I always had a thing for nice round numbers, so it is with some satisfaction that I hit 20,000 sales right around my 5 year anniversary! When I started out I never would have guessed I would get to this point, but I also completely underestimated how much effort would be required to get here. I should clarify that a bit - it isn't so much effort that was required, but steady
effort. Stock photography is a bit of a numbers game, so doing a few more images a month adds up to hundreds of additional images for sale after five years.
Here are a few tips and recommendations for reaching your goals:
1. Take stock early on and decide if this is for you. There is no shame in admitting that $12 a month isn't enough to sustain the effort you are making. For some the money doesn't really matter, they appreciate the learning experience and public recognition of their work - and that is fine - but take note every now and then if this is the most rewarding way to spend your time on photography. I decided early on that I would have a go of it, and if I hadn't seen progress and terms of sales I would have stopped.
2. Decide if you are going to adapt your style to sell, and if not, if your current style is suited to stock. Not all subjects are going to return the income per image online to justify the effort.
3. Keep at it, but don't burn out. You really need to keeping generating images on a monthly basis. That doesn't mean to sacrifice quality for quantity, but to reach goals you need to produce content - and your goals (and content) will dictate whether you need to produce 5 images a month, or 500.
4. Learn the way images are found. There is no use in having great images that no one can find. Keywording is a very under-appreciated skill, and the cause of most of the complaints of 'no sales' in the boards. Keep in mind that if you aren't exclusive, you have to work even harder to be found - either with standout work, or standout keywording.
5. Don't go overboard on equipment. Some will argue that a new full frame camera and quality lens makes all the difference, but to me that only adds a few additional types of photos that lesser gear can't do. Do you want to spend $4K on gear to add 5% more photos a month? Concentrate on content and lighting, and you can make do with a basic camera and macro lens and one light. When you are making enough to justify the gear, then buy it - not before.
6. Think generic. Not in the sense of taking the same shot everyone else has done before, but in the sense of having many uses for your images. Especially on Dreamstime, getting multiple sales on an image pays off. The name of the game in stock is multiple sales per image.
7. Write a blog! If you can't think of ways to illustrate a blog with your own images, you aren't producing images anyone else can use :)
I think there is still room for newcomers with original content, but there is no question that the barrier to entry is higher than it used to be - but that is more due to the large number of images for sale, not due to better gear (in my opinion). You can still work magic with a bit of creativity - as many images as there are, I'm still surprised when I come up with another 30-50 images each month :)
Good luck everyone, and thanks DT!