I've been going over and over these in the last week, chopping and changing but I think I've narrowed it down to ten. Bearing in mind I'm no pro in this field just yet, these are the steps I took in order to get myself in a position where I feel confident to start taking big steps into the microstock world.
1. Organisation - Key to becoming a success in microstock is organising yourself suitably to make the absolute most of your time. This is the step I have struggled with since I first decided I wanted to pursue this as a career, especially when you're as unorganised as me! For a start you need a good programme on your computer to keep your images in order and let you know quickly and easily where your photos are uploaded, which ones need editing, which ones you're most happy with. Different method's work for different people, but try to make it as easy as possible for yourself. Take a look at your workflow and write down each step from camera to upload. To be honest, you'll be spending more time in front of the computer than behind the camera so making things flow as smoothly as possible is paramount.
For all my computer work I use Apple Aperture and Adobe Photoshop. Many of the things you'll need to do to your images will be available in Aperture without having to load photoshop which saves time and effort. The same tools are also available in Adobe Lightroom, it's just a matter of personal preference which one you use. Having gone down the route of sorting my photos in Aperture, it would be quite the task transferring so I'm stuck with the one I picked. Have a play around with both and decide which one is for you. I have found the Uberupload plugin for Aperture immensely useful to avoid having to individually upload files to each site, I can now do all the keywording/tagging/uploading directly in Aperture which saves me a lot of hassle. I can almost guarantee there will be something similar for Lightroom (if not already built in)
As well as organisation on your computer, you need to organise your time to maximise your output. I can hold my hands up as a self-confessed procrastinator, my mind seems to race at a million miles an hour and I end up getting nothing done that I want. In looking for better ways to organise myself I stumbled across Getting Things Done by David Allen. If you are a pretty organised person then you can probably ignore this, but as someone who has the attention span of a goldfish, this book was an absolute goldmine. I'd advise anyone, even the most organised person in the world to get hold of this and give it a read. It's made my workflow much more streamlined as I know what I'm supposed to be doing at any given time of the day, and therefore not worrying about the other stuff I haven't done. I won't go into too much detail, but this ideology combined with Ominfocus (A getting things done app for the mac/iphone) has really helped kick me into motion.
So to sum all that up, get organised and do it first, get structures in place and processes clear in your head, that way you can spend more time shooting and uploading than wondering how you're going to get it all done.
2. Buying the right camera - There are probably hundreds of articles out there regarding camera choice for microstock (here and here are a couple) and I think the bottom line of them all is a DSLR. In order to minimise artifacts, and maximise resolution a DSLR is a must. The whole idea behind stock photography is technically perfect images. You need to be in control of every aspect of the shot and a DSLR is the best way to achieve this. The advent of affordable DSLR's makes it even easier to join in stock photography, even the beginner models such as the Nikon D5000 or the older model Nikon D40 (incidentally the camera I initially started this adventure with!) are great cameras. I think the point is that with even the most basic of DSLR the only limit on your stock photography is your imagination and time. DSLR's are now reaching a point where even entry level cameras are extremely useful pieces of kit and perfect as a jumping off point.
Another point to bear in mind is that most stock agencies prices increase with resolution of image. If you compare this photo of a sunset in Mauritius taken on an 8MP camera, note that there is an extra available option when compared to this image of a field (which I annoyingly forgot to reset my camera to it's default large size when taking, there's a lesson in there somewhere) This type of jump will continue the more megapixels are available on your images, so that is certainly something to bear in mind when choosing a camera and when it comes to actually framing/cropping your shots. It is important to squeeze as many of the available megapixels out of your camera as possible, in order to maximise the amount of money that you can make.
3. Signing up to stock agencies - There are about eight stock agencies I would recommend signing up to and in a specific order so you can get a taste of what they're like. Three of these agencies have an entry requirement that they will judge your ability upon submission (I have listed the entry requirements for these below, but it can be anything from three to ten of your best stock images. I haven't moved onto these yet as my portfolio isn't big enough or good enough to have a go. However, if you are rejected when you do apply there is usually only a wait of at maximum a month before you can resubmit, so if you have a big enough portfolio, there's no reason why it's not worth giving it a shot straight away!
4. Sifting through your current photos - Now you've got your camera, signed up to all the agencies and you're ready to start uploading! The first thing I did which ties nicely in with organisation, is to go through all your current photos and pick the one's you think could be useable as stock photos. Do this by looking around the sites you're now signed up to and working out what sort of photos make good stock. Remember the importance of clean/crisp photos and perfect exposure, look for photos with good commercial value. This will be your first venture into what makes stock photography, so feel free to make notes of styles/ideas you like for future shoots. Bear in mind if you are planning on using photos of people you will need to have their signed permission to upload their photo (model releases are discussed in the next section)
Once you've been through your entire current photo collection, then you'll need to start keywording them. For all my keywording purposes I use Yuri Acurs' Keywording Tool, he is the current master of stock photography hitting highest sales at most of the stock photo agencies every month. To use it you type in a few of the words you can think of for the photo you're tagging and it'll search for similar throughout various stock sites and come back with a list of 50 keywords for you to use for your photo. Keywording is vital if you want to get eyes on your photo so make sure you cram as many as possible (most sites limit you to 50 words.) Using whichever software you are cataloging your images in go through them all applying all the keywords to them so they're ready for upload.
