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How To Make Money from Cents in Microstock

The unique selling point of the microstocks is their low pricing. This, in turn, means that the commission payable to the photographer can be as low as $0.01 per image sale, although, in practice, this fi gure is at the bottom end of a range that can go a lot higher. With such low commissions it might seem that it will be impossible to earn “real” money. That is a view thinking by many traditional stock photographers.

Yet, despite this, I have now reached sales from a portfolio of fi ve microstock sites of around $750 per month in around 2 years from a standing start. That’s useful money in anyone’s language, particularly as I am not shooting stock full time. But this is a far from exceptional result; the truth is I could have earned a lot more if I had not been so darn busy with other projects. And the income is increasing.

Now I believe I have some talent as a photographer, even if I am not Ansel Adams. But—and this is a critical point—in many ways, the demands of the microstock libraries are very different from the kind of camera club success stories keen amateurs might be familiar with.

For a modern-day microstock phenomenon, consider the case of Yuri Arcurs (see his site at www. arcurs. com), who claims to sell over 400,000 images a year. He has two assistants who help in the production and upload process, and he concentrates on popular themes. He is a great microstock success story. If you want to mimic that level of success, it will take a lot of time and effort. in fact, it's can be done.

Follow this advice: forget fi ne art and learn fi ne business if making money from the microstocks is your goal.

As far as I am concerned, the microstock case is proven. The microstocks are an open invitation to anyone with a modicum of talent and a little spare time to earn signifi cant extra cash. With real dedication, perhaps you can end up making a full-time living from the microstocks.

This image is one of my best sellers on the microstocks. In 1 year since fi rst uploaded, it has been downloaded from iStockphoto alone more than 700 times, earning over $290 in commission for me, the photographer, from just that one library. It has done very well elsewhere too, and sales continue at an impressive monthly rate. You may think that it is a studio shot taken with a megabucks camera and lighting.

Wrong! It was taken on a 6-MP Fuji F10 compact camera, with a little tender loving care applied in Photoshop CS2 (noise reduction, perspective correction, copyright logo removal). You don’t need expensive equipment (although good equipment helps); you just need to know how to use what you have.

The way the microstocks sell images is highly relevant to both photographers and photo buyers. There are three different standard system of microstock sales models to consider:
  1. Credit package (single sale) sites, where buyers purchase images singly, usually using credits purchased in advance 
  2. Subscription sale sites, where buyers purchase a subscription and can then download a set number of images overall and per day during the subscription period 
  3. Hybrid sites, which combine the best of both worlds
Let’s look in more detail at how four of the leading microstock libraries—Dreamstime, Shutterstock, iStockphoto, and Fotolia—sell images. I have chosen these libraries because they are among the largest and they have proven track records, but that is not to say other libraries are not as good or better choices for you. A list of leading microstock sites you can compare them online. Please bear in mind that these packages are liable to change and are provided as examples only.


We’ll start with Dreamstime (www. dreamstime. com), a hybrid library, offering buyers the choice of single-image downloads paid for with credits or a subscription. Dreamstime started as a royalty-free stock photography Web site in 2000, selling images on compact discs. It relaunched in March 2004 as a microstock site, and it has now grown to become one of the larger and more successful sites. As with all microstocks, it relies upon contributing photographers to provide the content through the online Web site and FTP upload, with a present minimum fi le size of 3 MP. 

Dreamstime has offers two purchase options. The packages of between 20 and 130 credits, start from $19.99 for a 20-credit package and ending at $99.99 for 130 credits. There is also a higher discount available using the custom order tool available for packages of more than 160 credits. Alternatively, you can become a subscriber by purchasing a subscription package that allows for as few as 30 days and 750 images to 1 year and 9,125 images, in each case with a 25-image-per-day download limit. 

Per-image pricing is dependent upon the resolution required, with prices increasing for larger, higher-resolution images and the “level” of the image (higher prices charged for the more popular images). This translates to higher commissions for photographers. For further information, see http:// www. dreamstime. com/sellimages. 

Dreamstime pricing in detail, it appears to subscription downloads, where per image prices are at their lowest. But, according to Serban Enache, chief executive offi cer (CEO) of Dreamstime, the credit packages are in practice the more popular choice with buyers.


