Monday, November 2, 2009

October in Review

First, the figures for October, and then a happy milestone:

My best month so far, with a modest increase over September. Lower sales at Shutterstock and Fotolia were more than made up for by a nice increase in sales at iStockphoto. Progress toward the overall goal:

The milestone? I hit $80 at Shutterstock, exceeding their $75 minimum payout. So, when payments are processed this month I'll be receiving my first payout ever, of $80.02!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not appropriate for stock

I shot this yesterday while my kids played at the playground. Instantly, I fell totally in love with the shot, but, I won't be uploading it as stock. I've had sufficient bug and critter image rejections over the past month to know not to bother. The fact that the picture won't be making me any money doesn't make me love it any less. In fact, I kinda like that this one was "just for me".

The experience serves as both a reminder and an inspiration. When I'm shooting for stock, I've got to focus on creating useful images. But, while I'm at it, why not also try for images that mean something? Looking over my portfolio, if I'm completely honest with myself, I see a lot of pretty boring, uninspired work. (Yeah, I know, I'm a great salesman and marketer...) But, how many of the images in your portfolio do you love? How many inspire you?

Maybe this is part of the journey. First, create acceptable images. The agencies can't sell what they don't accept... Get the technicals down, learn to use the gear, learn to light, learn to work with models, etc. Then, begin to work at creating what will sell. Maybe getting really good at this step is all you need to be successful. But, I think to be really happy, I need something more. Strive for some meaning in the images. Inspire emotion, tell stories, go for an occasional wow. I'm not there, and maybe I never will be, but I've got to try.

Monday, October 12, 2009


As I frequently think about what piece of gear I *need* to buy next, I thought I'd have a look at the stuff I've already bought. A while back I listed approx $10k in camera, lenses, light modifiers, strobes, flashes, and various other gear. While I use just about all of this stuff, my stated goal here is to use the gear to take pictures, which I then sell as microstock to pay back the cost of the gear. The following is a look at what portion of my purchases are being put to use.

My typical stock shoot setup uses the following:

1 kid, shot on 104-inch-wide white seamless. $160 for the paper and the stands to hold it.
2 AlienBee 400s to light the background, on cheap stands with umbrella reflectors. $580
3 sheets of fiberglass panel to make a durable, white, glossy floor. $90
AlienBee 400 in a 64" PLM umbrella, in a softbox configuration on a cheap stand. $350
48" Reflector on a reflector stand as fill. $100
Tripod and ball head $235
D90 $1000
Nikon 80-200 2.8 $1300 (I love this lens in my current garage studio!)

That's $3800! It would seem I've spent a lot on gear that isn't going to help with the cause here... If I only knew then what I know now, I may have chosen differently.

I definitely love some of the "other $6200" stuff. My Nikon 17-55 2.8 DX is an awesome walkaround lens, and is almost always on my D90, except when I'm in the garage shooting stock. I love taking pictures of bugs, so the 60mm Micro is also a lot of fun. My 2 SB-600's work great with the D90's CLS, I just don't use them to shoot much stock.

Overall, the stuff that is hopefully going to pay the bills and the fun toys were purchased at a roughly 40:60 ratio. I wonder how that compares to others' experience.

In the future, I'll have to weigh how much I want something against how likely I'll be to use it to generate income. Or maybe I need to separate the "toy" budget from the "tool" budget. A 4th strobe would be a nice next "tool", whereas a 200mm f4 Micro would be a totally awesome next "toy"!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lightboxes and Organization

There's a lot I like about, but my favorite feature of the day is the ability they give their contributors to organize and present their content in Lightboxes. I've only begun to take advantage of the feature, as it does take some work. But, now that I have enough images uploaded that grouping them makes sense, it was time.

I started with images of Jessica. I wanted anyone looking at one of her images to have an easy link to the others, so I added them all to a lightbox. (Basically, a subset of my images, managed on the contributor pages at iStock.) Then, I created the following graphics:

I did have to host the images somewhere, so I used my own domain, but I assume photobucket or other free options would also work. Since iStock allows uucode embedding into image descriptions, all I had to do was edit every image of Jessica, adding code to each of them that looks like:


Next steps: more lightboxes, by theme and by model.

