Microstock Photography

At the beginning of the month, I submitted a few photos to Shutter Stock, a micro-stock photography site, to see if any income can be generated from the pool of photos I’ve been taking. It took a while for their reviewers to get to my submission batch, but I had a fair number approved initially, and have submitted more for inclusion into their catalog. Here’s the current gallery. Hey! I’ve now sold three photos for a total of 60¢ (the bit of product photography with the shoes, a silhouette of a statue, and the Wisconsin capitol dome).

I’m aware that traditional stock photography companies sell photos for hundreds of dollars a shot, usually surrounded by a nimbus of legal documents describing allowed usage, etc., so the 20¢/download from a microstock site is piddly (or I’m being robbed), but consider that their photos are typically shot by professional photographers, some of whom specialize in stock, whereas I just a bunch of photos that I took because I wanted to take photos, and all that my photos had been doing was taking up space on a hard drive. Any income is an improvement over that situation. Also, the traditional model will be under severe assault over the next few years, because a number of technological trends decrease the value of existing stock collections.

Yes, the demand for stock photography has greatly increased, as the places where visual images can be used have spread from higher-end production houses to anyone with a computer. I remember when documents were reproduced by mimeograph (and that alcohol smell) in high school. I don’t recall if there was a print shop class where you learned how to make mimeos (I wouldn’t be surprised, given Stuy’s heritage as a trade school), but it wasn’t feasible to include photographs on those copies. Now, with color laser printers under $1000, any decently financed business can generate their own brochures, and they all want some sort of photos to go in them. Image reproduction as democractized, or massified; whatever term of art you find appropriate. However, traditional stock companies don’t cater to these mom-and-pop brochure makers, who can’t spend hundreds of dollars for a single image just to dramatize a point, and who don’t need the legal wrapping those images come with when all they want to do is small-circulation piece of marketing. And this says nothing about image usage by web designers, who might need a dozen little pictures for a local real estate company’s website.

But supply has increased also, so that indepedent designers now have cheap access to images. The proliferation of digital cameras has put a lot of capabilities into the hands of amateurs and has reduced the cost of processing photos to almost nil. Vast pools of photos lie on hard drives around the world. The vast majority of them are junk, but even if a tiny percentage are good you will still wind up with a large number of images that might interest designers. The simultaneous rise of the Net allows widely dispersed photographers to submit their photos economically to micro-stock companies, who, in turn, can cheaply distribute those photos to the designers. The dead capital stored on my hard drive has become live with this network infrastructure in place, and both supply and demand have been democratized under the feet of the traditional stock companies.

There is still a place for those companies, though, as they cater to higher-end markets that both require and can afford the legal wrappers for their photo collections. But they’ll become a narrow niche while the micro-stock companies wind up with the lion’s share of stock photography revenues. This article notes that iStockPhoto’s revenues are already at a level that traditional companies would kill for.

On the DPReview forums talking about micro-stock sites, a few photographers took offense at the low prices, stating that their discards are worth more than 20¢. This mistakes how prices are determined, as the buyer isn’t taken into account. But is 20¢/download the market price for stock photos? Could it be higher? Possibly, as there are micro-stock houses offering higher prices. We’ll see if Shutterstock’s flat rate subscriptions for graphic designers works, compared to the a la carte model used by others. To some extent, the low prices are because amateurs like me are pleasantly surprised that anyone is willing to give us money for pictures we took without a thought of selling. Some time later, the market will find a price point for micro-stock, but it’s still in the early stages of development. There isn’t an exclusivity agreement with a lot of these companies, though, so the same photo can be sold through different channels. I shouldn’t look at a particular channel’s revenue, but should look at the revenue generated across all the channels. If this sum winds up to be a couple hundred dollars a year, that’s fine pocket change and may pay for a lens down the line.

Here’s an article/marketing cut-and-paste describing various micro-stock sites. Here’s a link to ShutterStock with my referrer ID, which I suppose I should include for completeness.

8 Responses to “Microstock Photography”

  1. Anita Says:


    I’ve been selling my images via microstock for last half a year. I’m currently using mainly these three portals – shutterstock, dreamstime and bigstockphoto and my monthly income is around 400 US dollars. Enough to buy extra camera gadgets etc.
    Of course for a nice regular income you also have to build yourself a bigger gallery, but you have to start from somewhere :-)

    The way i see it – photo prices have always been outrageously overpriced and i have no moral problems making myself money on microstock sites and utilizing my small hobby. I may be rubbish photographer or maybe not, but the fact is that my creation sells and i feel good actually doing something with my photos instead of just keeping them locked on my hard-drive. Professional photographers will always feel that this is cheating and bad behaviour because prices have gone down and they can’t accept it. They are just going to have to understand that market is changing and they’re not going to get back their glory days when only few chosen ones knew how to operate 35mm camera. The digital photography age actually embraces amateur photography and the process will continue.

    In case you’re interested – here are the links to these portals where i sell (with my referal codes in the end)




    Cheers, Anita

  2. Peter Galbraith Says:

    I also sell microstock a lot. It took me about 4 months to make my first $500 and now I am to about $500 a month.

    I recently started a comparison site to help people find micro stock photo sites. Check it out at http://www.microstockforum.com

    Good luck!

  3. CJPhoto Says:

    You have some nice shots but you need to increase your portfolio if you are to get enough DL to get a payout.

    I have just started microstock and agree that 0.25c per photo is not much (shutterstock has just increased payouts from 0.20c to 0.25 per DL). However, all my photos are just those that I have taken while on holidays so if they can bring in money for my next holiday all the better.

    Another up and coming site is http://www.fotolia.co.uk/partner/39857. I recommend you have a look as it is currently the third biggest site(by number of photos) that I know of. there sales are also picking up which is good. Other sites are:


  4. Jorge Says:

    http://www.microstock.es a microstock review/help site in spanish.

    Un sitio sobre microstock en español http://www.microstock.es

  5. leaf Says:

    While on the topic of microstock photography.. here is a forum for you all

    Microstock Group – A meeting place for microstock photographers

  6. Marinko Says:

    Hi. Nice article. Cool idea to describe a nice way for second job.

  7. Sell Pictures Says:

    So it has been a year since this post…have your revenues increased any? It usuallt takes a while to build your offerings, but it can grow fast if you keep working at it.

  8. Julia Says:

    Hi everyone,
    ther is a new stock agency and photocommunity in english online: http://www.panthermedia.net.
    Its Midstock, not Micro, so sales might be better. It alredy exists in Germany for some years and the community (free of charge) it quite interessting too…