Shutterstock (www. shutterstock. com) is a pure subscription site, offering packages starting at 1 month with a maximum of 25 downloads per day for $159.00 to 1 year with a maximum of 25 downloads per day for $1,599.00. It is arguably the most successful subscription site, and if you are thinking of sending some of your work to the microstock image libraries, my advice is to put Shutterstock at the top of your library list.

Unlike Dreamstime, at Shutterstock all image sizes are the same price and so are commission payments to photographers—$0.01 per download for junior photographers and $0.01 per download for more senior photographers with more sales ($500 worth in commission, to be precise). Some photographers deliberately send Shutterstock smaller fi le sizes only in the belief that this will force buyers to fi nd big fi les at other sites and pay more for the higher-resolution sizes. I’m not sure this is a sensible use of time and effort, and I would advise against trying to beat the system this way. Go and shoot more stock instead! 

Shutterstock is run by entrepreneur Jon Oringer. He has made Shutterstock the yin to iStockphoto’s yang. If you submit work to iStockphoto and Shutterstock, you have bagged what many would regard as the best single sale and the best subscription site, a great starting point in your microstock photographic career. Shutterstock advertises extensively and generates a considerable amount of user loyalty through its active online forums that are not too aggressively policed. 

Part of Shutterstock’s success seems to be linked to the sheer simplicity of its site. Shorn of fancy fripperies, it is seldom off-line and is well regarded among microstock photographers. Some other sites could learn a lesson or two from this no-frills approach. Speaking as a photo buyer as well as photographer, I know how easy it is to jump to another library if my fi rst choice is off-line. Keep it simple, keep it online! 

For more information on current subscription prices at Shutterstock, visit http:// www. shutterstock. com/subscribe. mhtml.


Fotolia (www. fotolia. com) is a credit package (single-sale) site. It sells credit packages ranging from $10 to $2,000. Images are purchased for download using these credits, with pricing based on image size (resolution) and, to a lesser extent, usage. 

Fotolia also claims to be the biggest site, although this is disputed by some, including Shutterstock. Frankly, it doesn’t matter much as all the major sites are enjoying rapid growth, but Fotolia’s growth does seem to have outstripped that of other libraries. A nice touch offered by Fotolia is that you can see who has downloaded your images, something not offered by most other major sites. Fotolia also has a strong presence in the European market, possibly more so than the other leading microstocks, where North American sales dominate.


iStockphoto (www. istockphoto. com) is the “daddy” of the microstock sites, the site that began the microstock revolution and that many would say has stayed at the top of the pile ever since. It sells credit packages from 10 to 300 credits online, with larger packages available over the phone. At the time of this writing, prices are under review, but it is fair to say that iStockphoto aims for the “premium” end of the microstock market, assuming that premium microstock is not an oxymoron! 

Photographs cost from one credit for images with very low Web resolution to 15 credits for extra-large fi les, with a starting price of $1.30 per credit and discounts for quantity purchases. Contributing photographers can cash in earnings for credits, continuing the original philosophy behind iStockphoto as a community of artists and designers.

Apart from the “big four,” there are a number of other microstock sites, but all work along similar lines. You should check out each site for current pricing information and commission levels. What really matters is sales performance. 

When tracking sales over time, it does seem that the subscription-based sites such as Shutterstock tend to favor newer images. Conversely, in the single-sale libraries such as iStockphoto, it can take some time before an image accepted and added to the library sells for the fi rst time. Clearly, the pressure is on anyone whose subscription limit is about to expire to download whatever is available, just in case it is useful. It is better to have an image of limited use than nothing at all for your money. It is a bit too simple to leave it at that; other factors are in play, such as different search engines, target markets, and so on. Nonetheless, my advice is to make sure you send your work to both subscription-based and single-sale libraries if you want to maximize your market exposure and, thus, sales.


A list of topics for October can be found below. Microstock basically offers us to pay attention to the following topics: milestones, high-tech detection, crime scene and paranormal. Videos on these topics will surely enrich your collection. You can add a short code to your keywords so that www. pond5. com team can better understand what topic you are focusing on.


