Best Microstock Sites For Contributors

In this article, I will review what I feel are the very best microstock sites for contributors.  It stands to reason that the microstock sites which most benefit contributors will likely be the best for customers too.  However, I don’t have a lot of experience on the customer side of this subject, so I won’t go into that in this particular review.

There are many Online microstock sites to contribute to, and it is not possible to review all of them, but I will detail my experiences with the ones I have tried so far.  First, I will list my top four sites in order of personal preference:

1.  iStockphoto

2.  Shutterstock

3.  Texturevault

4.  Dreamstime

I chose this order based on my overall earnings as well as how I feel about the sites in general.

shutterstock car photo

So far, I have indeed earned more at iStockphoto than at any other stock site.  In my opinion iStockphoto is truly the best as far as user friendliness goes, and the community of contributors are very friendly and encouraging.  My least favorite aspect of iStockphoto is the very strict weekly upload limit.  Currently new photographers are only allowed 18 uploads per week.  Since I am currently submitting stock images on a very part time basis, due to being VERY busy with my industrious two year old and my “real” job…as well as writing on this website, this limit is almost never a real issue for me.  It forces me to upload only my very best images to them, which at first bothered me.  Now, I appreciate the “pickiness” of iStockphoto to some degree, and their commitment to only offering the very best images.  I believe that customers can see this emphasis on quality, which keeps the site consistently at the top of the microstock charts.

jungle stock photo

The application process for iStockphoto is pretty simple, although not necessarily easy.  First you are instructed to read through a few pages of basic information about things like noise and artifacts, as well as information about model and property releases.  Then you have to pass an Online test.  Once you have passed the test, you can submit three images for review.  If one or two of these images are rejected, then you will be instructed to submit more images.  However, you only need to submit as many as were rejected.  So, if two out of three of your images were rejected, you must submit two the next time.  Ultimately, you are accepted as a contributor once you have three accepted images.  It took me three tries to be accepted with iStockphoto.  This fact was at first a little embarrassing, but I later discovered that my experience was pretty typical.

I placed Shutterstock in second place only because my earnings there are slightly less than at iStockphoto.  I like that there are no real upload limits for contributors also.  However, they are almost as picky as iStockphoto as far as what they will accept, so I have learned to submit only my best to them as well.  The only real exception to this practice has been in the submission of my more “artistic” images, such as HDR scenes.  iStockphoto consistently rejects them for being “over-processed”, whereas Shutterstock accepts most of them.  These images do make sporadic sales, and they are personally rewarding to create.

Like iStockphoto, Shutterstock requires the submission of test images to become a contributor.  Only, instead of three you will need to submit ten.  Seven out of ten will need to pass scrutiny.  If three or more images are rejected, you will need to wait an entire month prior to submitting again.  It took me two tries to become a Shutterstock contributor, and that month of waiting was a bit tedious.  However, I spent that time improving my skills.  On my second try eight of ten passed and I was in.

Texturevault is my third best earner overall, but is probably my second favorite as far as user friendliness goes.  I estimate that about 70% of my images can be classified as textures, since I’m not a people person, and I am only minorly interested in landscapes and still life shots.  Most of my people shots are more about snapshots of my children and family, rather than for stock.  Anyway, if you have some textures you feel would work as premium stock, I highly recommend this site.

There are no test submissions required to become a contributor at Texturevault, but each image does need to be approved by a moderator.  My experience is that this microstock site is just as strict about what they will accept as Shutterstock.

Dreamstime is in fourth place for me due to lower earnings.  I make slightly less than half of what I earn at other sites on Dreamstime.  I stopped uploading there altogether months ago, and just checked my stats a few days ago.  Lo and behold…money.  I am back to submitting to Dreamstime now!

Like Texturevault, there are no test submissions to become a contributor at Dreamstime.  However, each image does need to be approved a by a moderator.  This microstock site has a  collection of free images as well.  Most images that are rejected as premium stock will qualify for the free collection, but not all.  I personally had an image rejected from both the premium and free collections…embarrasingly.

microstock image

There is one other microstock site that many consider to be among the best, although not in my experience.  Fotolia is for many people a top earner, so I would tentatively recommend signing up with them and trying to sell your images.  I found them to be too picky, and they often rejected images that have gone on to sell well at other microstock sites.  Many people Online have commented on this being true for them as well.  Interestingly though, there is the occasional person who claims that they can hardly go wrong with Fotolia, and claim it to be among their top earning sites.  Go figure.

Other lesser microstock sites I have contributed to, with very limited success are 123Rf, BigStock, and Featurepics.

I hope that my review of my personal best microstock sites for contributors has been helpful!

9 Responses to Best Microstock Sites For Contributors

  1. Pingback: Digital Photography and Microstock – Sell Photos | photoluminary

  2. Diane says:

    Dear Rachael:

    I just wanted to thank you so very much for this article! It is helpful and informative in so many ways!

    You are doing work here 🙂


  3. Diane says:


    Sorry! I meant you are doing great work!!!


  4. Hi Diane,

    Thanks so much for the comment and the acknowledgment of my work! I’m glad my article helped you. 🙂


  5. Thanks for the interesting article. I did not know about all those photography services that were available online!

  6. Juan says:

    I’m new to all this and decided to start with iStock. All went well until I was asked to send them a copy of my Driver’s License. I have to admit, this made me a bit uncomfortable. Giving out personal information via the net has always made me uncomfortable.

    Do all these sites ask for such information?

    Also, what are the risks of a lawsuit? Do the websites take all the responsibility or will I be held with having to deal with legal matters?


    • Donna Hayden says:

      Juan, I too was concerned about giving my drivers license ID, but have done so on two sites that have asked (iStock & Shutterstock) There are three sites that I have recently joined that did not ask for license ID. They are Dreamstime, Fotolia & Bigstocksight. Hope this is helpful.

  7. Paul says:

    Thanks for the article! I just got started in stock photography and so far, I find Dreamstime to be the best site for beginners because they are reasonable in their selection and give good feedback;

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