Monday, October 5, 2009


When iStock rejects a submission, I usually try to determine if I can fix the problem. Recently I figured out what "The execution of isolation contains stray areas that are either too feathered or rough." meant. I spent last weekend fixing almost every image rejected for this reason in the past few months. But, resubmitting a rejected image to iStock uses up a second upload slot. (It is also way more painful than initial submissions using DeepMeta) So, I have to decide for each one: Do I resubmit the corrected image, or do I shoot something new and submit that?

I've resubmitted two out of a dozen or so, but I'll probably save the others. I don't think I'll have too much trouble keeping a full queue of 15 new images each week. Maybe someday they'll raise the limits, and I'll have room for these oldies. In the meantime, these rejected images are up and selling at Shutterstock and Fotolia. (Every agency is picky in their own special way- this particular problem is really only an issue at iStock. It's pretty hard to detect, and the other sites either didn't catch it or don't care.)

What do you do with your rejects? Fix 'em and resubmit, or abandon them?

The image above was rejected because some lettering was visible on the buttons of her shirt, not a full brand name or logo, though. I cloned out these letters and did resubmit this one, since I like it a lot.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September Update

Explanatory notes:

Since I stopped uploading to Dreamstime and BigStock (because of the 3- and 6-month lock-in "hostage" policies) I removed their earnings from the totals. (I'm not sure I'll reach the minimum payout at either, since I'm not submitting anything, so the meager earnings there are probably lost...)

I also removed StockXpert, since the sales there ground to a complete halt last month. I also stopped uploading when their inspections slowed WAY down. Something about Getty buying them, then switching their traffic or search results over to iStock. I've also stopped uploading there, but might try them again if sales ever perk back up. For a little while in July they were actually doing really well for me.

So, as seen in the bar graph, sales were up, but not huge. I hope to continue watching them increase as I work to build my portfolios at the three places where images are selling.

In short, I have a LONG way to go, as shown by the image below...

A painful lesson.

For months now I've had the occasional image, such as the one below, rejected at iStock with the message:

The execution of isolation contains stray areas that are either too feathered or rough.

(Quick aside: This is pretty high on the unhelpfulness scale- Which areas? Were they too feathered, or were they too rough? But I digress...)

Generally, these were shots of my girls on a lighted white background, with most of the isolation happening in-camera. Usually, though, I'd have to use the adjustment brush in Lightroom to clean up a few spots that didn't go completely white. I'd always figured the problems were with the hair not perfectly separating from the background, something I still struggle with. But today I saw some advice from from sjlocke on the iStock forums. He said (referring to a way of checking your isolation in Photoshop):

Just add a layers adjustment level and pull the black slider to the right.

I gave it a shot on the above rejected image. After cleaning up in Lightroom, here is what the image looks like. Note, I use the 'j' feature in the Develop module to show me what is completely white, and by this measure the image looks good. Subject is on a totally white background.

Now let's look at it via sjlocke's suggestion:

See the glaringly horrific problem? Here it is. closer up:

Lightroom has been lying to me! I feel so deceived... I have had dozens of rejections due to this!

From now on every image will take a trip to Photoshop for cleanup before uploading.

But more importantly, I've grumbled at least a dozen times at the reviewers who handed me these rejections. Boy do I feel dumb, having finally found the problem. But also, imagine if one of them had taken two seconds, months ago, to clue me in on where the problem was. All this time I've been thinking it was the hair! *headsmack*

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

For the fun of it.

Although I do hope to eventually profit through the selling of microstock, it certainly felt in no way like "work" today! Here's a sample image:

Sure, it's a lot of work planning, shooting, editing, keywording, uploading, managing the portfolio, etc., but the work I put in today sure was a lot of fun.

As a bonus, we sure are accumulating a lot of cute shots of our kids. Soon, we'll need a Drobo just to store them all safely...

Monday, September 28, 2009

If only I had ______

On a nearly daily basis, several variations of the following thoughts will run through my head:
  • "If only I had one more light for the studio, I could get this shot right."
  • "I really should buy another lens. It'll take better pictures than the ones I ended up with today."
  • "That new camera body looks awesome, I should get it!"
Sometimes, I go straight to the computer, or to the camera store, and make the purchase. Other times, I can resist. I realize that whether I buy this shiny new toy or not, I'll still want something else tomorrow, or the next day. It's a never-ending uphill struggle, in which there's always something newer, faster, and/or better available. And if there isn't, there will soon be.