Milestones are important events that take place in human life, and Pond5 needs images that show and indicate change and progress. These images are extremely popular in commercial advertising and may become more popular given recent global events. The number of search queries related to intimacy, security, love and other related concepts will increase in the photo stock.

Frame list
  • The child learns to ride a bicycle - first with the help of his parents, then rides on his own.
  • First date or graduation party - teenagers kiss on the threshold for the first time, hold hands.
  • The first day at school - the parent hugs the child when he goes to the school building or school bus.
  • Graduation - students (of all ages) receiving diplomas, throwing caps in the air, portraits with a proud family.
  • The first car - the parent passes the car keys to the son / teenage daughter, the teenager holds the car keys.
  • The first work is a man at the age of 20, brightly dressed, looking excitedly at the business center, where his first “real work” will be.
  • The first house is young homeowners standing by the “Sold” sign in front of their first house.
Suggested keywords: Firsts, Change, Milestones, Future, Independence, Courage, Excitement, Graduation, Ceremony, New Horizons, Accomplishments, Rituals, Lifestyle.

Typical Buyers: Education, Insurance Companies, Telecommunications, Public Classifieds, Television Advertising, Financial and Banking Firms, Political Campaigns.

Professional tip: Shoot a few episodes before and after the main event. This will enable the end user to combine these frames into a single story, and you will be given more opportunities to earn. In addition, shoot in real time and in slow motion to give the end user even more choice.

Remember to sign the model releases. Avoid getting famous logos in the frame.

Casting: Any gender, age and race. Authenticity and variety of images will play an important role in the success of your shooting.

Locations: city, suburb and village.

Before shooting:
  • Check what content already exists in the Pond5 database.
  • Think of visual approaches that will lead to new and fresh interpretations of the topic.

High tech detection

Technological advances are changing the tactics of countering criminal and terrorist attacks by local and world governments, and these technologies are more common than ever on modern battlefields. With this in mind, cable channels create large numbers of crime shows. According to various estimates, such programs are watched by up to 15% of the television audience. Personnel on this topic will also be suitable for military documentaries and spy thrillers.

Frame list
Infrared cameras
  • People move in the infrared environment - on the street, in the park, etc.
  • Close-ups of faces and body parts.
  • Car, ship, train.
  • The culprit runs through the urban, suburban or rural landscape.
  • X-rays
  • Portfolio.
  • Laptop.
  • Camera.
  • Purse.
  • Package.
  • Mobile phone.
  • Backpack.
  • Military or police “eye in the sky”
An infrared or low-contrast video taken from the perspective of a drone or helicopter following a car, truck, ship or train.

An infrared or low-contrast video taken from the point of view of a drone or a helicopter following a criminal through a street, cityscape, rural landscape or suburban area.
Civil drone in flight.
Military drone in flight.
Satellite spy camera

Animated space shots: click on the continent - country - city - village - street - building, vehicle or person.
Suggested keywords: Crimes, Privacy, Securities, Surveillance, Suspicion, Terrorism, Technology, Warfare, High Tech, Hi-Tech, Innovation, War.

Typical buyers: Reality shows, Feature films and documentaries, Security companies, Political campaigns.

Professional Tip: A “picture-in-picture” screen, assembled from various frames illustrating the functions of face recognition and iris, bombing and infrared images, is worth the effort. Similar videos are very popular with visual effects developers.

Remember to sign the model releases. Avoid getting famous logos in the frame.

Locations: city, suburb and village.

Before shooting:
  • Check what content already exists in the Pond5 database.
  • Think of visual approaches that will lead to new and fresh interpretations of the topic.

Crime scene

From the first days of the advent of television, crime chronicle was widespread. Many requests for Pond5 also indicate an increase in the popularity of non-fiction crime topics.

Frame list
  • A crime scene tape that unwinds and encloses a crime scene.
  • Investigators are conducting an investigation - plastic gloves, flashlights, examining the victims, drawing contours of chalk around the body, covering the victim with a blanket.
  • Detectives use tweezers and plastic bags for evidence to collect cartridges from cartridges or other evidence.
  • People place cones around the crime scene. Sirens from police cars and ambulances.
  • Handcuffs on suspects.
Suggested-keywords: Social-Issues, Crimes, Forensics, Occupations, Investigation, Evidence, Proof.
Typical buyers: TV programs, Documentary films, Security companies, Political campaigns.

