Getting Started In Stock Photography

stock photography photo
People are popular subjects for stock photography

You won’t find many people motoring around the Intercoastal Waterway on an 80 foot motor yacht named Stock Photography, unless they happen to own the company. But, while you may not be able to spring for that 2010 80’ Azimut Cruiser on what you make from stock photography, if you can shoot at a level above most other photographers you can, over time, build a nice side income from microstock images.

Like many things in life, microstock photography is a business and you need to approach it like one if you expect to make any money. Pulling out a handful of your favorite images and sending them in is almost a guarantee of being rejected. Sending family photos with harsh, front light shadows, no matter how goofy your family may look, will almost certainly be similarly rejected. In fact, your photos can be magical and still get rejected, so don’t get depressed. Time is your ally.

Job one will visiting microstock sites and spend a lot of time reading the guidelines for submissions. All will provide exhaustive detail about what they do and do not want. Some will have specific guidelines within individual categories, a few will make suggestions about specific needs.

Every stock photo for commercial use that has an identifiable person will require a model release. If you do not have a model release, the company may still offer the image for editorial uses, but you’re still farther ahead getting a release. Some agencies don’t just want any release, they want their release. Make sure you know the requirements.

Some agencies will offer exclusive arrangements, some do not. There are advantages both ways, so do your research before accepting one.

You have the camera and the skill, now here are a few suggestions for good places to start in microstock photography.


iStockPhoto was one of the first microstock agencies and is still considered one of the more lucrative. Not surprisingly, it’s also the one more likely to reject a first submission. They also require new submitters to take a test to insure they understand the submission guidelines.


ShutterStock is popular and a steady earner because of their subscription model for customers. Customers will frequently download more images than they really need and earnings for photographers tend to pile up faster.


DreamsTime is popular with photographers because of their generous commission schedule, which can run from 50 to 80 percent for contributors. To get approved you can submit up to 10 photos.


Fotlia is a relative newcomer to the microstock business but is building a solid reputation with both photographers and commercial customers. They do have a reputation of being a low-cost provider, so this may not be your biggest earner.