Don't get me wrong, I love new toys. It's a ton of fun setting them up, figuring them out, and putting them to use. And this is a kind of learning. But, I have yet to see a new purchase catapult my photography into the next level of awesomeness. I'm getting better, yes, but not because of the things I buy.

I'm truly envious of those that can happily make do with what they have, upgrading or expanding upon their tools only when there is a clear need to do so. I'd love to hear about the internal dialogue of those who could easily afford the latest and greatest gizmo, but choose to stick with what they have until they need better. What do these folks say to themselves?

Fortunately, the overall experiment here (to pay for my gear with microstock sales) is helping, as I'm pretty sure there's nothing on my want list that would result in an earlier break-even point. In other words, there's no new lens or light that's going to magically result in thousands of additional image sales. What I need now can't necessarily be bought: good ideas, better execution, practice, knowledge, and patience.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I'm working on a new series of images, of my kids at the piano. For some of the shots I wanted sheet music in front of them, but most music on my shelf would have copyright issues. Even old pieces are relatively newly published. As I understand things, my picture of their publication of the older work would infringe on the publisher's copyright...

The solution? MuseScore! Using this free music scoring software, I composed and printed my own piece for the shots:

One cool feature of the software is it will play your composition for you. Surprisingly, Der Musica didin't sound completely horrible. Here's an image of Model #2 "performing" the piece:

I'm still working on the photographic composition here, but I already have a few images I like.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shot with no plan.

For the most part, I'm trying to have a good idea of what I want to shoot before I set up the studio. In this case, I was shooting some "bathtime" type shots: Girl in comfy bathrobe brushing her hair, brushing her teeth, or just showing various expressions.

But, there's one important factor in working with the average 5-year-old. If they're not having any fun, you've got maybe two minutes (if that) before they stop giving you anything worth shooting.

So, with Model #1, we take turns. I get to take a few of the shots I have in mind, then it's her turn. She liked the shots I took of myself a couple of weeks ago with binoculars, and she loves looking at stuff through said binoculars, so it wasn't a huge surprise that she had the above idea on her shot list for the night. I should note that I gave her no direction, other than, "Here is where you stand." She's looking at nothing, straight into a blank wall, but doing a pretty convincing acting job!

Anyway, as I continue to build my portfolio at various agencies, I'm noticing that some of my best selling images were planned and executed by one pretty amazing 5-year-old!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


We had lots of family visiting for Model #2's 2nd birthday. I took tons of pictures, but not a lot intended for stock. While I had a ton of people in the house over the past few weeks, I didn't ask even one if they'd be willing to model for some stock images. Now that they are gone, I think about the missed opportunity.

I still feel like I'm working out the technical details, and learning to choose good concepts. This results in a major lack of confidence, and a some uneasiness at the idea of approaching new models, even family. I have to work on this. Perhaps as acceptances and sales improve, this is a problem that will fix itself. Time will tell. In the meantime, some sort of goal might help. How about this:

Goal: Before the end of the month, ask one new potential model to do a shoot with me.

I didn't do any planned shoots while our visitors were here, but as we did the tourist thing, I did get a lot of shots I love. Some were even suitable for stock, here are a couple more:

Saturday, September 12, 2009


On the advice of a helpful reviewer, I re-shot some of my "guy with binoculars" images. This time, I lit the background for better isolation. Of course, I also took a careful look at the first batch. I still wasn't getting the lighting perfect- wisps of hair on the top of my head were getting blown out along with the background. This means too much light was bouncing off the background, and overexposing my hair. As a fix, I moved my mark a bit farther from the background, and this did help a bit, but I can still see slight traces of the problem. I think I need to increase the background-to-model distance a bit more. Here's what I ended up with for the re-shoot, though. (I also dug out my jacket!)

Notes on the lighting: I went from 2 background lights to one, placed directly behind me, and aimed straight back at my background. I used my other two lights as key and fill. Key was a socked beauty dish overhead and a bit camera right. Fill was a shoot-through umbrella about waist level, camera left. (With one light I was getting shadows and uneven lighting on my face.)

