Microstock: Introduction

I have some great photos. How can I sell them? I don’t have a lot of spare time but I’d like to make some money. What’s a good place to start?”

By Andrew Hudson Published: June 7, 2011 Updated: November 26, 2013

The easiest and fastest way for you to make money with photography is to sell your photos online via microstock sites. Some popular sites are:

See the Top 10 and Top 40 microstock sites.

Many people earn decent money, even entire livelihoods, from shooting microstock, and you can too. Just sign up for a free account and upload some photos — that’s it. Your work is immediately available for licensing worldwide and money should come rolling in.

Benefits of microstock sites include:

  • Free to join — No sign-up or monthly fees
  • Non-exclusive — Sell the same photos at multiple sites
  • No limits to your copyright— You keep your work

What Is Stock Photography?

Stock photography is photography that’s already been taken and is lying around somewhere, ready to use. The opposite is assignment photography, where someone pays you to go off and photograph something.

For the photographer, assignment photography is more glamorous and fun, in that “hey, National Geographic hired me to spend three months photographing in the rain-forest” sort of way. But stock is where the money’s at. Even professional photographers do assignment work almost at cost, just to get the stock. And assignment is a one-time payment, whereas stock is recurrent income — every month, you get money deposited into your bank account, almost for life. It’s like a salary or a retirement paycheck. You can do nothing, and lie on a beach, and still get paid. Now that’s what I want.


Microstock is the low-cost segment of stock photography. Whereas the major, traditional stock agencies charge clients high prices for “rights-managed” images, microstock agencies charge only a few dollars for “royalty-free” images. More importantly to us, whereas the major agencies accept work from only select photographers, microstock agencies actively seek images from anyone, even amateurs and hobbyists.

Microstock began in 2000, when iStockphoto was started by Bruce Livingstone. He sold the site for $50 million. See, microstock does pay.

A great advantage of most microstock agencies is that they’re “non-exclusive.” That means they don’t have a lock on your photos — you are free to submit the same shots to other agencies and clients. Since the sign-up is free, you can upload your images to a bunch of microstock sites and learn which ones pay best for you.

How Much Does Microstock Pay?

Microstock photos earn about $9 per year. That’s not much, but if you have 100 or 1,000 pictures that’s $900 or $9,000 per year, which is useful money. The key is volume: submit many photos and hope they each get licensed many times.

It’s true, microstock doesn’t pay a lot. The term “micropayment” is used both as a description and a criticism. But it doesn’t take much money to feel rich. As Dickens observed: “Annual income, twenty pounds; annual expenditure, nineteen pounds; result, happiness.”

How To Sign Up

Look for a link such as “sell images” or “photographers.” There’ll be a contract with policies and terms, and you may have to submit photos for review, to see if your work is of high enough quality. Once approved, you have to “tag” your images with keywords (for searching) and upload them for inspection. Some sites allow you to have your own page, so you can refer friends and clients direct to your photos.

Let’s see the top 40 microstock websites.

Next page: Top Photos


Reply by Anonymous

January 28, 2016

Thanks for the tip!! I didn’t know there was such an enterprise. My creative outlets are photography, writing, and cooking. I kind of fell into making money from my pics.

I build custom furniture for select clients in my spare time. That turned in to making custom frames from reclaimed barn wood from the 1800’s. Then I started putting my art in them. Now, I’m thinking about hiring a person part time due to demand. If anyone is reading this, don’t’let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Just think outside of the box, and the social norms.

I’ve never thought about submitting to microstock sites. I have a library of pics. That might be a very viable stream of income! Some of my better stuff I will only make 100 copies, but I have 100’s of images that I’ve saved on thumb drives, SD cards, etc. that aren’t limited. Thanks for the info!!

Reply by Shyam

January 9, 2016

This is Shyam here I am from India so may I part of microstock

Reply by Anonymous

November 11, 2015

Regarding getting images on Corbis without a URL, as I do not have my own website. I have scanned low res images and one over 2mp fine art image thats under review at Dreamstime. The others are negatives unscanned at high res.