Professional advice: Carefully work out the scenarios of your stories. Be careful about building lighting. Think about the topics of murder, car theft, robbery, robbery, drug overdose, suicide, etc. Potentially such videos can create a steady stream of income for you for many years.

Remember to sign the model releases. Avoid getting famous logos in the frame.

Casting: Any gender, age and race. Authenticity and variety of images will play an important role in the success of your shooting.

Locations: city, suburb and village.

Before shooting:
  • Check what content already exists in the Pond5 database.
  • Think of visual approaches that will lead to new and fresh interpretations of the topic.

Paranormal activity

There are a huge number of television shows and documentaries devoted to supernatural and paranormal topics. Ratings for shows such as Dead Files, Ghostbusters and Haunted House go up, which means these shows are trending. This leads to huge demand for clips that illustrate strange things and sounds. Microstock is especially interested in mysterious interiors and gloomy locations.

Frame list
  • Terrible interiors: rooms, corridors, stairs.
  • Scary exteriors: houses, hotels, apartment buildings.
  • Gloomy weather, dark clouds, rain.
Spiritual Session.
  • Tarot cards and predictions of psychics, including crystal balls.
  • Windows, doors, cabinets, drawers open by themselves.
  • Sheets are pulled out of bed.
  • Someone is being chased through a house, a forest - use the effects of a night vision device.
  • Human shadows, and silhouettes of human figures.
  • Suggested keywords: Mysteries, Supernatural, Paranormal, Haunted, Scaries, Fear, Mysterious, Spooky.
Typical Buyers: Dramas, Feature Films and Documentary Films, Popular Science Programs and Reality Shows.

Professional tip: If you want to add special effects to the video, upload a clean video clip to the stock as well. This will allow some visual artists to manipulate the video as they see fit.

Remember to sign the model releases. Avoid getting famous logos in the frame.

Before shooting:
  • Check what content already exists in the Pond5 database.
  • Think of visual approaches that will lead to new and fresh interpretations of the topic.

Here are a few TIPS from my best friend. This was a long time ago and I only remember now because I was checking an old document and found this on a whim. Hopefully useful, especially for those who play Shutterstock.

TIPS & TRICKS (According to Experience and Research to be a Shutterstock Contributor)

With so many contributors around the world, it makes new contributors mentally not convinced of the passive income opportunities they will receive. However, most of those who have had ups and downs in building their digital assets (photos, vectors, videos) on Shutterstock will know very well how to play it so that the files they upload to Shutterstock can produce results. From that, all contributors have their own unique program which is sometimes applied to other contributors, it is not necessarily suitable or appropriate. The effort is to be able to make their assets successfully sold or downloaded stably.

Based on experience and research such as YouTube, blogs, and other contributors, many say that successful Shutterstock accounts are those who are diligent or consistent in uploading their vectors/photos, and there are those who say that if it is not necessary every day, the important thing is that the quality must be okay, and there are again the quantity and quality must be balanced and keep uploading diligently even though only 3 - 5 vectors a day but consistently. There are even certain contributors who upload once a week or even every 2 weeks but up to 100 -200 vectors/photos. This all makes there is no certainty and mystery.

Then how there are tips and tricks that appear?

Well, if this question arises, of course, you have the answer yourself, but it is certain that this trick is effective and you experience it. (Wkwkwk) what about Oops...

Calm down guys, I will share tips and tricks that might help enlighten you on microstocks, especially on Shutterstock. only 2 points


The first thing you need to know is that you are playing a niche (only 1 category, for example, logo or icon, only background, and others). Or you play mixed (gado - gado) which consists of a mix of vector/photo designs.

Usually, those who play niche, these contributors may have their own time to upload, it can be every day or every 2 days or even once a week.