5. Uploading photos to stock sites to get a feel for the process - Once all your current photos are keyworded, get uploading! Use whichever method is easiest for you, as I mentioned above I use Uberupload because all sites can be attacked in one go. Just go round each site gathering up their FTP information and enter it all in and it will do the rest.
However if you're more comfortable doing each site seperately via their online tools (or that is the only option available) then do it this way. To be honest, this is the dullest part of the stock photography process and is rather mind-numbing. Most people find keywording and uploading laborious and tiresome so finding the quickest and easiest way to complete it is useful. Even with Uberupload, I still have to log into each site and give each photo a name, and tick boxes etc. This is where your model release forms are required, and usually differ between sites. Any photos that have distinguishable faces/people in them must be uploaded along with a signed model release form granting permission for you to use the photo. I'd advise getting all the releases downloaded from each site and pre-filled in ready to be signed, this will save time in the long run when you're in a rush.
Once all your photos are uploaded, sit back and wait for the approvals/rejections to roll in. You may get lucky (or be extremely talented) and nail the tests first time, then you're in for the long run. Otherwise wait for feedback from the other sites, and take photos that have been approved and try those. Of course all stock sites are looking for different things and have different criteria that they judge photos on, but if one site like's your photo, then chances are some others might too. It's always worth a try and there's nothing lost at all.
6. Register with Microstock Group - Microstock group is a forum that discusses anything and everything to do with Stock Photography, and will be extremely useful once you start getting your first bunch of feedback. They're a very friendly bunch, and there are critique sections where users will explain where you have gone wrong, and things to change to get your photos accepted. Great for sharing stories and generally communicating with experienced stock photographers on a one-to-one level.
7. Work out an achievable schedule for taking and uploading photos - An aging stock portfolio will only get you so far, and you need to keep your content up to date and relevant, and this means uploading photos on a regular basis. This means at the very least 1 photo a week, hopefully alot more. I find the more you get your head into stock photography, the more possibilities you'll come up with. Whereas normally when out shooting photos you will be concentrating taking individual and unique photos, upon donning your Stock Hat you'll spot a multitude of sellable images where you weren't looking for originally.
At the moment due to other commitments, I am currently trying to shoot at least 1 stock photo a week which is a really really low number compared to some people shooting stock. Shoot whatever you feel comfortable with and don't make it become a chore or you just won't do it. Start off low and the ideas/photos will flow, but stick to your schedule so at least your portfolios are ticking along. A good way to do this is to stack the various jobs up so that it never becomes overwhelming. Set a time aside to shoot photo ideas one day, then upload them to your computer and be done with it. Edit all your shots and narrow them down the next day, then on the final day keyword everything and bulk upload to all your sites. This batch processing works well and keeps you mind targeted on the job at hand.
8. Start with photos of what you know best - Having sifted through your current photoset originally and hopefully had some of your photos accepted you will start to be able to see where you your talent lies and what you enjoy shooting the most. In the beginning concentrate on churning out these shots, remember that the more you enjoy what you're shooting the more likely you are to get good shots and a lot of them. Most stock photographers settle into a niche market and find that buyers will come to them directly with commisions once they start to know their name.
By keeping the same username throughout your stock sites, buyers will hopefully begin to become familiar with what you have to offer, and look for your new photos above others. Keep your quality high, and the buyers will come.
9. Make copious notes - Have a browse around all the stock sites for top selling images and make notes on how you can shoot an individual take on them. Making notes is something I've only just started doing, but am now filling notebooks with ideas for stock photos so that when I do get time alone with my camera I'm never at a loss about what to shoot. Make a note of the various holidays throughout the year and shoot within that context about a month before each holiday. Shoot bunnies (not literally) for easter, or decorations for Christmas. They will all begin getting popular as buyers need the photos for the upcoming holidays. Even better than making notes is having your camera with you at all times, then rather than noting an idea down you can just take the photo and be done with it.
10. Have fun - By now you should be fairly comfortable with all the processes that go on during stock photography, you should have a slick method of getting the photos from your camera onto the servers. This is where you can really start to hit your stride and experiment with styles and ideas. Many markets within stock are thoroughly saturated with images, but if you can develop a niche (in either content or style) then buyers will begin to take notice and look out for your photos. Keep plugging away with and keep enjoying it!