Anna Kucherova: 5 years in photo stocks
Anna Kucherova spoke about her main way of earning money – photo stocks.
Suddenly. Today marks five years since my registration at Shatter, and on this occasion I dashed off * a short * report on the work done. It’s time to summarize something, and colleagues, perhaps, will be interested in reading. About motivation, finding your niche, successes, crises and important changes in life. With numbers. 🙂
2010 (1st year)
By the time I joined stocks, I had been freelancing for three years with several regular customers, old acquaintances from publishing circles. The income was miserable, and I was tired of it. There was a choice: to promote myself as a freelancer (look for other markets, more profitable customers) or try stocks. In case of failure, both there and there loomed an unpleasant prospect – again full time to the office. The stocks seemed interesting and kind of suited me in character. I gave myself a year for promotion: if during this time it did not work out, then I would have to return to thoughts of freelancing or an office.
Of course, I had a big advantage over those who come to stocks “from scratch”: I was already a strong professional in the field of book printing with knowledge of software and hardware and 15 years of Photoshop behind me. Design of layouts, covers, layout, simple retouching, prepress. However, I never did advertising or packaging and did not know how to make gloss – I had to learn this. A couple of years before that I dabbled in photography, I had a DSLR with a macro lens, but I had no studio shooting experience – I also had to learn this. The first year or two at the stocks were spent not only searching for a theme, but also testing the technology. The portfolio began with a dozen travel photos, some textures and vegetables on a white background. All of them were more or less terrible, but I do not remove them, let everyone see. 🙂
I immediately registered on eight drains, went to Shutter from the first time, to Ice – from the second. For the first six months, downloads were chaotic, themes were too, and income ranged from $ 10 to $ 50 per month. And then I went on vacation, and everything stopped altogether. Half a term had already passed by June, and the result was nonsense. But the effort was foolish too. It was time to get down to business seriously, and I made myself an ironclad rule to load 15 pictures a week, no matter what the circumstances. It was difficult, but the matter got under way.
The first extended sale for $ 28 happened in the eighth month, in August – a heavily retouched photo of strawberries was sold. I sat over it for many hours, smearing the fur, and muttered: “Fool, why am I doing this.” At that time, the forums were popular with the ideas “you can’t spend more than 15 minutes on retouching a photo”, “the main thing is the quantity” and “beginners, do not study the template – there is too much competition.” I felt that I was breaking all the stock commandments, but I still continued to maniacal. 🙂 Because I love Photoshop and I was wondering what would happen. I just wondered if I could do well or not. And apparently she could, because a rasshira came, followed by another, followed by other sales, the work was not in vain. The most labor-intensive jobs turned out to be the most demanded.
And then I stopped listening to “authoritative opinions” altogether. I rarely looked at the forums before, and now I have left them altogether. I didn’t have LJ and Facebook then. For the first three years, I worked in complete isolation from the microstock community, not discussing these themes with anyone. I thought, tried different things and tried to find out which of my skills would be on sale. I have never really read lessons on retouching – being a self-taught person in life, I like to reinvent my bicycles, it’s more interesting. 🙂 Those who compare stocks with a computer game are right. It was an awesome excitement and thrill – to storm the summit in silence, alone, relying only on your decisions and skills, and feel how it gives in. In six months, income has grown dramatically from $ 65 to $ 850 per month. At the same time, I continued my penny freelance, but it became clear that the first round with stocks was won.
2011 (2nd year)
I allowed myself to relax a little and upload 10 pictures a week. Some drove the hack, some licked them. There was always a big risk that you would kill the whole day and the picture would not “shoot”, it happened very often. And it still happens. But those that “fired” were enough for life. I tried to learn from mistakes, analyze this market, it did not always work out, but the income continued to grow. By the end of the second year, it had passed over $ 2,500. I turned off all my freelancing, leaving only one customer as a safety net.
I sometimes experimented with themes: different templates, backgrounds, pictures for the holidays – but it all turned out badly, and I left them, focusing only on fruits and vegetables. I began to find examples of using my pictures on the internet, and then in stores. This made me think that it is possible to focus on the packaging market.
2012 (3rd year)
By the third year, I felt confident enough to drop the download limit to 3 pieces per week. I had a better sense of this market, my niche in it and my strengths, and I made each picture with an eye to surpassing competitors in quality. At times it succeeded, they increasingly began to appear on the first pages of search by popularity.
Instead of the previous thoughts “maybe someone will buy this, I don’t know why”, I began to guess about the desires of my invisible customers and work almost like in freelancing, making pictures specifically for use in packaging. It was always interesting to find them later and see how they fit into someone else’s design. I realized that, contrary to popular belief, there is feedback on stocks.
