Getting Started In Stock Photography – Best Microstock Agencies

Choosing the right stock agency to work with really depends on your level of experience and your goals. If you’ve been in the photography industry for quite a while, you probably already have a good idea of what your best markets are in the stock and microstock realm.  Most of us simply are not going to start working for Corbis or Getty right out of the gate; we’re going to submit our images to one or more of the various micro-stock agencies that are so popular online.  Choosing the best agencies will depend on the agency’s pay rate, visibility, and subject focus. Here are my thoughts on the subject. Information provided here is accurate to the best of my knowledge at the time of authorship, but no guarantees to accuracy are made or implied. This information is available from each agency individually, so check out their websites if you have doubts or questions.



PROS: Dreamstime is my top pick for several reasons. First, they begin with a very high rate of pay for photographers. For most photos, the photographer makes 50% of the sale price, which is higher than any other agency that I know of. Additionally, if you sell exclusively on Dreamstime, you get a full 80% of the sale price. There are exceptions, however.  Subscription sales pay a flat rate, regardless of the download size, the idea being that subscribers will download more photos to make up for it.

The second major benefit of Dreamstime is that the process of selling your photos is very easy. Unlike many of the agencies, there is no test and no general application process; you simply register for the site and submit photos, and each photo is judged on its own merit and accepted or returned with comments for re-submission. They also accept a wide range of photography styles, unlike iStockphoto, for example which has a comparitively narrow focus on corporate

CONS:  Dreamstime still doesn’t seem to get as much traffic as some of the other agencies (this does seem to be improving, though…), so even though you might make a higher percentage per photo, you might sell fewer photos. They also have a subscription program, which means that your sales may only make $0.38 even at full resolution. Of course, the idea is that more photos will be purchased this way, but whether this is an advantage to the photographer depends on the size of their portflio.

For whatever its worth, Dreamstime photos tend to be a little less expensive than some others, too. This is good for designers who are searching for the best bang for their buck, but it also means that as a photographer you might make a little less at first. However, with the Dreamstime schema, the more your photos are downloaded, the more they cost (ie, popular photos cost more), so prices climb if your photos are good.

Royalty Free ImagesRoyalty Free Images


PROS: iStock is very popular and also has a great search functionality (and keywording help). If your photos are accepted, there is a good chance that they’ll get more downloads than other agencies, but perhaps more importantly, you’ll get a lot of national visibility for your work.

CONS: The cons are biggies. First, iStock has a tough selection process; they are one of the most selective agencies online. You’ll need to take a quick online test, and then submit a group of 3 photos for review. Despite the quality of the actual photos posted on iStock, the portfolio review photos must be of exceptional quality. Many professional photographers submit several sets of photos before they’re accepted, and some are simply not accepted because they don’t match iStocks profile for photographic style/subject matter.

The other big downside is that iStockphoto pays photographers only 20% of the sale price of their photo, so you’ll have to sell quite a few more photos to make up for it. However, if you sell exclusively on iStock, you can make up to 40%, I believe.


PROS: Bigstock is similar to Dreamstime in many ways. Photographers get 50 cents per credit spent on their photos, some photos costing as little as one credit, the largest costing 6 credits for standard license, so a photographer can make .50-$3.00 per sale. (Credits cost $1 t0 $2.50 each depending on the quantity purchased, so photographers are making 20-50%). The application process is fast and easy, and although there is a test, it isn’t tricky. Like Dreamstime, bigstock is moderately selective with their image acceptance, so the best photos in most photographers collections should be accepted.

I’ve also seen a lot more advertising for BigStockPhoto than I have for Dreamstime, which leads me to believe that it will receive more traffic. I haven’t been a BigStock member long enough to know how the sales rates compare yet, though.

CONS: There doesn’t seem to be any exclusivity advantage, and popular images sell for the same prices as all the rest. Sale price really is my biggest concern with Bigstock. The fact that your photos sell for as little as $6 means that if you upload them elsewere, you may lose those higher priced sales.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments