Top 8 Best Microstock Sites: A Guide to Understanding Microstock and Stock Photo Websites

Microstock websites are sites that collect stock image submissions from a wider range of talent, including beginner and amateur photographers. These stock images are uploaded via the internet and listed on the site for a very low price for a Royalty Free licensed image, when compared to traditional stock images.

The range of source material, and low price have made them incredibly popular with a wide variety of publishers: from large publishing houses and advertising agencies to freelance graphic designers, website designers, and more, microstock is popular across the board. In this article, we take a quick look into how microstock websites work, and also see which websites are at the top, at the moment.

What Are Microstock Sites?

Microstock websites are sites that accept photographs from almost anyone, as long as they fit their quality guidelines. These photographs are accepted over the internet and are given a look-over by the website’s Quality Control team, to ensure that the submissions live up to the quality benchmarks that photo stock buyers expect.

Once they’re accepted, they’re then added to a library of images that are available to be sold to the previously mentioned buyers. These buyers flock to these websites for the varied imagery, large choice of images, variety in creative interpretation of various topics, and of course, the low prices.

The images are sold under a predetermined license (either royalty-free or rights-managed), the fee is paid, and the photographs are used in publications, ads, websites, CD covers, blogposts, recipe books, or whatever is needed… There is literally no end to the possible use-cases.

Why is Microstock A Big Deal? Microstock vs Traditional Stock Photos

Mirror Self-Portrait by Maria Rosa
by Maria Rosa

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is the change in business methodology, and the fact that microstock websites like iStock have turned the stock photography business on its head.

Traditional stock photography websites usually have a more rigorous selection process when it comes to selecting photographers.

Their photographs were then sold at much higher costs because the photographers have taken the time and effort to set up, and photograph the various shots using their expensive photographic equipment (which sometimes runs into many tens of thousands of dollars).

Traditional Stock Photo Pricing

Typically, photographs on a traditional stock photography website would licensed at around $300 – $500 depending on what the photographs are going to be used for.

The images are licensed as “rights managed” quite often, ensuring that competing brands will not be able to use the same image in material in the same region at the same time. This is useful for brands that want to stand out and have unique imagery.

Sometimes there is also the option to buy out the usage of the image and to have exclusive rights to use the image.

Microstock Photos Pricing

Microstock websites sell the photographs for between $1 and $20 depending on the file size. In addtion, the images are licensed under “royalty free”, so the images can be used in muliple locations by the ‘buyer’.

Most microstock websites now also sell vector art, audio tracks, templates, and video clips at similarly low prices. The difference is that microstock websites accept photographs from almost anybody who can produce images that meet their basic quality standards.

The Top Microstock Sites Currently Running

It might seem like everyone’s popping up with new stock photography websites almost every other week, so what’s the big deal with these eight websites? Well, I’ve looked through quite a few of them, and in my opinion, these are the best among the microstock sites; the top of the lot.

Here is my list of microstock photography sites, in no particular order:

  • Shutterstock – Shutterstock is a leading microstock website
  • iStockphoto – Probably the best known of them all. iStockPhoto is a subsidiary of Getty Images
  • Bigstockphoto – variable pricing of credits… depends on how many you buy. Bigstock is a subsidiary of Shutterstock.
  • Adobe Stock – Adobe’s Stock photography offering… It offers direct integration with Adobe products.
  • Dreamstime – another very popular microstock website
  • 123RF – 123RF offers a wide range of stock content, providing contributors with a tiered commission system that rewards more sales with higher revenue shares, ranging from 30% to 60%.
  • Stocksy – Stocksy is a premium RoyaltyFree artist-owned stock photography website.
  • Pond5 – Pond5 specializes in video content and offers contributors a generous 50% revenue share, making it a go-to platform for videographers seeking higher earnings.

Remember that all of these websites have different rates of payment to photographers. Most offer 50% of the sale cost to exclusive photographers and a lower rate (usually around 30%) to non-exclusive photographers, while others offer a stepped rate based on how well your images sell. Do remember to check their agreements for all the details.

Video Stock, and Even Illustration Stock Images Are Available @ a Low Price!

Most of these top sites not only provide photographs, but also have a large selection of great videos and illustrations. Some microstock agencies even list audio tracks with a royalty free licens.

Wholesale, Low-Price Images and Videos?

Microstock websites do business on the basis of a large number of images, so photographers upload a great number of photographs every month. If you want your photos to stand out among these, you’ll have to make sure that they’re good aesthetically. You’ll also have to upload (and sell) quite a few of them if all those $0.50 are to add up to anything substantial.

With the number of websites selling stock images increasing. This list is by no means a compilation of the best or the most popular microstock websites, simply of the ones that I’m most familiar with as a Photographer and as a Graphic Designer.

How Much Do Microstock Photography Websites Pay Contributors?

The earnings that photographers can take home from microstock websites can vary widely depending on the platform, the contributor’s experience level, the quality of their work, and the licensing model. Below is a table that outlines some general figures for various microstock websites. Do keep in mind that these numbers are approximate, and can fluctuate based on the parameters mentioned earlier, and also over time.

Microstock WebsiteAverage Earnings per DownloadRevenue Share for ContributorsNotes
Shutterstock$0.25 – $2.8515% – 40%Earnings can vary depending on subscription and licensing.
iStock$0.20 – $3.0015% – 45%Exclusive contributors earn more.
Adobe Stock$0.33 – $3.3033%Higher payouts for more specialized content like videos.
Alamy$1.00 – $100+40% – 50%Pays more but less frequent sales.
Dreamstime$0.30 – $2.0025% – 50%Earnings increase with exclusivity and downloads.
123RF$0.22 – $2.5030% – 60%Higher percentage for more sales.
Depositphotos$0.30 – $3.0034% – 42%Varies based on subscription and single purchase.
Getty Images$0.10 – $100+15% – 45%Premium content can earn more, but it’s hard to get accepted.
Pond5$1.00 – $50+50%Specialized in video content, which tends to have higher pricing.
Bigstockphoto$0.25 – $3.0030%Pay-per-download system, also offers subscription-based earnings.
A comparison of Average Earnings and Revenue Share for Contributors, across various Microstock websites.

Please note that these figures are general estimates, and actual earnings can differ based on multiple factors. For example, revenue share percentage generally increases as higher number of images are sold by the contributor, or with exclucivity. It’s essential for potential contributors to read through each platform’s terms and conditions to understand their earning potential fully before they commit to any platform.

What About No-Price (Free) Stock Photography?

If that wasn’t enough, websites like Unsplash, Pixabay, Pexels and even more on the horizon with images that are available for free, either for personal or commercial use. Some may say that it’s a spiral to the bottom, some others see it as a free platform to market their abilities as photographers and to woo potential clients even while giving away some images wholeheartedly, in exchange.

What do you think about microstock and free stock image websites? Do you think they’re a good idea, allowing the average person a way to generate money via the hundreds or thousands of images lying on their hard discs, or are they lowering the quality of images available for customers on the internet, sound off in the comments, please!

Susheel Chandradhas

Susheel Chandradhas

Susheel Chandradhas is a Product Photographer and Filmmaker based in India. He has been taking photographs (almost) all his life. He has a diploma and a bachelors degree in Visual Communication, where his classmates all believed that he would write a book on photography... Instead, he writes on this website (because - isn't a community more fun?).

His passions include photography, parkour, wide-angle lenses, blue skies, fire extinguishers, and fast computers.

In addition to writing for Beyond Photo Tips, Susheel is a staff writer for, and owns and runs ColoursAlive, a photography, and video production studio.

You can connect with Susheel on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

Articles: 158

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.