What We Consider the Best Microstock Sites

Last Updated: 2/18/2011

There are hundreds of microstock web sites out there, all trying to get you to sell with them. No microstock sites are perfect, but there are plenty that you probably want to steer clear of. Whenever you choose a microstock site to work with, do your homework. Make sure you understand what you are getting yourself into. Understand the contract you are agreeing to. Some places will steal your images. Others may not pay you or not accurately represent which pictures have been sold. Others have such low traffic that it is not worth your time to work with them. Still others will pay you an extremely low commission or charge you to host your pictures on their site. Some of them are exclusive and will not allow you to work with other microstock sites.

With all of the many choices out there, where do you start? Through a lot of research, reading forums, and working with different microstock sites, we have come up with a list of what we consider the best or Fabulous Five microstock web sites. Our decision is based on revenues generated from the sites, usability of the site, survey results, and ease in working with them. We currently work with all of these sites, and again, they are not perfect, but we feel they are a good place for you to start as you do your research. From time to time, as the need arises, this list will be revised.

(Note: we assume no responsibility for you working with these companies. We are merely stating a list of companies with which we work and feel positive about).

  • Shutterstock

    This is the current sales volume leader. Buyers purchase a subscription for downloading pictures. The subscription model encourages buyers to download more pictures, which usually leads to more downloads, but you get paid less per download than some other microstock sites. Many microstock sellers report that this site earns the most money for them.You can also earn money by referring other photographers. You earn 3 cents for each picture they sell. This site generally has fast turnaround time in reviewing photos. To become a seller, you must submit 10 photos for evaluation. 7 out of your 10 pictures must be approved to become a seller. If you are not approved, you must wait 3 months to apply again. Uploading is easy with the option to use FTP and there are no limits on how many you can upload a day or week. This site supports IPTC data in pictures, so you can place your title, description, and keywords within your pictures. They do not require exclusivity and uploaded files must be a minimum of 2.5 Mpixels in size. If you had to work with only one microstock site, this would be it.

  • iStock Photo

    This is one of the oldest microstocks and has a well established business. To become a seller, you supply 3 photos for review. If these photos do not pass, you are given the chance to supply different photos. This microstock traditionally sells individual images but has just added a subscription option for purchasing. Many photographers report that this is the most difficult of the microstock sites to get pictures approved with. Many also report that this is their second highest earner (some report highest). This site was purchased by Getty Images, a huge macrostock site. Uploading to this site is time consuming, since you cannot use FTP and have to upload and process pictures one-by-one. This site also limits the number of photos you can submit in a week (the number varies) and changes, which means it can take you a long time to build your portfolio or get it uploaded if you already have a large one. Categorizing pictures after they are uploaded is not bad and they have no referral program. With all of that said, it is still worth uploading to this site because you will make money. This site provides the option to be exclusive with them. If you go exclusive, you receive a higher payout for each photo sold, have higher limits on uploading, and get faster review times. If you only want to work with one site, you might consider this site and becoming exclusive when you qualify to do so. This site supports IPTC data. The minimum file size is 2 Mpixels. This site sells photos individually and by subscription.

  • Dreamstime

    This is a solid site. Many photographers report that this is their third biggest earning site. Some report difficulty getting pictures approved; others feel it is not bad. A lot of it depends on the review you get. Uploading to this site is a breeze if you use FTP, and categorizing your pictures after also goes quickly. This site does limit the number of pictures you can upload over a given period, but it is usually very generous. Review times are average for this site and they do support IPTC. They have a referral program and do not require exclusivity. If you are uploading to more than one site, this is worth adding to your list. Picture sizes must be a minimum of 3 Mpixels.

  • Fotolia

    This is a relative newcomer to the microstock scene, but they have become a significant player very quickly because of their aggressive marketing. Based out of Europe they have local versions of their site in multiple countries. They support FTP uploads, IPTC data, and categorizing is not too bad. They also have good review times (although recently, they seem to want to reject a lot of photos) and no limits on the number of photos you can upload over a given period of time. They had a decent referral program, but canceled it without warning, which is unfortunate, especially for sellers that have worked hard to get a lot of referrals. Sales numbers are good, but they pay a bit lower than many of the other big microstock sites. Getting pictures accepted is quite variable – sometimes they love you and sometimes they reject a lot of what you submit and minimum file size is only 2 Mpixels. To become a seller, you just need to sign-up, and this site does not require exclusivity. This site sells pictures individually and has recently started selling by subscription too.

    These guys use to be number 2, but because they yanked their referral program (and made other seller affecting changes), reject so much these days, have some issues with their Web site working consistently, and low pay per picture, they have dropped to number 4.

  • 123 Royalty Free

    Microstock photographers report varying success with this site. Some do reasonable and some don’t do well at all. This site has been around for awhile, but hasn’t broken into the Fab 5 for most people yet. If you are looking for more than just 5 or 6 sites with which to work, this one is worth considering. This site supports FTP uploads and does not require categories. This site has a referral program and sells pictures by individual image and subscription.

Runners up

The following are a few with which we have also worked that have not reached the Fabulous Five level, but might be worth considering:

  • Bis Stock Photo

    This site does well for many photographers, but doesn’t generate the revenue of the sites on this list. Uploading is easy with FTP and categorizing goes quickly. There are no upload limits nut review times can be long. They generally have a high acceptance rate for submitted pictures, so if you want to gt your feet wet into microstock, this might be the place to start. You will get a feel for the submission process to microstock sites and have a good chance of success at getting your pictures accepted. If they reject your pictures here, you might want to consider improving your photography skills before trying elsewhere. Minimum picture size is only 0.5 Mpixels, so almost any camera can meet the requirements. They do not require exclusivity and have a referral program.


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