The Future Of Microstock Photography

Just like most other niches within the photography industry, microstock has completely changed the landscape. Instead of commanding big bucks for shoots for companies, microstock gives companies a way to buy stock images inexpensively. Yes, they aren’t original. But the low price is what brings them in and makes them stay.

Can you make money with microstock? According to a recent survey, the answer is still overwhelmingly yes. 24 percent of the people surveyed stated that microstock was the primary way they brought in income. And what may be even more exciting, the highest reported income was $900,000. Yep, close to $1 million just by selling microstock.

Many people would argue that this is just the lucky one – the one person that actually had success with it – most people will never make money at it. And I agree. But I would also argue that most people will never make money with photography either. The people that do succeed treat it like a business and work at their business every single day.

Microstock isn’t a passing fad or something that is completely over-saturated. In fact, I’m seeing a growing industry instead.

Images now are more beneficial than ever before. You see them everywhere. Yet if you’ve ever looked through a microstock house, you know there are definite winners – and definite losers.

If you photograph specialized images that focus in on specifics to one industry, you will be more successful than if you just shoot randomly. Don’t shoot without a plan. Instead, take the time to search through existing microstock houses and find out what is selling. Then use those ideas to plan out your own niche.

Once you decide to submit, who do you submit to? According to the survey, the expected sites came up at the top of the list. Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Dreamstime and Fotolia all rounded out at the top four places to submit to.

But where I was really surprised was where the most income was generated from. By far, Shutterstock was the highest grossing site, according to these microstock photographers.

So, should you move forward with microstock? Definitely, if you are ready to be an innovator in this “new” field. Yes, microstock has been around for a while now. Yet its still changing and morphing as we speak. It continues to evolve as media sources drop photographers in exchange for using great images from a variety of photographers, from all over the world.

Stock photographers can no longer rely on a few companies to keep a full time salary in place. Instead, they must morph into a new age photographer, competing in a marketplace with other brilliant photographers from around the world. Focus must be different. Approach must be different. And the way you market your services must be different.

Yet if you change and create a new business model, profits can be amazing. And what’s more, this business can be run from anywhere in the world – just shoot and upload to the stock house of your choice. What could be better than that?

Now its your turn. What is your view on microstock?

6 thoughts on “The Future Of Microstock Photography”

  1. I agree that those who succeed are those who treat it like a business and work hard at it every day. It takes creativity to get noticed in a sea of pictures…

  2. I had Getty Images contact me through flickr about several of my images when they were actively looking for photos, but I really wasn’t interested. It’s always been in the back of my mind–maybe I will try submitting some work. It’s a bit of a different beast than family/senior photos.

    Any advice on approaching families to allow you to submit their images for microstock? And how does one typically compensate models portrayed in microstock?

    • Jason

      They really are two separate niches. With our weddings, we would shoot stuff for the couple and stuff for stock – knowing the two are separate. If you want to combine the two, go in it from the beginning looking for models for stock images – they get the portrait as part of the compensation. But for the most part, I would keep the two separate.


  3. Interesting article, thank you for the insight. I submit stock photos to shutterstock mostly and able to make some residual income from it every month with almost 1000 photos. Not enough mind you for a sustainable income, but I think it’s possible if one works at it hard like a full time job. I think it’s a commitment one needs to make to shoot for stock / microstock almost exclusively as there may be little time left for any other business ventures.

    It could also look daunting if you’re just starting to submit microstock because in the end you need a lot of pictures in your gallery for all the downloads to accumulate into a nice sum of money. And besides the time it takes to process each picture for ever-increasing standards in the review process, then you have to allocate some time to proper keywording and that can be very tedious especially for those who prefer creating as opposed to typing for search optimization.

    In a nutshell, I would say microstock is a discipline in and of itself which can present many challenges (often at the expense of creativity), but for some people who have the will and perseverance, microstock can be a viable option. And there’s nothing to say that stock cannot be creative… first it is meant to be practical, but there are still many commercial applications where you can mix practical with eye candy.


Leave a Comment