A hobby I started in August 2013 was submitting images to Shutterstock. After a friend kept showing me ridiculous things she found on Shutterstock, I started browsing on my own, and quickly came to the “Well I could do that!” conclusion. The hiccup was that my camera is not nearly good enough for stock photography. So instead, I turned to Photoshop and Illustrator to get things done.
Of all the things I’ve done, this one by far has had the best effort-to-payoff ratio. See, the wonderful thing about Shutterstock and other microstock websites is that when you’ve got your portfolio built up, you technically don’t have to do anything else. As long as you write appropriate titles and use your tags wisely, you’re good to go.
I’ve read about two different methods to microstock: you can either make what’s popular, or you can find your niche. With making popular images, you’ll have a lot more people looking for your images, but there’s a lot of other contributors. With finding a niche, not very many people will be looking for your types of images, but when they search for them, you will have very little competition from other submitters.
I chose to specialize in one area: abstract backgrounds. I decided to really delve into a niche: bokeh backgrounds. Specifically, I like to make bokeh backgrounds with odd colors. There’s plenty of plain blue bokeh backgrounds. But there’s not a ton that are a faded teal and pink gradient. The image directly below is currently my fourth most downloaded image, and it’s one I very nearly didn’t submit.
Although I’m not as prolific as I was, these images keep getting downloaded and the money keeps trickling in. I like to make it a point to add more images to my portfolio occasionally. It helps keep things fresh, and brings my images to the top of the “new” queue.
I’m sure a lot of different microstock creators will give different advice, but what worked for me was to make things that were different from everyone else. Not images that were completely random or bizarre, but to take a needed category of images and put my own spin on them. In all honesty, I’m under the impression that it’s easier to get noticed with vectors and illustrations than photography.