Book Review: Boughn’s ‘Microstock Money Shots’

Posted on 8/20/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

If you have decided you want to enter the microstock world, you can’t get better advice than is contained in Ellen Boughn’s newly release Microstock Money Shots. Boughn doesn’t promise that it’s easy or that you’ll get rich quick, but she will save you a lot of the frustration that comes from learning the hard way by trial and error.

Microstock is a whole new world for photographers who have licensed rights through traditional stock agencies, and not just because of lower prices. Coming from the traditional market, there are some things you must unlearn, and that is often more difficult than learning.

Despite microstock’s problems (and yes, the low prices), it is highly likely that in 2010, there are more photographers earning in excess of $100,000 in microstock than in rights-managed licensing. (See “Revisiting Revenue as a Function of Price Times Volume,” “Microstock Income Potential” and “Microstock Plateau: iStockphoto July 2010.”)

Granted, the vast majority of microstock photographers don’t earn much money, but that is also true of the vast majority of those trying to license their images as rights-managed or traditional royalty-free. At least the trend in microstock pricing is upward, while the traditional pricing trend is downward. Stock photography is not about producing beautiful art that may sell rarely, if at all. It is about producing images that customers will want to buy multiple times. If your images need to be licensed multiple times in order to realize a profit, then today microstock is the place to be.

Boughn has been on both sides of the business. Her book is a quick read packed with pearls of wisdom gained from her time with Dreamstime, which she joined in early 2007, and from her more than 30 years in the stock photo industry.

She tells readers how to break through the crowd with commercially appealing images and explains strategies for successful submissions. One of the things of immense value in the book that she has agreed to share with Selling Stock readers is the Shutterstock list of common submission errors to avoid.

Common Submission Errors to Avoid


  • Images haven’t been categorized correctly.
  • The “holiday” category is incorrectly used for vacation/travel imagery.
  • The “celebrities” category is incorrectly used for celebrations such as birthdays and Valentine’s Day.


  • Images are submitted upside down or sideways.
  • There is a watermark or date stamp left on an image.
  • There is a frame around an image.
  • The image is out of focus.
  • The depth of field is too shallow.
  • Composition is poor and/or there are cropping issues.
  • The image has too much “noise” (visual and color distortions similar to excess grain in film). Submitters should view images at 100% prior to submitting to check for noise or dirt.
  • A previously rejected image is being resubmitted without the necessary corrections.
  • Images have not been well edited. (Some submitters send in hundreds of unedited images at a time and wonder why ninety-nine percent of them are rejected.)
  • Poor isolations in situations when the photographer went back to the image to make the background white/whiter after the fact.
  • A dirty lens or sensor was used, and the submitter hasn’t cloned out the dust properly.
  • Lighting issues. (Some images are simply not lit well for stock use. They are over or underexposed, have deep shadows, or have burned-out areas.)


  • Keywords are used in the titles of the image. (Titles are what are sometimes called captions.)
  • Camera information is in the title.
  • Keyword spamming is present (see page 139).
  • The term logo has been used as a keyword or in the title. (Shutterstock does not license images for logo use.)
  • Titles are poorly written and descriptions include misspellings, typos, or foreign language words.


  • Caption format for editorial images is incorrect.
  • No caption is provided.
  • Non-newsworthy images are submitted as editorial.


  • No model release is attached.
  • Model releases are not submitted in the proper format; upside-down views are most irritating to reviewers.
  • Model release is incomplete, lacking a guardian signature for a minor, or not signed at all.
  • The photographer or model has signed as the witness. (The witness signature must be a third party altogether, even for self-portraits.)
  • The model release is not in English. (Dual-language model releases are fine.)
  • Images of the photographer’s children do not include model releases. (Yes, they still need them.)
  • Model release is not legible.

This is only a taste of the useful information found in Microstock Money Shots. The world is changing. Traditional strategies are on the way out. If your goal in producing stock images is to earn the maximum possible, then Boughn’s book will give you a succinct overview of the industry, where it is heading and what you need to do to be successful.

Copyright © Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Bill Bachmann Posted Aug 20, 2010
    Jim, Where do you get the fact that "more people are earning over 100K in Microstock than RM"? Come on.... building false dreams again.

    Why do you KEEP encouraging people to give their work away?? You know I care for you, but I do think you are offering a disservice with 'out of your rear' comments like that! The top shooter in the WORLD --Yuri Arcurs --is now getting into RM to make more money! He sees the Microstock model failing for photographers!!!

    Microstock is a pipe dream giving away your work. Who does it help??? The client who pays a dollar or two. That's IT!!

    You keep getting top shooters telling you that, and then you still go & write comments like that! It is deceiving to the beginner, the part-timer & the novice.

    You have interviewed me and other top shooters, yet you STILL make statements that are IMPOSSIBLE to check. Please make sense to people and you help a lot more.

    I talk to photographers all the time in my lectures & workshops. It is not all doom & gloom. Read my book again, Jim!

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