However, it is done consistently because they are comfortable with the skills they master which makes them consistent. And for those who play mixed, many contributors don't pay attention to their schedule in uploading, because they focus on momentum, season (season), big days, and certain times they have to work on. From that, there is no 100% guarantee that your vectors/photos will sell well or not. But what matters is whether our vector/photo is right on target? with the content, title and keywords that you input. Now, this is the problem with contributors with a large portfolio but not comparable to the sales, maybe. There are also few but stable sales.


In microscopy, we never escape from themes, titles and keywords, because it is digital-based for clients to find our design products, they use words to search. Well… so many contributors are lazy when filling in keywords or titles, but they need to be aware if they realize that this is the most important moment that determines whether our products will sell or not. Some say the keywords must be full, some don't have to be full but just right. First, if we are logo players, we must know that what they are looking for is not a big company logo, or one that is officially registered with the government (maybe), meaning a very well-known company, that's the point, hehe.

But it is possible that they will buy our logo. if so, the client will order or look for a contest site such as 99 design, or in the logoground which only uses one-time logos so that nothing is the same. Some clients who download our logo are for logos, for example, for small to medium businesses, for communities, clubs, social media, online shop brands, and others. From here we will realize what logo we must make. It is possible that all types of logos can be sold.

Immediately I will share my experience for - + 9 months in Shutterstock. I play with backgrounds, banners, poster flyers and all design templates and prints (focus on seasons (seasons), social media templates, music posters, sales, events, greetings and others) and logos, just trying recently. First I looked at the design of the filters in most relevant, I looked at the title and what keywords they wrote. From here I got a new weapon that until now can be fairly powerful in sales in Shutterstock (just like you guys are in the learning stage and never stop exploring).

But what impressed me once tried to write the title the way they wrote the title. There are 3 types of ways to write titles that I have been using.

EXAMPLE of winter theme:

(With a winter theme banner background design with pictures of snowfall, deer, and the scenery and everything in it)

The title I use is:

Winter season background banner template with snowfall and snowflakes on the landscape. Wintry wallpaper greeting templates with deer shape on blue and white gradient colors. 

This vector illustration (long) is like a keyword that is arranged but only added conjunction to make the sentence look. Actually, you don't need the right grammar, because the most important thing is that if the client types words about the winter theme, etc., there is a great chance that the words will get stuck in the title because a complete title explains thoroughly about the theme the client is looking for, the type of design category the client is looking for, and vector or illustration.

Winter background with snowfall and deer shape on landscape. (shortly) this is the gist of the most important and frequent word that a client might type. (in winter background theme)

Winter season background. Snowfall and deer shape on landscape. Winter wallpaper greeting template. Vector illustration (separately) Allows the words entered by the client when searching will fit either by chance or by some recommended words that match our title.

The conclusion above is that the more words (which the client types) stuck in our title, the greater the chance that our image will appear in client searches.

And finally, how to set keywords to be neat and right on target.

The first is the content or theme in question, the second is the design category, the third is additional elements such as color etc. Which in the end become one, it's just to remember keywords that may be left behind and can help find words nearby.


Winter, season, wintry, snow, fall, snowfall, snowflake, flakes, rain, rainy, cold, seasonal, landscape, tree, fir, forest, xmas, new, year, christmas, gift, box, deer, animal,

Background, banner, wallpaper, template, greeting, print, poster, flyer, social, media, advertisement, backdrop, publication,

Colors, colorful, blue, white, gradient, shape, decorative, abstract, vector, illustration,

If for example logo with the adventure theme


Adventure, trip, explore, travel, climb, climbing, extreme, wanderlust, camp, camping, journey, hobbies, outdoor, mountain, river, forest, jungle, community, landscape, hiking,

Logo, icon, sticker, emblem, sign, symbol, print, advertisement,

Colors, colorful, shape, circle, line, monoline, abstract, vector, illustration,

That's probably an alternative way of keywording neatly and on target, similar to setting keywords on Freepik if you are also a contributor. If you are in another niche, you can take the principle or strategy. And suggestions, especially for background players, can follow the current season, for example, currently heading towards winter, you can make: Winter background/banner, winter sale, winter event, winter greeting card, winter pattern, winter festival, or carnival (music, food, exhibition, etc.) , winter clip art, etc. it really helps to increase your sales, guys, even 1 image can get 100 downloads or even more (Could be). Because when compared to the big day, even though there are equal opportunities, the season will still be longer, it can be downloaded for 3-4 months regularly following until the season runs out after.

