Stock Photo Website Reviews

One of the most important decisions for any new stock photographer is where to sell one's work. There are a lot more microstock agencies vying for a piece of the market today than when it kicked off, and new photographers are faced with a number of agency options as well as lures of exclusivity as some agencies attempt to make their collection unique from the rest.

Nonexclusive versus exclusive

Of the major microstock players, there are only a few agencies to consider for their exclusivity deals: iStock, Fotolia, and Dreamstime. Committing to be an exclusive photographer at an agency means you are prohibited from submitting the same photo to any other agency, and in the case of iStock you are even prohibited from maintaining different work at two locations, even work that has been rejected. In exchange you receive a higher royalty rate for your sales and your photos may receive increased exposure in search results to drive more sales.

It is unlikely that an exclusivity contract will beat nonexclusivity if you sell your work at several agencies, so the biggest consideration comes down to time versus profit. Submitting to several places may not feel like the most effective time management if the revenue gains are only moderately higher than exclusivity, but consider the fact that anything you sell is there to stay and a moderate increase in revenue can amount to a significant gain as the years roll by. It won't require maintainence on your part past the initial job of submitting your work. Still, if you're curious about giving exclusivity a try, my advice to new photographers is to begin as nonexclusive at several agencies first until you have an equal size sample of your work at each of them to test. If you can figure from your sales that a single agency would account for at least 50% of your total nonexclusive sales under an exclusive contract, then it might be worth the trade. In my own experience, however, nonexclusive is the winner.

Stock agency overviews

Below are reviews for the stock agencies that I submit to. There are many other agencies and you may find it efficient to submit to greater or fewer than I do. Personally, I find my time is better spent creating new content for several of the largest agencies than using that time to get in as many as possible. I'd rather not complicate tax time further either.


The largest stock agency overall. The huge customer base makes it one of the top earners for most stock photographers with a sizeable portfolio. However, the submission process is overly complicated and very time-consuming, and there is a limit imposed on number of weekly uploads. This can be further complicated by extremely critical consideration of the relevancy of your keywords. Image quality standards are generally very strict, though there is some disparity in this area depending which reviewer you get. I've had rejections simply because the reviewer doubted the commercial value of the image, even though it sold very well elsewhere. iStock's royalty schedule for exclusivity caps as high as 45%, and they seem to promote it by keeping royalties for nonexclusive photographers low. In early 2011 they reduced nonexclusive royalties from a low 20% base to a lower 15%. Some exclusive photographers saw reduced royalties as well. Out of the agencies reviewed here, this one is the toughest to get into. You'll need to show your best work both in uniqueness, composition, and image quality. iStock is the second highest earner for me.


The popular subscription model used by Shutterstock makes it a unique player in microstock. Your earnings per sale are lower but the trade-off is that sales volume is higher due to the 25-a-day image subscription that most of the website's customers use. Royalties start at $0.25 and can scale up to as high as $0.38 as your lifetime earnings increase. Nonsubscription royalties for on-demand and single image sales pay more. The submission process is very fast and offers the best time-to-revenue ratio of the agencies I've used. Image approval is fairly balanced and I've generally agreed with the occasional rejections I've had. Your submission gets reviewed quickly as well. Getting accepted by this agency is the second toughest of those reviewed here. That said, the contributer forums are friendly and helpful, and if you're new to stock photography I'd highly recommend pitching some of your work to the critique forums before attempting to apply as a photographer. Shutterstock is the top earner for me.


This agency offers some of the higher photographer royalties. Nonexclusive ranges from 20% to 46% based on lifetime downloads while exclusive ranges from 35% to 63%. The downside is that the higher payouts require an incredible number of downloads to reach. Options for exclusivity on a per image basis are also offered. A subscription plan is available to customers as an alternative to the credits system, but it doesn't bring in nearly as many sales as Shutterstock's subscriptions do. Image approval is moderate to strict. Getting accepted here isn't too difficult, probably about third toughest overall. Fotolia is often one of the top three earners for many stock photographers, but for me it's fourth and well behind Dreamstime. I just don't get many downloads.


Unlike most agencies that scale earnings based on your lifetime sales, Dreamstime bases it on sales per image which promotes rewards for unique and popular images rather than your time spent with the company. Dreamstime also pays high royalties to the photographer. The starting rate is 25% for a new nonexclusive submission but can increase as high as 50% when the image surpasses 50 downloads. The rate for exclusive photographers is also high at a flat 60% per sale regardless of downloads. Additionally, Dreamstime offers an exclusive option on a per image basis with rates that fall between those of nonexclusive and fully exclusive. This option allows you to make some of your work exclusive while still maintaining different work elsewhere. The submission process is moderate to lengthy, just a bit faster than Fotolia. Image approval feels fairly lenient, but not always consistent. I have not had many rejections though. Overall this is one of the easier agencies to get accepted at. Dreamstime is my third highest earner.


This agency doesn't bring in many sales for me, but it's easy to get accepted at, easy to submit to, and fairly lenient on image standards so it's not a huge time investment. There are no royalty increases for lifetime sales, but the flat rate of 50% of the net sale of an image is a solid rate. Subscription sales pay $0.36 per download. 123RF is the lowest earner for me.

Other agencies to consider, if you must, include BigStockPhoto, Crestock, Pond5, CanStockPhoto, Depositphotos, Veer, ScanStock, Yay Images, Zoonar, FeaturePics, Vivozoom, Fotosearch, and Canva.

Copyright © Wild Retina & David Carillet
Privacy Policy | Site Map