If I do a re-re-shoot:

1) Bigger key. (I have on order an Alien Bees PLM mid-size parabolic silver bounce umbrella with a diffuser attachment. It's much bigger than the beauty dish, and my give me enough wrap to replace the fill light with a reflector and put the second light back on the background.) If all else fails, maybe a 4th AB400 will do the trick.

2) I'm using the little metal reflectors on my background lights, but they don't spread the light very much. I will try to even out the background by using two umbrella reflectors instead. This may also mean I won't need gobos to block their spill.

I do get the feeling I'm closing in on finding one lighting setup I like, but I'm not quite there yet. Of course, once I do find one I'll start looking for another...

While I was at it, I dug out another prop. My Glock model 30, a very compact .45.

Monday, September 7, 2009


I still catch myself thinking unproductively in the face of a fresh rejection. The word on my "binoculars shoot" is coming in from Fotolia. Of the first batch of 6 shots, four were selected, and two were declined.

Of the two refusals, one was, "Your photograph did not reach our desired level of aesthetic quality," and the other was, "The object will not be easily isolated from the background. The object must be captured on a bright seamless background."

There is nothing I can learn from the first message. The reviewer didn't like it. Maybe they didn't like the lighting, the pose, the wardrobe, the focus, the color, the idea- who knows. Whatever they didn't like about it, they couldn't be bothered or didn't have time to give me anything specific. Since I don't have a clue what the issue is, I'll probably send that same reviewer more shots with the exact same problem.

The second one got me. My first response was, "Oh? But the other four on the exact same background were fine? I must have got a bad reviewer. *grumble* *pout*" What's more, the rejected two images were accepted at Shutterstock anyway, and generated three sales there today alone. So, I almost just let it go at that.

But then I thought about it some more. Maybe I got a great reviewer. Maybe he had other uses of my images in mind, like compositing me into something more interesting than a grey background. And maybe he thought about how much easier that would be if I'd lit the background to pure white for him. And last, he could have just given me the lazy rejection response of "Your photograph did not reach our desired level of aesthetic quality," and been done with it. But he didn't, he took the time to let me know what he didn't like, and for a moment, I was acting like a spoiled child.

So, I say, "thank you!" to the reviewer, for taking the time to help me take a better picture next time. Tonight, I'll get myself back in the garage, don my "business guy" shirt and tie, and put some light on that background for you. While I'm at it, I'll shoot a few in portrait orientation as well.

Lessons learned:

1) Rejections can be an opportunity. They can help me expand my thinking, add a twist to a concept, or give me something technical to work on.

2) I should try to think more about how my images will be used, and not just worry about getting a technically good image. For example, there's not necessarily anything wrong with a grey background, but for many uses a blown-out white one will be a lot easier to work with. I'll try for a mix of both in the future.

3) Not every rejection is an opportunity. If the reviewer gives me nothing specific, then there's nothing I can fix. Perhaps the microstock agencies have some things they could improve upon as well...

Changing the subject, I'd been collecting a list of other blogs I follow for a post "one of these days", but today I noticed that one of them had mentioned me! When I first found ShootingStock (Thanks to Bob at picNiche), I immediately went to the oldest post and read the whole thing through in order. Like me, David is just getting started in microstock photography. I loved getting his perspectives on a lot of the same challenges I face. There's something uplifting about knowing there's other people out there on the same journey as I am. Thanks for sharing, David!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

On1 DSLR Remote - Now I can shoot myself!

I've got a few shots in my portfolio in which I am the model. These shots were a pain, as I shot them without a good tethering solution. I did have my camera's video out running to a portable 7" DVD player, so I could watch the LiveView. I also used the Nikon remote trigger to fire the shutter. Adding the D90's few-second delay gave me time to hide the trigger before the shot fired, but since overall the setup was cumbersome, I didn't end up being my own model very often.

