Friday, January 05, 2007

One Year of Stock Photography!

I started to work with Stock agencies in January 2006. The year went pretty well and this is a review of 9 stock place where you can sell your work. The revenue per picture greatly depend on your portfolio content; mine was travel oriented and then I started to focus on stock images such as every day objects isolated on white background.

Also I'd like to emphasize that I believe Microstock and Regular Stock are two different markets with different customers. I would never sell my "better" (or I should say my "rarest") pictures with micro for just a quarter. I sell newly taken "microstock oriented" (i.e everyday object on white background) or travel shots that did not meet Alamy technical requirements (due to lower resolution). If you check my portfolio with Alamy and with any Micro Stock you'll see what I mean. I obviously prefer to sell a unique picture for a decent amount of money, but I also enjoy getting paid for my "not as rare" pictures.

More than 80% of my revenues came from 4 agencies:
  1. Shutterstock - $5.30/picture/year – 22.7%
  2. iStockPhoto - $5.20/picture/year – 22.3%
  3. StockXpert - $4.95/picture/year – 21.4%
  4. Alamy - $3.70/picture/year – 16%
I made actually a lot more money with Shutterstock alone because I have twice the number of pictures that I have on other sites (in part because they are the only micro accepting Editorial).

The remaining 20% came from another 5 agencies:
  1. Fotolia - $1.43/picture/year – 6.1%
  2. Dreamstime - $1.42/picture/year – 6.1%
  3. 123rf - $0.69/picture/year – 3%
  4. BigStockPhoto - $0.40/picture/year – 1.7%
  5. LuckyOliver - $0.18/picture/year – 0.7%
The great thing about the RF model and Microstock is that you can keyword and edit your image once, and then upload it with batch ftp on all servers. Then for most of them you just need to add categories et voila! So submitting the same image to 8 different places does not really take much longer than just one.

In case you'd like to sign up to give it a try I'd appreciate if you'd use one of my referal link: you would still get paid the same but I would get a small commission on each sale... which means more money for us photographers and less for the Microstock companies!

#1 - ShutterStock - RF - Subscription Model

  • Because of subscription model buyers buy pictures they might never use
  • Fast review time
  • Uncensored and friendly forums
  • Best referral bonus
  • Accept editorial shots
  • Best Enhanced License program
  • Model release management
  • Need to constantly upload to have pictures in the first search pages and get downloads
  • 0 tolerance for noise or grain in picture
  • No information on the photog (besides screen name); photog can’t be contacted directly
Top 3 Sellers:

#2 - IStockPhoto - RF

  • Top quality images only
  • Grainy image ok (film scan ok)
  • Tags attached to keywords for intelligent translation (unique feature)
  • Very picky on keywords
  • Buyer can contact photog directly
  • No direct ftp
  • Limit to 20 upload per week
  • Slow review time
  • No photog referral bonus
  • No editorial
Top 3 Sellers:

#3 - StockXpert - RF

  • Best payout/picture
  • Great user interface, extremely simple to use
  • Fast review times
  • 1st payout after $50
  • Can advertise own portfolio once a week
  • No editorial
  • No photog referral bonus
Top 3 Sellers:

#4 - Alamy - RF & RM
Stock photography by Christophe+Testi at Alamy
  • RM and RF model
  • High selling price, with 70% commission to photog
  • Only High Resolution pictures - 16MP or more
  • No ftp, need to send CD or DVD with picture
  • Slow review times
  • No paypal
Top Seller:

#5 - Fotolia - RF

  • For each picture sold we know who is the buyer
  • 10% referral bonus
  • Slow user interface
  • User interface could be improved
  • No editorial
  • referral bonus for 365 days only
Top 3 Sellers:

#6 - Dreamstime - RF and Subscription

  • Great user interface
  • Referral bonus
  • Model release management
  • Buyer can contact photog directly
  • minimum payout is $100
Top 3 Sellers:

#7 - 123RF - RF



Top 3 Sellers:

#8 - BigStockPhoto - RF

  • Minimum payout is $30
  • Good support for photographers, emails answered quickly
  • Poor user interface
Top 3 Sellers:

#9 - LuckyOliver - RF
  • Inovative user interface, fun site
  • Not many sales so far
Top 3 Sellers:


JohnJo said...

