Microstock Photography Vs Vector Illustrations

You can enter microstock industry as an photographer, illustrator, video producer or audio creator or all of it. Each of these have their own advantages and ideally it makes sense to have a mix of these in your portfolio than just one type of artwork. However, producing each of these require different skill set and we all limited by  the 24 hours we get in a day. So, most of microstock contributors start off with one of these as their primary content type and then later on try to add others when they get a chance to create them.


It is indeed a great strategy. However, most start off with trying their hand in photography as it is more jazzier & popular of the rest but also it feels that it is the right option to start with. Sure, the idea is simple – We tend to take our camera everywhere and by clicking few here and there, we can try to start making some money and then slowly grow it and then incorporate other content types. Sorry to break the bubble but that was true may be 10 years ago but not any more. Cameras have become so cheap that everyone thinks just like this and hence there is huge number of them trying to enter microstock business.

Now, this article is not to put you off from entering the microstock business but in fact is to encourage you and more like you to join. The intention however is to warn you and make you aware of the challenges out there in front of you. For a creative passionate person this should not be a dampener but rather a motivation to prove him/herself by winning against this wave of competition. However, in order for this venture of yours to succeed, my recommendation is to start off with becoming a microstock illustrator if you have no preference on where to start from. If you love your camera then still I highly recommend you to consider creating vector illustrations as well.

But Why? you may ask… Well below are some quick reasons I could think of where creating and selling microstock illustrations have distinct advantage over selling stock photos.

1. Higher Competition for Photos: Pick any stock site out there, there are more photos than there are vectors/illustrations. So if you stick with just photos then you will have to fight against a strict competition as compared to vectors.

2. Strict rejection criteria for photos: I have faced so much agony myself but it might still be far less than some of the established photographers. Given the volume of images submitted, agencies have become far more stricter when reviewing an photo as compared to that of a vector/illustration.

3. Cost of Production: Photography has become incredibly cheap but it is still a costly affair. You need to buy camera, lenses, accessories, equipment, maintenance kit and the list goes on. If you are shooting indoors then you have to add the cost of rent, power and other logistics that come with it. If you are working with models then they add further cost to the whole affair. On the other hand, the cost of production of an illustration is negligible when compared to photo.

4. External Dependency: If you are clicking images outdoors then you have a myriad of challenges to work with like lightening, shadows, glare, weather conditions and clear accessibility to subjects devoid of distractions are some examples. You have to plan in advance and workaround those new ones which you dont plan for in order to take few decent shots. There is no such constraints for a microstock illustrator.

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5. Post Processing Effort: We now can click unlimited photos which creates a problem of plenty. Choosing the best among them is a challenge as we feel each one can turn out to be a best seller. However, even after painfully shortlisting images, you have to spend time adjusting contrasts and making the image come alive. When it comes to Vectors, there is no post processing effort.

6. Risks: The best sellers generally have people in them but having people brings in an element of risk. There is a chance that your image is used for a campaign which you or the model dont agree with and once sold, you cant do much about it. Large part of T&Cs that agencies make you sign is to deal with this risk. Vectors are mostly created from scratch and mostly without any identifiable people in them. So this eliminate this risk almost completely.

7. Reusablility: Vectors that we create are completely editable and reusable. So with time, the effort needed to create illustrations reduce both due to acquired skill and number of reusable artefacts you have at your disposal. I dont think images can be reused like this.

8. Smaller Learning Curve: Understanding various parameters of camera like aperture, shutter speed and such like will need some time. Even after you getting hang of it, getting images of quality which is accepted by agencies will take some additional time. On the other hand, even today, agencies like shutterstock accept simple icons which are fairly easy to create. So it allows you to take a step-by-step approach regardless of how much time you have got to invest.

Please dont mistake more. The intention is not to scare you off but rather to educate you about the present challenges so that you can plan to over come them in your own way. The takeaway here is for you to consider becoming microstock illustrator along with photographer as it will give you the best chance to succeed. I created this website purely to help newbie contributors like you to get into microstock business. So checkout my other articles if you are keen esp. this one about 10 reasons as why you must consider becoming a microstock illustrator.

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Rapid StartLike anything else, even the microstock industry has its own set of best practices you should adopt and critical pitfalls you must avoid. I have fallen many times and but in the process, I have learned a lot. So I have used all the learnings I got from brother and from my own experience to create a detailed video-based online course with over 7 hours of content just for you so that you have a really good starting point. This will give definitely give you a big advantage over others who are joining this business on their own. In this world of intense competition, any advantage you can get will significantly improve your chances of success.

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