That's it for the first time, guys that I can share, maybe there are many contributors who know more about their more powerful tips and tricks, but it never hurts to try, and I return it to each of you guys. Based on your experience, you can conclude which tips will you use.

Evolutionary Development of Microstocks Libraries

It should be no big surprise, then, that the major stock libraries could command substantial fees to license the use of images to buyers. High prices were justifi ed by high production, cataloguing, scanning, distribution, management, and storage costs.

In the 1980s, a handful of major players grew to dominate the stock photography market, led by Getty Images and Corbis. The sales pitch remained much the same—high-quality pictures at relatively high prices. Images were not “sold” but “licensed.” The license would allow the buyer to use the image for the specifi c purpose or purposes agreed on with the stock library in advance. The price would be determined by a number of factors, such as image placement (front page, inside page, etc.), size, circulation of the publication, duration of the license, industry segment, and geographical spread.

The traditional licensing of images remains the backbone of the stock photography market. Many libraries offering licensed images also offer the option (at additional cost) of exclusivity so that a buyer knows the images he or she has purchased will not be used by a competitor.

That can be important. However, the licensed model of image use can prove restrictive, and in the 1980s, royalty-free stock photography emerged as an alternative. The title “royalty free” is misleading. The buyer does not have to pay royalties for each use of an image, but he or she still has to pay a fee for the image at the outset; however, once the image has been paid for, the buyer can use the image indefi nitely and for multiple purposes. There are usually some restrictions, which might include limits on reselling or print runs, but the buyer has much more freedom to repeat the use of an image. The downside for the buyer is the risk that someone else might use the same image in a competing publication. There is generally no protection against this with the standard royalty-free sales model.

At the outset of royalty-free stock photography, prices were comparable to those for licensed images. The justifi cation for this was the same as for licensed photography as the cost issues were broadly the same.

The emergence of microstock include confluence of three events has led not to the extinction of traditional stock image libraries but to the sudden evolutionary development of microstocks.

These events involve the following:
  1. The Internet. The need for expensive catalogues of new images has almost vanished. Any buyer can search for what he or she wants online, which is where you’ll now fi nd all the major image libraries have a presence. Many libraries have their entire image collection searchable online; others have a selection only.
  2. Fast and cheap (sometimes free) broadband Internet access. Anyone with a computer can access stock libraries in seconds from the comfort of the offi ce or home. Download or order online what you want with no or little cost penalty for broadband usage. Of course, what can be downloaded can also be uploaded, and the microstocks have helped to pioneer the uploading of images directly to the image library database. From there, they can be checked online before being made available for sale.
  3. Digital cameras. With digital cameras, there are no film or processing costs to worry about. Digital cameras offer instant feedback and the opportunity to experiment and perfect technique. The cameras themselves are relatively expensive but no longer much more so than their fi lm cousins. The quality of digital cameras is now also very high.
In short, most of the costs that justifi ed high stock photo prices have been stripped out of the equation. The photographer no longer has expensive fi lm and development costs. Original transparencies do not need to be hand catalogued and stored. The drum scanner and its operator are no longer required. Glossy sample catalogues do not need to be produced and distributed to clients. Photography is cheap to produce, store, catalogue (using digital databases), manage, and distribute.

Also, mirroring the development of the Internet, broadband Internet access, and digital cameras, all of which have transformed the supply chain, has been a simultaneous explosion in demand for quality images from Web designers (pro and home), home desktop publishing outfi ts, community magazines, and the like. The combination of a transformed supply chain, new channels to market through Web-based technology, and the evolution of new markets has inevitably shaken up the slightly stuffy world of the stock library, the more traditional of which, in my view, took too long to react to the new market dynamics. Step forward the microstocks.

By the end of the 20th century, the market demand and the technology to serve microstock were in place. All that was needed was someone with a little perspicacity to see it. The first microstock library was founded by a Canadian, Bruce Livingstone, in Spring 2000 Called iStockphoto, at the outset it was free. It remains one of the leading microstock libraries to this day.

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