Very useful and interesing report Christophe. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Hello and thanks for the usefull information. Just wanted to tell you that also sells editorial RF

Mr. John said...

Thanks for tha amzing post. Do you mind telling us how much you made in total for the whole year. That would help alot. Thank you.

oj said...

Yes, without some more numbers, like images at each agency, totals, etc., the numbers don't mean much.

Christophe said...

Ok for the numbers: I made enough to buy a new Canon 5D and a few 4 GB CF, with beetween 150 to 400 pictures on line, 400 being with Shutterstock.

But to be honest, most photogs don't even reach the $100 payout limit every month. Only a few have been very successful; they work full time on stock photography and are very talented.

Anonymous said...


Firstly I congratulate you on the quality of you images
Secondly , dont you think that you are selling yourself and the profession down the river for the pittance that these libraries are giving you?

Is it the desire to see your images in print ?

Or the adulation of your friends and family that you seek?

Soon Photography will have no value, thanks to stock libraries like these.

Yours a UK 100% income Pro

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an interesting post. Looking at your numbers a bit, is it fair to say that you've only had one sale at Alamy? From your other posts, it seems like you've only got around 100 images online there... at 3.70/image it would have been around $370, which isn't an uncommon Alamy price.

This is kind of surprizing and disappointing at the same time; it looks like selling at shutterstock is the way to go if you don't have a library of several thousand at alamy. Your thoughts?

Christophe said...

>>Firstly I congratulate you on the
>>quality of you images


>>Secondly , dont you think that you
>>are selling yourself and the
>>profession down the river for the
>>pittance that these libraries are
>>giving you?

Like I said in my post Micros only get my 2nd grade pictures; that could be pictures from my P&S camera that did not meet Alamy technical requirements or some shots that I made especially for micros. I personally think Micros is a new market that does not have a significant impact on Macro Stocks. Look at Alamy numbers, their growth in 2006 has been pretty good. Micro Stock is a new market that I see more for people who could have never been able to purchase a picture for $300 to use on their website or on their church paper for instance.

I had a picture from Micro that made a cover for a free magazine. They could have found a similar picture from one of the free library but they now have access to a more affordable place to purchase picture.

BUT I see 2 problems with Micros:
1) Designers or Firms with lot of money buy high quality images from Micros and make a lot of money on the photographer back.
2) Extremely talented NEW photographers are starting to sell all their work ONLY with Micro stocks.

Christophe said...

>> This is kind of surprizing and
>> disappointing at the same time; it
>> looks like selling at shutterstock
>> is the way to go if you don't have
>> a library of several thousand at >> alamy. Your thoughts?

This was actually expected. Many first time Alamy photographers have to wait for about 6 months before some sales start to kick in.

Shutterstock is actually the opposite: you get tones of downloads at 25 cents, but after a while if you stop uploading pictures your downloads will drastically slow down.

My preference is still with Alamy, I don't think you need thousand of pictures with them to get sales. Especially now they are using a new search engine "AlamyRank" which tend to penalize photographers with many pictures of the same subject.

But Micro Stock is a great way to get started and to get a feel of what can sell or not.

N W said...

Many of your images are competent and there are good markets for your work at far greater prices than RF and micro stock.

istock, similar companies, and sadly, gullible, mainly naive amateur and semi pros, and some professionals, are devaluing professional photography.

Are you aware that many of you are selling images to companies that have turn overs in the 100,000's of thousands and millions, for the price of a meal at Mcdonalds - The normal fees prior to RF and micro agencies was in the hundreds to thousands.

An established designer, his web site address escapes but method of operation haunts me, has set up an image site to swop photographic images for free, fairly respectable images. He has a growing number of registered users.

