Lise Gagne , a Canadian microstock photographer, just reached 500,000 image downloads through iStockphoto. A registered member since 2003, Gagne was the first to become a full-time, exclusive iStock photographer. The nearly 5,000 pieces of Gagne’s work represented by iStock have each been downloaded an average of 100 times, earning her a six-figure income — enough to not just rent but own studio space.
A former Web and multimedia designer, Gagne was fired from her design agency job “for spending too much time on iStock. I fell in love with iStock right away, but never would have dreamt that someday, it would be my career,” she says.
Today, she is an iStock legend — even being recently featured  in the New York Times. iStock CEO and microstock pioneer Bruce Livingstone believes that Gagne will be the first of many to reach the 500,000 sale milestone. “We have just barely scratched the surface of the worldwide appetite for imagery,” he said in a news release. 
At the moment, however, few microstock photographers make anywhere near six figures. According to the recent PDN Stock Income Survey , the average annual earnings of a microstock photographer are under $4,000. Nearly 60 percent of the 865 microstock photographers participating in the survey reported earning less than $1,000 per year.
Lee Torrens is an amateur photographer who has put a significant effort into microstock and documents his endeavors in the Microstock Diaries . Torrens runs a two-person Web and graphic design business with his wife. The pair contributes to nine microstock agencies and reports earning just under $500 in May 2007. iStockphoto and ShutterStock are the top earners, each representing close to 600 images.
While Gagne’s success seems to be distinct, it can be attributed to several factors. First is her full-time commitment: Not only does she specialize in shooting stock, she hasn’t taken a vacation in years. All her travel is for photography-related events.
Second, she is exclusive to iStock; she earns 40 percent of individual image sales, double that of nonexclusive photographers. Third, she is extraordinarily prolific. Fourth, iStock deserves credit for bringing Gagne’s work to the consumer via a Getty Images-funded marketing machine that has made the microstock provider the global volume leader for stock-photography sales.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the quality of Gagne’s work.
(Julia Dudnik Stern contributes to Jim Pickerell’s Selling Stock.)
[tags]Lise Gagne, stock photography, microstock, iStockphoto[/tags]