Last night, I'm shot myself again, but in a new way. I bought the On1 software for my iPhone, and downloaded the server software to my laptop. I put my camera on a tripod and tethered it to a laptop via the camera's standard USB cable. My iPhone then became a remote trigger, plus a lot much more. I had full access to the camera settings, could toggle live view on and off, could review my shots on the iphone screen as I took them, and could even set the phone to fire the camera every 3-5 seconds while I was in supermodel mode.

I had a lot of fun, stayed up way to late, and ended up with a bunch of images to upload to my microstock sites today.

Friday, September 4, 2009


A new twist for tonight's shoot is that I actually spent some time planning it in advance! Starting with a 1-word concept, I thought about various ways I could communicate that concept. For each idea, how should I frame the shot? What should I be wearing? How should I be lit? What close variations should I add? As each new idea formed, I could think of other, related, images to either add to the shoot, or try for later.

I'm sorry to say this, but until now I haven't really given my shoots very much thought. Sometimes I had an idea of what I wanted, but other times I just grabbed a camera and a kid and started shooting. I usually got some images I could use, but I always threw out a LOT of rejects.

I'd love to hear more about how other stock shooters plan for their shoots.

I'll follow up tomorrow with some finished images.

The following image is unrelated, but is my favorite shot of the day so far. It's just a snapshot, but I really like it. It makes me happy I decided to keep my camera handy at all times!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Blue Battle Fairy

It was hot as heck, but we shot a quick series in the garage yesterday anyway. Since I had to mess around with the lighting a bit, I thought I'd describe where I ended up.

The background is a wide (104"?) roll of white paper, hung high on the garage wall on L-brackets. It is lit by 2 AB-400's each aimed across the paper, for overlapping "field of fire". I have a light meter, but just winged it this time to play around. I adjusted strobe power and placement,the model's distance from the paper, and my camera settings until I liked what I was seeing.

She is standing on the flip-side of some speckled fiberglass bathroom paneling I got at Home Depot. It's not perfectly smooth, but it still blows out really well when I blast it with this much light, and it's not too hard to clean. I've been walking on it for 2 weeks, every time I go in and out of the garage, and all I had to do was hit it with a wet sponge for 2 minutes.

The Blue Battle Fairy has her own light, too. A 22" beauty dish with a third AB-400 in it, and a diffusion sock on it. It' is close to straight on, a little above her head, and aimed down to light her from head to toe. It also adds some light to the floor, whitening it up. I tried some shots with the dish to her side, with a white posterboard to fill her other side, but it was tough to get all that close enough while still leaving her some room to play. So I backed up, centered, raised the dish, and then angled it down some.

I really had to push my main light a lot harder to do these full body shots. (Mostly I've been in a lot closer until now.) In close, it is easy to get the beauty dish really close on one side, and a reflector in really close on the other side. For these wider shots I think it'd be really nice to have 2 lights on the model...

I edited four of the images last night. In Lightroom I cleaned up the background, darkened the wings a bit, and did some basic global adjustments. Then, I made a path selection with the pen tool in Photoshop to remove the shadows under her feet, as I just didn't like the way they looked.

The first four are up at Shutterstock and 3DS already, and as usual I'll wait a while to hear from iStock, Fotolia, and Stockxpert.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Sometimes it seems like the more you learn, the more you can appreciate how much you don't know or understand. I got this feeling in a bog way when I first entered graduate school. After college graduation, I felt and acted like an expert on Math, Engineering, Science, and therefore the world in general. In the first week of graduate school, I quickly learned a few painful truths: Nobody knows very much at all about everything, and nobody knows everything about anything at all, everybody knows more than I do about something, and the killer: I didn't really know very much at all about anything.

I'm getting that feeling again in my photography. This means I'm transitioning from the blissful ignorance of "not knowing what I don't know" to "becoming painfully aware of what I don't know". This discomfort and uncertainty means the opportunity to grow is at hand. How will I learn?

Reading: Books, Forums, Blogs, Manuals - I read a lot every day.

Multimedia: Podcasts, Videos, Websites, Flickr, Microstock Sites,, Kelby Online Training - I follow a bunch of great podcasts and blogs, I'll make a list one day. I also have subscriptions at both Kelby Online and Lynda, and always have at least one course in progress. I can't recommend these two sites strongly enough, they offer a HUGE value for a small monthly cost.

