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Stocking Up: A Look at the Biggest and Baddest in Microstock Agencies

By Christopher Kimball on December 13th 2013

If you are like most photographers, you have images that did not make the cut on a project and some that you decided not to use. They may even be sitting on a drive somewhere because you just can’t bring yourself to part with them. I bet you have even told yourself that someday you may need these images. It is okay, most photographers do it, but there might just be a market for those images yet. Microstock agencies are always recruiting new photographers and you might be surprised at what kinds of images sell on those sites.

[REWIND: Stock Photography – Can A Professional Photographer Make It Work?]

If you have considered selling images as stock or micro stock, here is some information about the top sites and what to expect if you work with them. Who knows, you might find that selling images as stock works with your business model. Over the long term, those previously unused images might just add to your bottom line.



Shutterstock is sitting firmly at the top of the heap right now. They are producing more sales for photographers than any other site at the moment (according to reports from photographers using several sites), including the ever-popular iStockPhoto. Their acceptance rate for new photographers is low, but if you can get in, they are decent to work with. They do not have an exclusivity program, but they pay about 15% for new photographers. Over time, you can expect to increase that rate to about 40% if you produce sales on their platform.



iStockPhoto is owned by the image giant, Getty Images. They are not the easiest to get accepted with, but once you get a foot in the door, you can work towards becoming exclusive with them. Starting out, you can expect to receive 15% for each sale and if you decide to become exclusive with them, they start you at about 22% and ramp you up to 45% over time. They are not fast to respond to applications, so if you apply with them, you will likely wait 2 to 3 weeks before hearing anything.



Fotolia is solidly sitting in the number 3 spot right now, and reportedly just applied for a 300-million dollar loan to expand. They sell a lot of images to the European markets and they offer a generous 20% to as high as 60% to contributing photographers. Keep in mind that the sales at Fotolia are slower than the others mentioned here, so they would be a good option as a second or third agency rather than an exclusive one.

If you are interested in getting into stock, take a look at these agencies and the many others out there, but be aware that many of the smaller ones hold you to payout limits as high as $100 or more. With their low sales numbers, you may not make it to a payout for a very long time.

Stick to the bigger agencies for better success and keep in mind that the more images you upload, the more sales will come your way.

Have you considered trying stock as an additional revenue stream? What do you think of micro stock as an avenue for image sales for professional photographers? We want to hear your thoughts.

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Christopher is a commercial and stock photographer based in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He specializes in shooting food, commercial real estate, and editorial projects related to food, sports, and products. His work has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and around the internet and his photography experience dates back some 30 years. Connect with Chris on social media or visit his website to see his work.

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