Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

A Dirty Word, Part 4

Please feel free to check out Part 1, 2, and 3 of this series.

So, having decided to give micro-stock a try, the next issue was to find out more about who the ‘big players’ were and how their systems worked. I will talk about them below, with links to the sites, but first want to mention one other aspect of generating revenue with micro-stock. In addition to getting paid for photograph downloads, one also generates revenue through referrals.

How does this work? If one signs up for a micro-stock site using a referral link, then the person that refers them gets a few cents every time that person sells an image. The best part (and the part that makes it work) is that there is no penalty whatsoever from any micro site to the person signing up......they make the same amount per image sale by signing up through a referral link as they do by simply going over to the site and signing up themselves. No more and no less. So, if you are thinking of giving it a try, I would certainly appreciate your signing up through my referral links below, and then hopefully others do the same for you.

On to ‘The Players’:


This is the biggest micro-stock agency, and one that should probably be the highest priority to join. They work almost purely on a subscription plan (people can by individual photos without being a subscriber, but this is an exceedingly small part of Shutterstock sales). Because most buyers have a subscription they are, as you might imagine, mainly serious designers who tend to buy in volume. Subscribers can download 25 images a day and contributors earn $0.25 per download, with this payment due to increase in May (the amount of the increase has not yet been announced). If an extended license is purchased (which increases the number of copies that can be made) the contributor earns $20.00

Here is the amazing part. They currently have 3.3 MILLION images on file. I took one look at this number and thought that it would be impossible for anyone to ever find, notice, or look at an image that I might upload, let alone purchase it. How wrong I was. Within an hour of my first batch of 7 images going ‘live’ I received three sales. They simply have so many buyers, many of which search for what they are looking for using the ‘show newest first’ filter, that you do get sales. In fact, there are only three or four of the current fifty images I now have available on the site that have not sold at least once. If your images are accepted they absolutely WILL sell.

Notice I said “if” your images are accepted. Like all micro-stock agencies, images must undergo a quality control approval process. The images are evaluated from legal, technical, and commercial standpoints. Any identifiable people or private property must be accompanied by the appropriate model or property releases. The images must meet strict technical criteria, the most common of which seems to be the absence of digital noise or sharpening/compression artifacts. Some agencies are exceedingly strict in this regard, though Shutterstock seems middle of the road on it. It is therefore generally preferable to use minimal or no sharpening, depending on the image. Finally, the images must have commercial viability, but most agencies define this rather loosely.

Many agencies have an initial 'screen' to determine if you will be allowed to submit images at all, and Shutterstock is one of these. You must submit an initial batch of 10 images and, to be accepted, seven of the ten must past muster. Once you pass, you can upload in batches as large or small as you like, but each individual image is still evaluated and can be accepted or rejected based on the criteria mentioned above. If you do not pass the initial screening application, you must wait one month before reapplying.

To apply to Shutterstock, with my referral, click here.


iStockphoto has no referal system for contributors, so the above link is to the main page. iStock is also quite large with 2.9 million images on file. Similar to Shutterstock, there is an application process before being able to upload. Buyers can purchase images via a subscription plan and can also buy individual images. There are different prices based on the size of the file (contributors only upload one file and the various sizes are always generated by the micro-stock agencies). Thus a single download, even without an extended type license, could earn the photographer anywhere from $0.25 to several dollars.


Dreamstime is another of the biggest 4 agencies, with 2.6 million images. As I recall, there is no application just start uploading, but the individual images are as carefully scrutinized as at the others. The site is really very easy to use, and the amount earned per image is dependent on the size of the file downloaded. I have to say, it is nice to see the dollar sign change instead of the cents portion of your earnings when you get a download for a larger file size.

To access Dreamstime, with my referral, click here.


actually has the most images on file of any of the agencies, though I don't believe their sales are as high. They have 3.4 million images. Earnings are dependent on the size of the image file downloaded on this site as well.

To access Fotolia click here.

There are other micro-stock agencies, but these are the largest, and, if one is interested in giving micro-stock a try, I believe these are the places to start.

Some of the other smaller agencies include 123 Royalty Free, Lucky Oliver, BigStockPhoto, Crestock, and Featurepics.

I will end this series with two more posts and will try to answer a few more of the remaining questions from Part 1.