I wonder how he would feel I diverted some of my time away my profession to set up a free, or even a more exciting prospect of $3.00 per design, right next door to his lucrative design business?

Maybe each and everyone of of us should devalue each others professions, ditch earning a real wage, and just barter for food.

Dayo said...

While I can understand the unhappiness of some that make a living from photography, I can't help recollecting reading about a certain group of people that went about smashing spinning machines because it devalued their professions.

Yes, that fear is real as their is no longer any point paying for a skilled cotton spinner. The agencies do devalue photography but photography is no a profession and once the floodgates are opened that make it accessible to the general public, nobody will want to paid through the nose for pictures and I can't see anything wrong with that. Supply and Demand.

If John and Jane Doe and get decent photos of their wedding without paying through the nose for it, why should they. As for the companies being worth a lot of money so make them pay, I suppose you feel just fine with it when you go on holiday to some countries and you are charged 500 times the normal price for a taxi for instance because you are a rich Westerner. I take it you understand and don't try to haggle.

Stop fighting against the tide.

N W said...

Dayo said

The agencies do devalue photography but photography is no a profession and once the floodgates are opened that make it accessible to the general public, nobody will want to paid through the nose for pictures.

So how many jobs do you rate as a profession? If photography is not a profession then sport, or countless other jobs are professions.

Companies are not paying through the nose. If I sell a picture for £500.00 for use on a front cover, a low circulation magazine selling 1000 copies, it has only cost them 0.5p per copy. Call that expensive, get real.

They are using the image to help sell their magazine off the shelf. One image I took for a front cover lifted magazine sales from 82,000 - 120,000 from that issue. It is true other factors may have been involved, although there were no free gifts with that issue.

Try and ask Costco or Boots the chemist to print 1000.00 images, A4 size, for 0.5p each for your scrap book or next company advertising flyers.

I have no beef whether the next guy is a skilled amateur, semi pro, or pro, if he beats me with a better image, provided he charges realistic fees to the commercial world. Don't think your lacoste shirt will be reduced in price becuase advertising fees may go down through cheap photographers fees.

Are wedding couples really being ripped off when a TOP CLASS professional photographer charges £2,000+? Most weddings apparently average out in the UK at around £12,000. At least 1/6 of your spending is excellent value for money, especially if you live to a rip old age, or don't get divourced.

I suppose you might keep the very expensive wedding dress, left neatly folded in a box in the atic, which probably wont fit in a couple of years through gorging yourself on junk food or a piece of that delicious wedding cake which will probably won't be edible afer 30 years.

However the wedding album will always be there to hand in the living room cupboard to bring back memories (hopefully happy and interesting ones) and to pass on to your cherished off spring after you have departed.

That's pretty good value for money in comparison to many other expenses in life.

NW said...

Companies are not paying through the nose. If I sell a picture for £500.00 for use on a front cover, a low circulation magazine selling 1000 copies, it has only cost them 0.5p per copy. Call that expensive, get real.

Error - should be low circulation magazine selling 100,000 copies only costs 0.5p per copy

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences with stock photography. You've been most helpful.

Out of curiosity, were the images you show as your top sellers for stockXpert taken at Costa Maya, Mexico?

-Chad in Maryland

Christophe said...

Hi Chad,

The pictures with Palm Trees on the beach were taken in French Caribbeans: Martinique Island.

The one one was taken in Bora Bora, French Polynesia.

Buck said...


Nice pictures and thanks for the info on the business side of microstock. Very informative. Question--You said that you made enough to buy a 5d and some CF cards. I'd guess that's about $3800. Have you considered that you should also be paid for your time and expertise in taking the pictures? How much was travel, food, lodging to SF, the Grand Canyon, Martinique and Bora Bora? Do you have health insurance? Phone? Studio? Maintenance? Are your computers and software paid for by the stock photo business? These are all costs of doing business and I can't make the economics of the micros work when these are considered. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Christophe said...


Thanks for your comments.

