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Some people will say it is harder to make money from photography these days. The dominance and accessibility  of digital photography means that everyone can shoot a semi-decent photo. The internet has also provided a global market, more competition yes, but also a bigger cake to share.

Water colours C RayHarris

Can you make money? Yes , but it still demands creativity, imagination,  much hard work and a wider range of skills than before. The skills of finding a market for your particular photographs, the skills of understanding and assessing the market and the skills of using photo manipulation software all have to be added to the traditional photo production skills such as composition and  exposure.

The basics -what is micro stock photography?

Microstock photography   allows amateurs, professional photographers and designers to upload their images and sell to a large audience of buyers. Previously the stock photo market was limited to the more professional photographer with a large portfolio of images. The internet has now provided a much larger market for stock photography, while at the same time increasing the competition. Microstock suggests micropayment, which is true, but more possibilities to earn a little from a lot of images, available for download. With a wide range of useful and practical information on the microstock sites, photographers and other artists can at least improve their skills with the feedback provided through rating and assessment while their images are being approved (or not,of course) . This is a good motivation for starting in microstock – improve your skills then look for higher income from your photography.

There is a growing group of sites which provide photo, video and illustration buyers and sellers with enough opportunities to sell their creative products and easily download the images and video needed for magazines, blogs,websites etc. Although I will describe a few of the most accessable and successful sites, within a few weeks, I am sure there will be a dozen more to review and explore.

Although most sites let you upload for free, and will suggest minimum file sizes (normally at least 3mb) each have their own terms and conditions, particularly in terms of when they will pay out (some after you have earned $30 and some $100).

First the present leaders in microstock :

(note some of this information appears in microstockdiaries)

iStockphoto, is owned by Getty imagesistockphoto-logo-large

Minimum Image Size 1600 x 1200 (approximately 2MP) Vectors Yes Footage Yes Licenses Royalty Free and Extended Licenses: Reproduction limits; Multi seat; Items for resale; Electronic items for resale. Compensation 20% (up to 40% for exclusive photographers) Pricing From $1.20 for Xtra small

While their inspectors are tough, the have a good buying market and sales are high. Their commissions are low compared to many of their competitors, but thanks to relatively higher prices and great sales volume they usually produce more revenue for their contributors. The feedback is particularly helpful as you can learn to correct your images if they have been rejected.

The site has good forums where you can learn a lot, about photography, design and illustration as well as stock image production and marketing.

Shutterstock, Minimum Image Size 2.5 MegaPixels shutterstock

Vectors Yes      Footage Yes

Licenses Standard and Enhanced Compensation $0.25 per download, or $0.30 if you have more than $500 total earnings

Limit 25 images/day, 750/month.

If you want to sell photos at Shutterstock, the first step is to register and then submit your application.

Fotolia, the only major European based library.fotolia

Minimum Image Size – 2 MegaPixels

Vectors Yes   video Footage No

Licenses Standard Royalty Free & Extended License.

Compensation Minimum 33% or minimum 50% for exclusive images

Pricing $1 – $5 for standard license. Contributors can set own prices, within limits.


The downside with Shutterpoint  is that you have to pay a subscription if you want to upload images. This is quite different from the other sites. At first the payout was good as they only sold large size images, but now as times are changing, buyers can download small size images for ‘comping’ which of course brings the price down to as little as 99 cents. In general your subscription ends up being paid for by your sales if you are an average to good photographer.

20060829_160049 eurothumRH

Handful of Euros Ray Harris

If you are willing to rate other photos on the site you can end up getting your subscription paid for.

Once you have paid your subscription you can upload any photo/illustration up to the maximum that you have paid for (100mb is normal). members can rate your photo (although comments tend to be on the positive side and not rigorous) however you can get useful feedback on how to improve your images.

Dreamstime, dreamstime

Their commission for photographers is 50%, among the highest in the market, and certainly the highest of the top tier microstock agencies.


