Why Microstock? Part 2
Just as the Internet has opened up numerous micro-markets, technology has also eliminated many of the barriers to entry to becoming a professional photographer, most notably the cost of equipment and media. In the film days, one could spend thousands becoming outfitted with pro-level gear. Now one can spend a few hundred on a high end point and shoot and get acceptable (and often better) image quality.
The other barrier to entry was the cost of learning the art. Film and processing didn’t come cheap, and it takes a lot of practice to really learn photography. Now, cameras accelerate the learning curve with automation giving technically good results with little practice. It still takes a lot of practice to develop a photographer’s “eye”, but honing your art is now as cheap as reviewing your successes and failures, then pressing delete.
Gone also are the days when art school, internships and years as a photographer’s assistant were prerequisites for commercial success. Even books and subscriptions to photo magazines, previously requisites for independent learning have largely been made obsolete. There is no question that art school and professional internships can progress an individual to stardom, particularly in large budget commercial photography. There is no substitute for developing a professional network when it comes to breaking in and getting those first critical assignments. But microstock is another bird. There is no professional favoritism or referrals in most settings. It’s a matter of producing quality work before hitting the submit button. Sure there are endless tips and tricks to help you along the way, but the path is largely what you make it.
Producing this quality work requires practice, mentoring, and feedback. Practice comes cheap with digital storage. Feedback and mentoring are only as far away as your laptop. Goodbye to cold-calling pros, hoping to get a little of their time. One only has to participate in photo sharing sites such as flickr. Sure there are a lot of cat pictures, but there is some truly, startlingly, remarkable work being done on these sites, often by amateurs. Whatever your question, there is someone who can help you find an answer. However wonderful your picture might be, there are always suggestions from others on how it can be improved. Yes, there are jerks and bullies on these sites. Yes, some of the pros can be the same way in person. However you chose to seek your mentoring and guidance, you will need a thick hide. If you just want someone to tell you how wonderful your pictures are, that’s what your mom is for. These sites won’t be for you, and likely neither will microstock or any aspect of professional photography. Criticism and failure is just part of the game. In the end, looking at your pictures through someone else’s eyes is critical to your success.
The barriers to entry have largely dissolved in stock photography. For under a grand, one can acquire the minimum tools of a semi-pro camera and image editing software. Training is now more a matter of dedication, patience and time. The market did just what a market is supposed to do when barriers come down. Prices came down. A lot. When an abundance of relatively good work glutted the market it quickly lost its value. Now anyone with an artist’s vision and the aforementioned resources can go “pro”. So is it a good thing? Only time will tell. If I were a traditional full-time pro, I would be very concerned indeed. As someone for which photography is a profitable sideline, I am on the fence. It’s now a lot less time consuming getting my photos in front of buyers. What I lack in per-sale revenue seems to be made up for in volume of sales. I am just now dipping my toe into the microstock market. I may pull it back out and stick with more traditional agencies and sales paths. The key now is deciding if return on investment is worth it, and if so, how a scientific photographer can stand out from the crowd.