Actually 5% of my annual income is from microstock. All the travel shots that you mentioned were taken either with a cheap P&S camera, or with an old Canon SLR with regular film. These photos were taken during various vacations, honey moon, and could not meet technical requirements to be sold wit Macrostock.

If you look at photographers who make a living out of stock, they mostly shoot people on white background, so the investment is minimal. Some other sell computer generated pictures.

My goal at this point is just to make an extra income from material I already have and that I could not use with Macrostock.

I do also sell most of these pictures in fine art prints.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interesting article. I'd like to know how well you've sold your editorial pictures? Are they more difficult to sell?

Christophe said...

Some of my editorial pictures actually did pretty well and are in my top 10 most sold.

One of my editorial picture just made the cover of a free tourist guide for the San Francisco area.

Eric S Chernenkoff said...

Great piece of work you did here in sharing your experiences with the various stock agencies. Very useful and insightful. Your photography is top notch too!

Daniel De Granville said...

Hi Christophe,

I woke up this morning decided to look up the web for info on "stock photography", and came across your post by chance. Brilliant! Thanks a lot for sharing. If you have some time, I'd be pleased to have you visit my website,

All the best from Brazil,

Daniel De Granville

Tami Stowe said...

Thanks for the great article. A question, if you don't mind. I was looking through the Almay website and am confused. It says that they suggest using a 6 megapixel camera or above and that it should be interpolated "to a minimum of 48MB". I have a 10.5 megapixel camera and can't seem to get a jpeg above 11 meg. I'm sure that I am calculating wrong or misunderstanding but not sure where to look.

Paul said...


Superb article - one of the best and most thorough I've come across on Stock Photography. Please feel free to add this excellent resource to

Christophe said...

Tami, 48MB would be the size as an uncompressed TIFF file. That's also the size shown in PhotoShop in the lower left corner when you open an image.

The easiest way to get to that size is to resize to 5100x3400 pixels using the basic "resize" option in PhotoShop.

Hope that helps.

Chris said...

Really helpful post. Thanks for this. Your blog is stong with some really unique contact. Great work!

Keith said...

Hi Christophe
Others have said what a useful article you have written but I'd like to thank you also for the effort you have put into answering the various comments and questions.
Thanks for all the hard work!

Piano Lessons said...

Wow - great photos man!

bryan_luckyoliver said...

Hey, thanks for the mention and write-up on LuckyOliver. As a new company we hope to be a stronger source of income for you as the year progresses. Thanks for your efforts and keep up the good work!


Julie said...

This is a great report - very beneficial to those interested in learning how much you can realistically make in microstock business. If anyone is interested, is currently offering a free "Guide to Marketable Photography" in pdf format, which comprehensively explains how to achieve marketable images and showcases hundreds of top-selling images.

kim said...

I'm thrilled to have read this Christophe - thank you for sharing. Tell me - do you see any use for a middle ground? I mean a stock agency with prices between the micro stock and the big players (Getty, Corbis). I was wondering if, in your opinion, there are buyers for images at about $50 - $75 each rather than the pittance from microstocks. Thanks for your time.

Christophe said...

Hi Kim, yes I know a few places that target a market between micro stocks and big agencies:

1. from Corbis, they are still in beta with not much traffic/sales yet but Corbis is behind them so there is hope.
2., very nice website where you can also set your own price.
3, I only had one sale with them but that was for $200

And for prints now I use and already had quite a few sales. You can also set your own price with this one.

Hope that helps, take care,

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Terry Runion said...

Great blog, very informative!

Chris said...

Great write up and thanks for sharing your information and photos that have had the most success.

But one question, im looking at doing this but why would I want to sell my photo for .25 to 1.00 when I could sell my prints elsewhere for more money on my own?

Also, do you think its possilble since the images are RF, that someone signed up for $15 a month to a site downloaded about 1000 images and then sold them as 8x10 prints for $10 a pop? thats my concern, why put my photos out for someone to get them at .25 and turn around and sell them for $10.00 a print? I should be selling them for $10 a print, not someone else making money off of my pictures.. that is my concern with stock photography.......