Microstock Photographer

Success Story:
Donna Coleman

Interview by Jennie Van Meter

By Andrew Hudson Published: June 17, 2011 Updated: November 17, 2016

Donna Coleman (see her portfolio) is a typical microstock photographer. A married mom of three children with a background in sales, she started photographing for stock in 2007.

Despite following a parent-approved, “safe” career path in business, Donna had been drawn to photography since high school and continued to use her camera, building her skills and her portfolio in the years leading up to her foray into stock photography.

Now, she’s pursuing the passion for photography she had in her youth, and making money from her work by selling stock photos online.

About Donna

Donna started with iStockphoto in 2007 and has doubled or tripled her profits each year from her first year’s result of less than $1,000. She’s also developed an assignment photography business on the side from word-of-mouth referrals. She’s found a following in her community for photographing corporate headshots for local business people.

For someone who still considers herself an amateur, Donna has created a professional photography business that’s growing each year. If she can do it, so can you. Here’s what we discovered by talking to Donna.

Part I:
Stock Photography

You are exclusive with iStockphoto. What does that mean and what’s the advantage?

For me, the main advantage to being exclusive is that the inspection time for your submitted photos is usually 1–3 days (vs. 1–2 weeks for non-exclusive contributors). I’m too impatient to wait for weeks! Other great features are that I can upload more photos per week: up to 75 (vs. 15 for non-exclusive members).

Some of my photos have been chosen by the iStock team to be offered in the Veer collection, which is a premier collection offered by corporate parent Getty Images.

Also, as an exclusive contributor, the royalty percentages are a bit higher and we can choose to put a portion of our portfolio into what is called the Exclusive Plus collection. The prices there are about double that of the regular collection. It was a hard decision to move some of my best sellers into that collection because I worried that the higher price points would reduce the number of sales but I’ve found that some of my top sellers continue to receive a lot of downloads and the royalties are twice as much.

What is the rate per license that you get as an iStockphoto exclusive contributor?

It depends upon what the buyer wants to license, as far as size of image and license terms. Royalties vary between $0.64 for an extra small size image to around $9 for an xlarge size image. Looking over the last few months, I average about $2.50 per download. Extended licenses bring in a lot more money, on average about $50. Those are obtained by clients who are reselling the image or using it over 500,000 times ( link).

How many photo licenses do you sell?

It’s pretty erratic: some days, I’ll have five sales, some days, it’ll be 20. But, it’s getting more consistent over time. I average about one extended license per month.

What do you like about iStockphoto?

I love that, once the photos are in my portfolio, they don’t go away. When I take a vacation or have a busy personal time and can’t work, it’s very nice to see royalties come in as usual.

How do you get your photos listed early in the search process?

Newer photos often show up in the first few pages of a buyer’s search so it’s important to contribute new images on a regular basis. To keep growing your income, you need to keep adding fresh content.

How do you upload your photos?

I finally took the time to learn how to use DeepMeta which is a free third party software program that allows iStock contributors to upload images much easier and to link like images together. It is fantastic and allows me to upload batches of photos much faster.

Is stock photography your main source of income?

No, not yet. Right now, it still just basically pays for my studio rent and my equipment. As a side benefit of my stock business, I’m now making several hundred dollars a month from assignment photography; mostly portraits, but also some wedding and corporate jobs. Sometimes, I’m able to maximize the assignments by getting some stock images out of those jobs at the same time.

Do you do outside marketing of your stock business?

I’m working on a website and getting ready to venture into Facebook. For now, all my sales have come through the iStockphoto site.

What’s the iStockphoto community like?

It’s a supportive community, and you can meet great people in your area and all around the world.

iStockphoto also offers local events, called Minilypses, so you can get together in person with other istockers. These are limited-attendance workshops in which a group of photographers chip in to rent a studio or other location and hire models for the day.

I attended a Minilypse in Los Angeles a few years ago. Twenty photographers were involved. We got our models from Model Mayhem, a service that links up beginning models with photographers. There was also a lecture by a lighting expert.

It was a great learning experience! You don’t necessarily get real usable stock at this type of event, because there are 20 people taking shots in the same location. But, you learn from each other, and taking photos in the same place pushes you to be really creative about how you use the models and what kinds of shots you set-up.

Next: In the Studio

Read Part 2: In the Studio with Donna.

Next page: Donna Coleman

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