Other People: This is a gap. I'd love to take a class, and join a photography club, but I don't feel like it will fit my schedule at present. Someday, definitely.

I do have a tendency to let the above get in the way of actually taking pictures, which is invaluable. So, I've started taking my camera with me wherever I go. I probably look like a bit of a dork, dropping my daughter off at Kindergarten with my D90+17-55 2.8 on my across-the-chest Black Rapid BR-4 strap. Probably more so this morning when I was lying chest-down on the sidewalk taking pictures of snails and flowers. But I can live with being a dork, especially if I learn a little in the process.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Shifting Monetary Perspective

I've noticed a slow shift in the way I'm spending my money. Watching my daily microstock sales tick by, I get excited at $0.25 here, $1.88 there. The plan is, a lot of these small sales will add up into a meaningful revenue stream at some point. But here in the beginning, they add up to very small daily and monthly totals. So, where's the shift? When I hear, "That will be $14.42 at the window." at the drive-through fast food joint, I think to myself, "That's more than my stock earnings last week." At a finer level of detail, I get to decide whether I want to erase the day's sales by ordering dessert.

The point is not that I want to become some sort of miserly old fart. But, as I moved from an hourly to a salaried worker, I changed. Moving from cashing a paycheck to watching for a direct deposit to not even worrying about it anymore, I'd lost my perspective. Once I decided it'd be fine to budget $500 a month, and later $1000 a month, on whatever whim I felt at the time, I started to literally spend without thought. Any book on personal finance will tell you that the first step to better finances is to track every cent you spend. I've just never felt the need, until now, and now I can't help but pay attention.

An unexpected benefit of the microstock experience may be a new awareness of money. I have earned a little over $100 to date. I have spent $10,000. *gulp* If earning the occasional $0.25 or $0.30 can add up to a significant pile of cash, then so can saving the occasional $0.25 or $0.30, right? What's the old Ben Franklin quote? "Take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves." Was he talking about budgeting, or microstock?

Monday, August 31, 2009

August Sales Report

Here's the totals as of 8/31:

Bringing my total accumulated earnings to $108.96.

What do I need to make to break even?
Since the first phase of my microstock experience will be an attempt to repay the cost of my gear, I had to figure out what that cost was. Over the past year or so, I got more and more interested in improving my photography, and also in improving my photography gear. Savings and monthly "spending money" gave way to better glass and lighting equipment. In the end, here's the approximate damage:

I admit I was a bit surprised by the total, but it's good to know where I'm at. Here it is graphically:

Looks like I'd better get shooting!


Trying to look to the future, without getting too far ahead of myself, I've been considering the exclusivity option at iStockPhoto. I haven't decided whether it's really the choice for me, especially since iStock only accounts for about 15% of my sales to date. But let's say I did want to go exclusive.

First thing I'd have to do would be cancel my accounts at all other agencies. At most of them, this is no big deal- just ask and they kill your account and remove your images. In fact, I did just this at Canstockphoto and Crestock. I'd had no sales to date at either, and decided that continuing to upload wasn't worth the effort. But at two sites it's not so simple:

At BigStockPhoto, you cannot remove a photo until it has been up for 90 days. This is supposedly to protect some sort of "investment" they made in their inspection of submitted images. (I don't think they inspected any of mine, they just clicked "approve all" - accepting something like 100 images all at once.) Whether I approve of this policy or not, I did agree to it when I signed up, so if I do ever want to go exclusive, I'll have to wait 90 days after my last submission to BSP.

At Dreamstime, it's worse. They lock their contributors in for 6 months! Again, I agreed so I'm stuck.

So, my advice:

1) Read those contributor agreements carefully. You never know what they might try to sneak in there. As someone new to microstock, you might be tempted to agree to more than you should, just to get things rolling. Don't. There's plenty of places that are more reasonable in their treatment of their contributors, so be selective.

2) Plan ahead. If you are locked in somewhere, and think you might want out some day soon, stop contributing! The lock-ins are rolling. If I upload a photo today to Dreamstime, for example, then I won't be able to leave until the end of Feb. 2010.