Reply by Anonymous

November 7, 2015

Regarding black-and-white images, is Getty the best stock site to sell those type of images? Or is there another stock site with less mp like under 5mp?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 11, 2016

From Shutterstock submission guidelines:

  • Images must be at least 4MP (4 Megapixels/4 Million Pixels). To calculate the number of pixels in a photo - multiply the width by the height. For example, a photo that is 1700 x 1300 is 2.21 million pixels. Please note that Megapixels (MP) are not the same as Megabytes (MB).
  • Images should not be upsized. We perform an upsize to sell the “supersized” version where the file size is under 15MP.

Reply by Anonymous

November 4, 2015

Hi, if I have less than 5 images at 8mp, which stock site should I try first? I understand Shutterstock requires a minimum of ten images.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 11, 2016

Shutterstock has recently changed to accept one of ten. See How do I become a photo contributor?

Reply by Anonymous

September 11, 2015

Regarding my question in last post August 15, 2015. I sent them about that and they closed my account. I am good now. thank you.

Reply by Oindrila

August 30, 2015

I don’t own a digital camera, I just have a 3 MP phone camera and I love taking photos with it. I’m trying to purchase a digital camera but for now can I sell my photos?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 12, 2016

Hi Oindrila,

Probably, yes.

There are many microstock sites, and there are an increasing number dedicated to photo photography. I do not know the minimum image size they each require.

Reply by Anonymous

August 15, 2015

Could I upload images from free images websites owned by other photographers (commercial use allow) after I did some filters or white balance correction?

If no.. what are the fines, or how can I correct this mistake if my image already sold by a client?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 13, 2016

No. Microstock companies require that you own the copyright. For example, the first paragraph in the Shutterstock Submission Guidelines is:

You must own or control the copyright to all content you submit to Shutterstock. This means that you cannot submit work obtained from other sources (e.g., online image search results or websites), or incorporate such work into your content submissions, unless you have permission to do so.

If you have already uploaded such photos, you can remove them.

Using photos by others in commercial situations is copyright infringement and the copyright owner can sue you.

Reply by Anonymous

May 15, 2015

Hey, I have a bridge camera Nikon Coolpix L120. is it ok for stock photos?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

May 19, 2015


Yes! That camera has a 14 MP sensor, so your photos would have more than enough detail to submit to a microstock agency. Shutterstock, for example, requires a minimum of 4 MP.

Reply by Anonymous

February 9, 2015

I’m from Nepal. Is it possible to sell photos on microstock sites from Nepal and receive money? Nepal doesn’t have paypal services to receive money. Is it possible to receive money through bank from Nepal. Please reply. Thanks in advance.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

March 6, 2015


I believe you can sell photos on microstock companies regardless of where you live. Shutterstock, for example, will pay a non-US person, with a check in U.S. dollars or online via PayPal or MoneyBookers. I don’t know how such a payment is handled in Nepal, but you could just keep the funds in a PayPal account and use that account to buy stuff online.

Reply by Anonymous

December 8, 2014

So, I’ve read this article, and researched a little more. I’ve been a little interested in photography for a few years now, but have only really explored it occasionally. I have an older digital camera. It’s a Kodak easyshare z812is. I was wondering if this was too old a camera to try out microstock photos to expand my interest and maybe find an enjoyable income source.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 26, 2015


Your camera is fine for microstock photography. The Kodak EasyShare Z812S shoots 8.2 MP images, which is more than large enough. For example, the minimum file size at Shutterstock is 4 MP.

The minimum size for new photographers is now 4.0MP.

So grab your camera and start making money!


Reply by Brandon

October 14, 2014

I would like to get into this .. as of now I am traveling down south .. currently in gulf shores Alabama. Located close to Orange beach..

Also leaving here in a week for south Florida. Have taken many great photos and been researching and seems it would be a great entertaining way to make a few bucks. Thanks Brandon

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