Photographers: Guide to Microstock Agencies

Microstock Photographers Guide

This page contains a listing of all the different microstock agencies, including links to their sites. I've placed them in the other of highest earnings. Keep in mind that each company has it's pros and cons but in general it is worth while to register with and become accepted with many microstock agencies. The number of companies that enter and leave the field change through-out the year so check back for updates!

Shutterstock is one of the highest in potential income when compared to the other microstock agencies due to their subscription only system. That said, photographers can expect to have new images sell very well at first followed by a slight decrease as months progress. Keeping your portfolio fresh is key.

In comparison, their acceptance policy is not extremely difficult, but you will have to pass a 7 out of 10 total acceptance test to get in, with a 1 month lock out if you do not meet the 70% necessary. Those images that are approved, do not carry over to next months attempt. Although this may dissuade some potential sellers, keep in mind that income potential is high here and worth the effort.

  • The highest gainer of the microstock agencies
  • Consider that other forms are accepted as well: footage and vectors
  • Your 10 image trial will be highly analyzed! 7 out of 10 must pass
  • Worth the difficult task of acceptance
  • If you fail the 10 image test, you have to wait a month to re-try

  • Try to submit excellent images with low noise and amazing subject matter
  • The 10 trial images are especially important, try to very the subjects
  • Low noise and low artifacts, keep jpegs at max resolution
  • If you get turned down, for sure, try again, well worth the effort!

Currently owned by Getty Images, a big player in the stock photography world. Depending on your specific images, this could be another great earning website. I would recommend quality over quanity here, by a land slide.
iStock are very picky concerning submissions, but consider that if you fail the 3 image test, any of those 3 that pass, are carried over towards the following attempt. Try and make these initial test submissions your best work ever, as they will be looked at very carefully.

They also accept vectors with an easier acceptance, audio and sound clips, and accept footage as well. You'll have to hit $100 before you can be paid, but if your images are quality, it should not take a very long time.
  • A high potential gainer with quality images
  • Consider that other forms are accepted as well: footage, vectors, sound, etc.
  • Your first 3 images will be highly analyzed for acceptance
  • Long winded upload process when compared to some others, but worth it
  • Try to submit excellent images with low noise and amazing subject matter for your 3 submission trial
  • If you get turned down, try again in 72 hours.

Dreamstime, is a European based company with a connecting company stationed in the USA. It is a large company with potential to make money, however it is not as powerful a beast as istockphoto and certainly not as powerful as shutterstock as far as earning potential is concerned. They do have easier acceptance criteria though, a plus for many photographers especially when starting out.
Uploading is an easy endeavor over all with a Java based upload system and a FTP upload system as well. The time to review images though can be considerably long, sometimes as high as 250 hours. Images on their website also do not offer a very good or expansive "zoom" option for customers to vew a larger version of the image before buying. Over all I would consider them a worthy company to toss up your images with. You will not see payout until 100$ is reached, but this may or may not be an issue depending on the size of your portfolio.
  • A definite company that easily ranks between 3rd and 4th in potential earnings
  • Submission criteria are more lax than iStockphoto and Shutterstock (negative and positive, depending)
  • 1). positive: easier to get your images accepted and grow your portfolio
  • 2). lax submissions means more photographers can post, try and be excellent to beat the herd!
  • Easy uploading process but long review times
  • Fairly good pay outs for contributors compared to others in the industry, making up for lower downloads
  • Submit to this first day, as entry is not difficult
  • Quality is not as important for admittance but ALWAYS important to ensure good sales!
  • Market is diverse with a large European buyer population, keep your audience in mind

Fotolia falls near dreamstime in terms of position. They accept images much more easily but also seem to push less sales. To their advantage they do have a very good zoom in system so buyers can really see what they are buying prior to the purchase. The head office is in the USA, but a large number of buyers are European (keep this in mind when you think of your target market for this site and see your images selling differently when compared to your other portfolios - dreamstime should be similar in this regard).
If the other agencies have been giving you acceptance troubles, this may be the place to start. You can receive payment at 50$ which is incredibly good compared to the others. Uploading to fotolia is fairly simple with little issues found thus far.
  • Easier acceptance compared to others
  • Great zooming ability for buyers
  • Payout as low as 50$
  • Should provide a healthy turn around especially for those just starting
  • Easy uploads
  • Keep your audience in mind, a large portion of the buyer market is European
  • Carving a niche may not be as necessary as the other sites

Stock Photos, Royalty Free Stock Photography, Photo Search Definitely one of the larger microstock sites, thanks in part to their easy submission policy. BigStock is considerably easier then every agency mentioned so far in what they will accept for images. Despite this, they still do considerably well in the sales department due to a heavy promotions team. Because they have lax submissions, buyers can find nearly anthing they could need from bigstock, but may need to wade through a lot of what they do not need to find it.

Their payout at $30, so you can get paid fairly quickly even without a strong portfolio. BigStockPhoto should be the first agency you apply to, allowing you to get in the game quickly and achieve a payout fairly fast. They also have an upload system that is not difficult to manage and fairly efficient.
  • Apply here first! Worth getting your foot in (with minimal effort)
  • Pays out at 30$, only agency to do this
  • Easy to get images approved here, great for a beginner
  • has A LOT of images, in part due to the lax submission QA
  • You don't need a large or strong portfolio here, start early and start heavy on this one
  • Quality may not be better than quantity at this agency, at least when you are starting

Other Agencies that I regard as non-priority, at least when starting (Due to being either low performers in sales or too selective in images):