And at the same time, it was in the third year that I had a crisis. The more obvious it became that I was successful, the worse I felt. I have never earned so much money in a pleasant and interesting job before. I’ve never made that much money before. It seemed to me that all this was too good and could not last long – sooner or later a terrible “payback” would come. And it came: serious fluctuations in sales began. Perhaps the reason was some processes beyond my control on the market, I don’t know. Before that, income was growing vigorously every month, and then suddenly it began to jump and slowly decrease. I was in a rather nasty mood, and it interfered with my productive work. There was no one to share, to be more precise – formally there was someone, but it was difficult to expect a special understanding: everyone around worked in offices and received half of mine. In addition, I fell into a trap that many freelancers fall into: from sitting at home, the social circle has narrowed dangerously to two or three people. In general, little by little my business went downhill, every month my income became a little less, and I already gloomily estimated when I would return to the starting point – zero. There was an obvious crisis and a triumph of negative thinking. 🙂 Now those races seem to me not so dramatic, and the gloomy forecast is far-fetched, but then it really seemed to me that everything was crumbling. I had to urgently pull myself together and drive this harmful cockroach out of my head before it’s too late. I forced myself to work in a normal rhythm: first, business, and then tantrums.
Then there was a reboot of many things in life. Some of the people from the past somehow fell off by themselves, and new ones came in their place. I started communicating on Facebook and LiveJournal, the first stock acquaintances appeared. I gave up my freelance completely, gave up art photography, suddenly took up ceramics and painting (which I had never done before), and this gave a “second wind”, including on stocks. My shots began to look more like 3D renders or bitmap drawings. I suspected for a long time that I was some kind of wrong food photographer: I am not interested in laying out still lifes and putting on the lights, I’d rather finish painting everything in the shop later. And although I, as a photographer, shot the sources, I then treated them unceremoniously, like an illustrator. Cut, recolor, reassemble from pieces, draw new shadows and highlights everywhere and multiply the result into a bunch of similars. I am still listed on stocks as a photographer, but it is high time to kick me out to the “illustration” section. 🙂 I think it’s no coincidence that most of my current acquaintances are vectors, they are closer to me in spirit.
Despite the difficulties, the stock’s average monthly “salary” in the third year was about $ 3,100.
2013 (4th year)
The decline, which lasted for seven months, finally stopped, growth began again, then the summer decline, then growth again. The fourth year was broadly similar to the previous year, but at a slightly higher bar with an average income of $ 3400 per month. I decided that this is a normal annual rhythm for my no longer newcomer portfolio, the “ceiling” has been reached and maybe it’s time to think about some other ways of earning money for reliability, since there is enough free time. The money was also there, I was drawn to travel with terrible force and I took care of effectively organizing my work while traveling.
2014 (5th year)
I was wrong about the “ceiling”: income went up again and for the fifth year fluctuated around $ 4300. Perhaps my hobbies have borne fruit. I devoted all my free time to drawing, photography and design and grew up great, including as a stocker. This is called “synergy”, when skills from different (but generally close) areas greatly enhance each other. And I continue to develop these skills, they will still come in handy in my post-current future.
I have spent more than a third of this year traveling and have learned to work as efficiently on the road as at home. And in every country, entering the store, I see my pictures on the packages. 🙂
Now I work with all living stocks (a total of 14), my nerves are now stronger, seasonal fluctuations in sales no longer cause panic, and I manage to meet economic and political upheavals with an almost Buddhist calm. I spend about one day a week making pictures, and the rest of the time I invest in my future: studying, planning, searching for information, communicating, traveling, non-commercial creative projects. As a stock photographer and illustrator, I still have a lot to grow, I know my shameful mistakes and I am working to become better. 🙂
2015 (6th year)
Now begins my sixth year on stocks. Five years ago, when registering for Shatter, I could not even imagine what an avalanche of changes I was driving off the spot. It is surprising. I just wanted to knock up some money, and as a result, this work literally pulled me out of the old way of life – into the big world, outside the Russian economy, gave me freedom of movement, a completely different level of independence and self-respect, an understanding of what passive income is, how to work in general and with whom. At one time, I took an important step towards this, leaving the office for freelancing. But the step from freelancing to stocks was much bigger and more important. And it’s very interesting what will happen next.
I am ironic about my stock theme: these are just glossy apples, there is no creativity, no “self-expression”, I am not even a fan of botany. But I’m a good artisan and I like photoshopping – it’s like meditation. Fruit? Well, ok, let there be fruit. They are quite interesting to do, if not every day. All my life, apart from my main job, I had a bunch of “hobbies”, some of which later grew into a profession. They are there now, and I love all my work, albeit in different ways. 🙂
I think, as in any business, success on stocks mainly depends on character. Skills are also important, but psychology is more important. I know what qualities helped me rise, but they will not allow me to climb much higher: there is a limit beyond which even a very capable lone professional cannot jump. Therefore, something in this business model will have to change over time, but I don’t know in which direction yet: I don’t like freelancing, teaching, or creating my own studio, as many more business colleagues do. I will have something different. But it is very interesting for me to observe how all of you are doing and how different, dissimilar characters manifest themselves through work with stocks. 🙂
And on this I will probably finish the report, thank you all for your attention, the next one will be in five years. 🙂