microstock is a very inspiring place to be; take a look at the portfolios of some of the contributors to this thread alone and it's clear that some of the best teachers in the business are here and willing to share their insights freely.

« Reply #30 on: January 01, 2009, 17:58 »
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As sjlocke stated, since I am in the US, all I will need to do is fill out Schedule C come tax time, no special registering as a business when you are a sole proprietor and you are using your name as part of the business name (for example, Joe Smith Photography).

Again I would like to thank everyone for their comments.


 

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