So, just in case I might want to go exclusive in half a year's time. Dreamstime and BSP have seen my last upload. Unfortunately, they lose and I lose, because of their overly restrictive agreement. Who knows, I might not even want to leave in Feb. I might LOVE being a contributor there. But I won't be, not under their current terms.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


We've finished our move from old home to apartment to new home, and we're finally all unpacked. Just a little more work to do in the garage:

Only problem was, this week has been super hot, so shooting in there was not an option. That plus model #1 started Kindergarten... Gotta work on model #2 as soon as it cools off a little!

I did some shooting in the living room over the past few weeks, and submitted some images here and there...

My results: Today I hit $100. Small change for some, I know, but a happy milestone for me. Reaching another milestone also gives me more incentive to keep going. I'll post a full sales update at month's end.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Status update...

We've moved, and are halfway through our stay in temporary housing while we wait to close on our new house. I did bring a good portion of my "studio" gear with me, and had a pretty good week of shooting/uploading.

I also watched the course on Access 07. And just spent a few hours playing with pivot tables, which totally rule. Here's what I ended up with, my history of microstock to date:
Time, numbered 23 to 29, is by week. As in, the 23rd to 29th week of 2009. Sorry for my crappy labeling of the axis.

Crestock and Canstockphoto are not included, as I didn't see the point entering in the image acceptance data for sites that haven't sold any images yet. If they show me some earnings, I'll add them to my spiffy new relational database.

Some observations: Two sites I added late, Shutterstock and StockXpert, are kicking butt for me, relatively speaking. Fotolia took a long time to kick in, but is looking good of late. IStockphoto and Dreamstime sold a couple of images early on, then nothing since, although I am still building my portfolios everywhere.

Basically, there's a table of agencies, a table of images, a table of accepted images (date, agency, which image), and a table of image sales. Getting it all set up was a lot of typing, but now when an image is first accepted, I add a line to the images and the acceptance tables. (Subsequent acceptances reference the already-added image.) And each time an image sells, I enter where and for how much. Then I can track sales in all sorts of interesting ways. Like, for any image I pick: Which sites accepted it? At which sites did it see sales? What is it earning per week/month/agency/whatever? Very interesting, but overall I think it's better to focus on just taking better pictures, and more of them...

We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Another site, and some more sales

Sales #3 and #4 have gone through! #3 was another Dreamstime sale, while #4 was at a new site for me, Shutterstock.



I sent in my first batch of "application" photos to Shutterstock a month ago, but they had some problems. In addition to whatever problems there were with the images, the inspectors didn't feel the model releases had a sufficiently high resolution. When 7/10 of your batch isn't accepted, you are locked out of Shutterstock for 30 days.

When I first see a rejection, I still get the same feeling I got with that first iPhoto or Shutterstock rejection. It's pretty much: "Screw them, what do they know anyway." And so on...

And then I take a deep breath, and try to take an objective look at my submission in light of their critique. The inspectors are almost always right. Whether it's an ugly shadow I somehow didn't notice, or slight under- or overexposure, or even barely readable or incorrectly filled-out model releases.

I try to keep in mind that this whole process is a fantastic learning opportunity for me. Not only do I get free, professional feedback on my images, but I actually make a little money on the good ones!

I should emphasize little here. My earnings to date, on 4 sales, are a whopping: $3.87.

That's not a complaint. I am just starting out. Ask me in a year or two if I'm happy with the financials of this project. Then ask me if I am taking better pictures. (I can already answer that one with a big "hell yes!".)

Friday, June 5, 2009

First iStockphoto sale!

More good news today! I made my first sale at Another $1.14, can you say, "ca-ching"?

Meanwhile I'm working on figuring out my two new Alien Bees AB-400's. I didn't spring for wireless triggers, so I'm trying to trip them as slaves using my on-camera and/or off-camera SB-600 flashes. Had some issues getting them to fire 100% of the time until I put away the speedlights and just used the on-camera flash. Now that that's working I'm playing with the power settings to get lighting I like.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

First Sale!

Since I last wrote, I rethought Dreamstime. I wasn't going to submit anything there, since they won't accept the iStock model release and I didn't want to have to deal with double the paperwork. Reading their forums though, I changed my mind. Someone else had posted an "I quit" message (due to rejections) but got so much support and encouragement from the DT community that he ended up staying. He got great advice, and changed his perspective on the whole process, and mine changed as well. So I filled out their releases, and uploaded a bunch of images. I've also kept up with iStock and Fotolia uploads, and even loaded a few up on crestock.

