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Five places to sell your microstock photography online

Updated on July 31, 2013
Question from Shermeee on Flickr
Question from Shermeee on Flickr

If you’re a photographer who can deal with the technical specs of setting up a sharp, noise-free photo, you can likely earn some extra money by selling microstock online.

Not everyone has the capability to submit microstock. For example, if your camera can’t produce a noise-free image, you’ll have to post-process all your photos or risk rejection. Likewise, if you’re unwilling to come up with bold, atypical images, you will be flooded out of the already saturated market.

That said, microstock can be very rewarding. It can be a way to fund travel and a good source of semi-passive income. Once you’ve got the system of uploading and tagging down, building a portfolio isn’t difficult, and the more photos you have online, the more of a chance you have at making sales.

With microstock photography, once you’ve gotten your photos accepted onto a microstock site, people can browse through the catalog to find your photos. Whenever someone purchases one of your uploads, you’ll receive a small royalty payment. Because the photos can be sold over and over, it’s possible to receive royalties from a single photo multiple times.

Shutterstock, a large market with big potential

Shutterstock is one of the largest stock photo companies online. They are doing well enough to be publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. As such, it can be difficult to become a registered stock photographer for them. They are very particular about the level of noise in their photos.

Many photographers who sell microstock on the side claim that Shutterstock is one of their best sources of income. There are a large number of designers and design firms that browse Shutterstock, so microstock gets high visibility on the site.

DIY lightbox setup by Steve A Johnson on Flickr
DIY lightbox setup by Steve A Johnson on Flickr

iStockPhoto, a good market to break into

iStockPhoto is another big microstock marketplace, accounting for large numbers of sales for many photographers.

Like other agencies, iStockPhoto has the option for photographers to sign an exclusive sales contract. This means that your microstock can be sold only on iStockPhoto, diluting sales opportunities for individual photos. Even so, an exclusive contract also provides for greater royalties, which may be beneficial in the long run.

For photographers talented in other fields such as audio editing and illustration, iStockPhoto also has the infrastructure in place to sell music, sound clips, and vector files as well.

123RF, a low barrier to entry but slow early sales

Whereas iStockPhoto and Shutterstock can both be very particular about accepting new photographers, 123RF is less picky. They are far more accepting of photos on the first submission, and as such, they are a great place to either break into the microstrock marketplace or upload saleable photos that are rejected elsewhere.

Unfortunately, while 123RF isn’t unknown in the design and microstock world, they do have less of a market share than their larger counterparts. As such, the level of sales can be hit-or-miss, and it can be dispiriting for new microstock photographers.

Browsing a photography magazine by on Flickr
Browsing a photography magazine by on Flickr

Fotolia, one of the best or worst microstock agencies

Fotolia is a microstock agency founded in 2005. As of mid-2012, its membership had grown to over three million people, and since then, it’s grown even more.

For those who can cut the strict reviews from Fotolia, the site can be a great earner. There is a big market in Europe for Fotolia’s microstock. That said, the royalty structure in the beginning is is on the lower side, meaning that you have to sell more photos to make more money.

With Fotolia, it’s a bit hit or miss, but given the raves some photographers have for the service, it’s worth signing up. As you sell more, royalties can increase over time, making for a lucrative market.

Dreamstime, an oldie but goodie

Although Dreamstime may not be the biggest household name, it is one of the oldest microstock agencies, having been established in 2004 after Shutterstock.

Based out of Tennessee with offices in Romania, Dreamstime is a microstock agency with slightly lower standards and reasonable earnings. In a Romanian business article, the highest-paid contributors with Dreamstime earned thousands a month. As with any bold claim, however, this figure must be taken with a grain of salt.

Happy photographer from babasteve on Flickr
Happy photographer from babasteve on Flickr


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