Minimum Image Size 3 MegaPixels

Vectors Yes    Footage No

Licenses Royalty Free. Extended Licenses: e.g. Print Usage

Free to start uploading (up to 50 images initially) but they will be subject to assessment by their review team.


Minimum Image Size 800 pixels across

Vectors Yes

Licenses Standard Royalty Free and 14 different Special Licenses.

Compensation $0.50 per 1 credit Pricing $1 – $2


50% pay out off downloads.

  • file format: JPEG (RGB)
  • maximum file size: 16 megabytes
  • minimum dimensions: 800*600 pixels

Just to add to an ever growing list of microstock sites

Canstock  canstockphoto

How to start selling:

1) Create an account

It’s easy, it’s free, and it’s required.

2) Complete an application.

Fill out a simple application and submit 3 images. We will quickly review your application and get back to you – often on the same day.

2) Upload your photos.

Can Stock Photo’s SpeedSubmit™ system allows you to upload files and submit them within just a few minutes.

4) Earn a commission

Every time one of your images is downloaded you will earn a commission. Also, if you refer another photographer to us, you will earn $5 for every 50 photos they sell.

The commission is outlined in more detail here:
Can Stock Photo Payout
Fotosearch Payout

Ten top tips for getting the best out of microstock selling

1. Personal.Your image must be your personal work and you must own the copyright.
2. Quality is of the  utmost importance if you want to sell.Each image should  be sharp, correctly exposed, be well composed,and have little noise.Noise  is often  related to high iso (800+), underexposure, long exposures  and over-processing. Always view your image at 100% to check for imperfections in your image. Image is normally RGB, saved at the highest JPG quality (12)

3. Size matters.Sites vary but normally the image size must be 3 megapixels  or more  (probably a 6mp camera is the minimum)
4. Keywording. Once you have a good image , you then have to ensure that buyers can find it. Relevant keywording is vital for  sales of your images. To be more efficient embed keywords and a description of your image in the image itself (photoshop can be used or other relevant software such as ) . Most sites have a lower limit on keywords normally between 5 and 10  so a good range would be between 10 and 50. Some internationalising may be necessary e.g. flat /apartment,motorway/freeway/autoroute although again some sites can find their international equivalents.. There is a growing interest in concept pictures, relating to moods or metaphors. In your keywording , it is worth including some concept words such as happy,  professional,  romantic, comic, physically challenged,strength, power, love, success, risk, reward.

5. Research the future. Look which season or festival is coming next? For example, some months before  major festivals, images and photos that signify specific  holidays/festivals/ gifts are sought over by many publishers.. Submit such images at least two months in advance. Many sites give suggestions about what they want (e.g. ‘business’ photos) and those subjects where they have too many (e.g. flower photos).

6. Specialize. If you are a generalist, you are competing with many photographers.It pays to specialize and make a niche for what you are good at and what you are interested in, as long as there is a market for what your specialism is.

7. Releases. Get releases for as much as can. The two main releases that you need are model releases and property releases.  You need a signed, no-objection certificate from them (a model release) for using those photos commercially. You can learn about model release at fotolia. Invite your friends and family and ask them to pose for your photos. ‘People’ photographs are the highest selling stock photos.

8. Create. Create a make-shift ‘studio’. Use bright lights, but avoid harsh shadows.Diffuse your lighting through greaseproof paper, pair of old tights etc. Put a simple and clean backdrop (e.g. A3 white paper or card, or light coloured cloth). Use a tripod.

9. Terms and conditions. Read carefully the terms and conditions of each stock photography site. Consider the amount and size of images you can upload. Consider the percentage that you will earn off each sale/download (normally between 20 and 50%) and when you can  claim your earnings (when they reach $30,$50 or $100).

10. Be creative, work hard and use anything in your daily life that may be useful in a magazine, website etc. Research by looking at images in the media : -are they close ups? Blurred background? Include people? Whatever catches your eye when you scan an in -flight magazine or surf the web is likely to catch other’s eyes and therefore needed by a publisher.