This morning, I had my first sale, at Dreamstime. I'm surprised how good $1.50 can feel...

Friday, May 22, 2009


I'm taking the girls to see the grandparents, but not without my camera (plus just a few lenses, filters, flashes, laptop, chargers, SD cards, etc..) About a month ago I bought a Lowerpro 200 single-strap backpack thingy. I almost got the smaller 100, but figured I could use a little room to grow. And before I could really even use it, it's way too small. So I had to order one of these:

Found it on Amazon.

It looks big, but it was surprisingly easy to fill up... I'm pretty sure it won't fit under the seat in an airplane, but it should fit overhead. (It better!)

On the stock front, no sales yet, but I'm seeing a few views at least on both Fotolia and iStockphoto. I uploaded a bunch of stuff to Dreamstime, only to find out they don't accept iStock's model release (everyone else does). So, I guess I'm out of luck there- no way I'm filling out 2x the paperwork just to add one more agency.

I've been watching a lot of online lessons. Mainly the ones at Lynda, which are great. I'm about 7-8 hours into a 14h Photoshop for Photographers class at the moment, and learning a lot. I got the first month of Lynda for free with my Photoshop purchase, but I'll definitely subscribe when that runs out. There's so many great classes there.

I also began setting up a gallery at a domain I bought and had hosted. GoDaddy made it easy to get squared away, and Lightroom plus SlideShowPro plus a custom watermarking action in Photoshop and I'm almost all set. I still need to come up with a top-level "home" page. Might try the Dreamweaver 30day demo for that.

Off to CT in the morning.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Doing my happy dance again.

"Welcome to, the designer's dirty little secret. Congratulations, the iStockphoto administrators have determined that your files are commercially and technically ready for Please begin uploading at your convenience."

Now, even though 3 images were "accepted" in my application, I still have to start over from scratch. So I started uploading, and boy does the default uploader at iStockphoto blow. Very slow, very hands-on, not fun.

So a quick google of "better iStockphoto uploader" found me: DeepMeta - Manage your iStockphoto portfolio, which RULES. I can get all the uploads ready in their free app, then start the batch upload and walk away. Thank you DeepMeta, you rock.

Just FYI, my third approved image was a chess photo from yesterday's post.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Trying again...

Tried again for a few minutes with a semi-cooperative model, and got some more shots to submit. I sent 6 to fotolia for review, and since iStockphoto already accepted 2 earlier, I only had to submit one this round! Not only that, they reset my timer, so it was only 3 days. Now, if today's is rejected I think it'll go back to 6, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

I am very lucky to have such a great model at hand! I think I'm mostly limited by my ability to come up with ideas that are fun or interesting enough to keep her entertained while I shoot... I'll have to work on that. Maybe tomorrow we can break out some power tools...

Friday, May 15, 2009


Not being one to stick to the original plan, I sent these three in to iStockphoto for approval. To my happy surprise, 2 of 3 were approved. But #3 didn't quite meet their lighting requirements.

Looking over the image, I can see what they mean. It took a while in lightroom to really get that background white, and I ended up with her face and hair a little too bright in spots, and a little too dark in others. As a result, when I look at the image I feel a little too drawn to the chessboard, and not drawn enough to the beautiful model.

I reshot today, but couldn't get exactly perfect before said model got bored, below I'll show some of the attempts. You might also notice said model had frosting and crumbs on her face and the remains of a painted-on "unicorn pegasus" from Tuesday... The lesson: make sure your model takes a bath once in a while, and washes her face and brushes her hair before your photo shoot.

A little better, but I'll keep trying for a better expression... I do like the shallow depth-of-field shot of the chessboard though. I might see how they like these two at Fotolia, they seem a little more forgiving of my less-than-perfect backgrounds.

In the meantime, I'm loving Kelby Training! For a meager $20 a month, I'm watching hour after hour of training on general photography, Lightroom 2.0, and Photoshop CS4. Beats watching TV and learning nothing, but don't get me wrong- I haven't missed an American Idol episode yet.