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Am I Really Making Money from Microstock Photography ? Part 2

14 November 2009 9 Comments

Components of success concept on blackboard
First part of this article was easy. I simply decided that I would measure productivity of my portfolio in reference to the total number of pictures I have produced for microstock. These cover rejects, pictures not submitted and some multiple versions, so they represent my entire work for microstock including learning process and some failed projects.

To proceed further I need make some assumptions and guess estimates.

After two years of microstock photography I consider myself the part-timer. I have half time in a regular job and some other streams of income in a self employed mode. It means that I can share different expenses between my self employed activities. I am not planning to work a full time for microstock.

I do not keep records of my hours spent on microstock. That wouldn’t be fun … My estimate is that I am working about 60 hours per month, i.e., 1/3 of my time. I am doing this quite regularly shooting a 3-4 times per weeks and processing and submitting a few pictures almost every day. No special shooting campaigns or “power weeks.”

I am analyzing here 23 months from December 2007 to October 2009. To build a portfolio of 1748 pictures I needed 1380 hours. It results in about 46 minutes per picture.

After months of experimentations my stock photography is focusing now on a table top subjects and concepts in my home office/studio. I enjoy a lot of outdoor activities (paddling, hiking, biking) usually with a camera. However, sales of my “recreational” pictures are too low to justify counting these trips into expenses and labor time related to microstock. However, I take into account time needed to process these outdoor pictures for microstock submissions.

Some short trips are planned specifically for microstock shooting. It is sad that shooting a local sewage outlet is much more profitable from microstock perspective than visiting Rocky Mountain National Park or other scenic destinations in Colorado where I live.

I keep my shooting costs very low. No model fees, cheap, often eatable, props. Two years ago I bought a new camera, Canon EOS 40D, with two lenses, a diffusion tent and couple of lights (see My Favorite Camera and Lens for Microstock Photography). Last month I upgraded to Canon 5D Mark II.

So, my microstock expenses are mostly related to camera equipment and some software (Photoshop, Lightroom). It is important to note what I am not including here: computer, internet access, home office expenses (these are covered by my other income streams).


To include monthly expenses in this analysis I will use the following formula:

$200 or 30% of sales whatever is higher on a monthly basis

It covers all my microstock expenses and equipment investments discussed above. Of course, I may have to adjust it in the future. With this assumption I broke even in September 2008 after 10 months in microstock. My profit is growing up in 2009 reaching $1000 in October.


Now, I can replot my return per image as “net RPI” which includes expenses. For reference my October 2009 numbers are as follows: net RPI=$0.59, average portfolio RPI=$1.01, and entire portfolio RPI=$0.84.

RPI is always calculated somewhat arbitrary. I think that its value is not so important, but its trend is. As long as it is rising, I am doing OK.

It would be nice to know how much an hour of my time spent on microstock is worth. Hourly rate of a microstock photographer? Is it more profitable to flip hamburgers at McDonald’s or do babysitting as some suggest?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to those questions. There is no strong link between amount of work invested at given month and sales at that month. Our pictures are selling with a long delay in time. I was trying to analyze this problem in one of earlier post: A Reverse Look at Microstock Sales from My iStock and Shutterstock Portfolios. If I stop submitting pictures to microstock right now, my pictures will be still selling and make money.

More importantly, you shouldn’t really expect profit when developing a business, i.e., building your microstock portfolio. Taking into account my total earnings from microstock during the last 23 months and my total working time leads to $4.70/hour – not very impressive, perhaps, but it’s growing.


I believe it would be more reasonable to look at the earnings, expenses, RPI in longer time periods than a month: annually or quarterly. However, since I am spending the same amount of time on microstock every month, I can calculated my hourly rate for each month showing profit. $17/hour in October 2009 is around a double minimum wage in US. I will be satisfied if it grows up to $30/hour.

I record all my numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, so I can easily change my assumptions or include additional expenses. I don’t have a business background, so my approach and terminology may be somewhat naive here. I am trying to develop a framework to analyze my net microstock earnings to have some control in what I am doing.

I would appreciate any comments and suggestions. How to improve my approach? What I am missing? If you would like to share your experience we can consider a guest post in this blog.

Related posts:
Am I Really Making Money from Microstock Photography ? Part 1
13 Months of Microstock Photography Earnings: October | November | December | 2009 January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October
My Favorite Camera and Lens for Microstock Photography

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